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The Summer Solstice
The word “solstice” comes from the Latin, from “sol” meaning sun, and “sistere,” to cause to stand still. The summer solstice is when the longest day of the year is celebrated, when the angle of the earth tilts closest to the sun as it moves on its highest track in the sky. The sun is directly over the tropic of Cancer at the summer solstice, at which time the sun is 23°27' north. This night hold magickal connotations in many times and cultures. For the Northern hemisphere, this is the start of summer. For Europe, this is the traditional “midsummer” as it is in the middle of their growing season.
Ancient people recognized the movements of the sun and identified this longest day early, with many peoples marking the occasion. Germanic tribes, the Slavs and the Celts all lit large bon fires to celebrate this night. Jumping bon fires was sometimes done to draw love, bring luck or banish unwanted energies. Druids view the midsummer as the wedding of Heaven and Earth. Their name for this holiday was Alban Heruin. June 25th is considered Old Litha, an alternate name for this celebration, although most modern celebrations occur on June 20 or 21.
There were many sacred spots where the solar movements were tracked with pillars or fixed stones, with the sunlight falling on certain symbols or into specific positions on the day of the solstice. At Newgrange in Ireland, an ancient chamber has a spot that lights on this day. The axis of Stonehenge, which aligns with the monument's entrance, is oriented to the direction of the midsummer sunrise. Native Americans, the Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese all left notes and rituals related to the summer solstice.
Historically, this was the time of first harvest, when plants and herbs planted during the spring equinox were collected. Herbs gathered included mugwort (the herb of St. John), chamomile, geranium, thyme, and pennyroyal, burdock, thorn, and nettle. Supposedly nine different types of herbs were thrown upon the Midsummer fire, including mistletoe, vervain, St. John's Wort, heartsease, lavender, and four others chosen from herbs typical of this season.These herbs would also be hung about the home for their aroma and in the beliefs that they banished sickness and bad luck.
Many cultures intuitively linked the fertility of the fields with human sexuality, and permeations of this can still be seen today. In pagan traditions, handfastings and marriages were often performed at this time. The moon of this month was often called “honey moon” in reference to the fermented honey mead of the wedding celebrations, then became the modern “honeymoon” which is the time the couple takes for themselves after marriage. In literature, the magic of Midsummer’s Eve has been celebrated many times. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is set on this eve, with humans and faeries having a star-crossed and love-crossed adventure all night. In Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Aragorn finally weds his beloved Arwen on this blessed night.
6/20/2006 5:09 pm
So, I can run around naked in my yard at night and blame it on the summer solstice and not the alcohol? |