Are you feeling positive today? Invigorated? Renewed?
If you are, it probably isn’t but I suppose could be because today marks the beginning of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere… er, and the winter solstice in the southern. (If you’re feeling thoroughly miserable in the southern hemisphere, there’s your excuse for it.)
A solstice, from the merging of the Latin words meaning a standing still of the sun, occurs when the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator. Thus in the northern hemisphere it marks the longest day of the year and a time when the sun is at its most northerly point directly over the Tropic of Cancer (except in polar regions, obviously, where daylight is continuous for much of the time) and the reverse applies to the southern hemisphere: marking the longest night, shortest day and heralding the beginning of winter, when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. We must wait until December for the reversal.
A significant celestial event celebrated for aeons by our ancestors held together by various belief systems, in Ancient China during summer solstice they honoured the earth, the feminine and the yin forces (and subsequently the heavens, masculinity and yang forces during winter solstice). Meanwhile, Pagans celebrated with bonfires in praise of and to show respect for the Sun God, whose power is greatest at this time of year. Traditionally the fires were also an attempt to ward off the coming winter, to protect against evil spirits, and to boost the sun’s energy in the hope of a successful and plentiful harvest, for the days would now become shorter and the sun’s power would appear to diminish.
For Pagans, both summer and winter solstices were and remain a celebration of the sun’s rebirth. Winter solstice may indeed mark the longest night, but successive nights will see the sun growing ever stronger and days gradually becoming longer.
If you are today observing Litha (making you a Wiccan) or Alban Heruin (making you a Druid); if you will be partying by bonfire regardless of any faithful concern for Midsummer tradition, new or old, possibly dancing around a maypole at some point and eating something you wouldn’t normally over the coming days; if you were among the mass congregated at the mysterious circle of giant stones in Stonehenge – in Wiltshire, England – to watch the sun rise and cast its light against the famous Heel stone; if you have enjoyed the burning of a Viking ship in celebration of Yule; or if you simply prefer to wait for the much more refined feast of Saint John the Baptist, thank you very much (not my personal opinion, I wish to stress; that’s equally and delightfully kooky), I’d love to hear about it. The varying rituals that we continue to this day are quite beguiling, I think.
If you couldn’t care less about any of the above means of commemoration, please help me collate a list of songs instead about sun and light, fire and heat. Even if it’s cold outside, let’s all pretend that it isn’t and we’re comfortably toasty.
– Beach Boys, ‘Warmth of the Sun’
– Johnny Cash, ‘Ring of Fire’
– Glen Frey, ‘The Heat is On’
– Billy Idol, ‘Hot in the City’
– Lighthouse, ‘Sunny Days’