13 Summer Solstice Facts

Today (June 21st) is the Summer Solstice!

This has always intrigued me because:

stone.jpg  1.  During college, I backpacked all over Europe one summer. On the night of June 21st, I was camping with friends in a tent at Stonehenge, England. They were having a huge Summer Solstice Concert, much like our Woodstock. “Peace and love, baby.” I remember dancing at midnight to the live music of Melanie. Remember her?

summer.jpg  2. A solstice means that the earth’s axis tilts the most toward the sun. This has been known since ancient times as the mid-point of summer. (Some say it’s when summer begins.)

rays.jpg  3.  The name comes from the Latin “sol” (sun) and “sistit” (stands still) because for several days before and after the solstice, the sun appears to stand still in the sky.

plant.jpg  4.  The celebration of Midsummer’s Eve was from ancient times linked to the summer solstice. People believed that mid-summer plants had miraculous healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night. Bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southwards again.

shakespeare.jpg  5.  Shakespeare wrote a play about it, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which faeries, lovers, and a donkey figure prominently. Puck uses the magical juice from a flower to make the victim fall in love with the first living thing he sees when he awakens.

maypole.jpg  6. Midsummer is one of the great holidays in Scandinavian countries, since long before the introduction of Christianity. A midsummer pole decorated with leaves and flowers is erected and children dance around it.

fire.jpg  7. In Cornwall, England, it’s celebrated as “Goluan.” Dr. William Borlase wrote about it in 1754: “In the Cornish tongue, ‘Goluan’ signifies both light and rejoicing, for faeries prefer to carry lighted torches. This is certainly the remains of the Druid superstition.”

winter.jpg 8. There is a Winter Solstice, too, which is observed on December 25th, since establishment of the Julian Calendar in 45 B.C. Banned by the Catholic Church in its infancy as a pagan practice stemming out of the Sol Invictus celebrations, Christmas was revitalized as an authentic Christian festival after having already taken over much of the folklore and traditions of the Jul festivals. Jul is still regarded as its name in much of Europe. Yule and Christmas are considered interchangeable in English Christendom.

pagan.jpg  9. My maiden name was the good old English name of “Payne,” which is said to have derived from the word “pagan.” I am not a pagan, but I am a Celt, and I’ve always had a special affinity and fascination for the history of pre-Christian pagan things.

john.jpg  10. Midsummer has also been called “St. John’s Feast,” in honor of the birthday of John the Baptist.

wiccans.jpg  11. Wiccans celebrate Midsummer as one of their eight holidays. The witches believe it is the turning point when summer reaches its height.

bonfire.jpg  12. In one of my favorite books, Hardy’s Return of the Native, the heath folk of England light bonfires and do dances around maypoles. It’s very reminiscent of Midsummer Night.

hippie.jpg  13. Every year, the newspapers report that “20,000 modern-day druids, pagans, and party-goers are–right now–converging on Stonehenge to welcome the Summer Solstice. The site has become a magnet for men and women seeking a spiritual experience–or just to have a good time.”

 Party on, all you revelers!

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