The Summer Solstice approaches! Ready?
The Summer Solstice is known in contemporary Neo-Paganism as Litha or Midsummer. Neo-Pagan religion often marks this as the moment the sun god meets his death, though sometimes that event is reserved for the cross-quarter in August or the autumnal equinox in September. A bunch of ritual and celebrations ideas can be found here, often with only a little editing needed to make them naturalistic (or don’t change anything, and see the gods as symbols). Someday, I hope to hold a Summer Solstice ritual under the midnight Sun. Maybe in one of these places.
Just in time for the Summer Solstice, the Noctilucent cloud season is starting a bit early! Noctilucent clouds normally appear at high latitudes a little before Litha, and can be seen as the Earth itself preparing for the Summer Solstice, with the first wisps of summertime water vapor rising to the top of Earth’s atmosphere. Molecules of H2O adhere to specks of meteor smoke, forming ice crystals 80 km above Earth’s surface. When sunbeams hit those crystals, they glow electric-blue. This year, however, they are brighter and are growing fast, spinning around the pole due to planetary waves. To see them yourself, look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.
Our Sun gives us these wonders, and so much more. Being our our ultimate source of both food and energy, Sun goddesses/godsare very common across cultures. Solarcentre published this poster of some of the main ones here.
“This is the time of Summer Solstice – the time when the light part of the day is longest. In our part of the world, light is in Her fullness. She spreads Her radiance, Her fruits ripen, Her greenery is everywhere, the cicadas sing. Yet as Light reaches Her peak, our closest contact with the Sun, She opens completely, and the seed of darkness is born.
“As it says in the tradition, this is the time of the rose, blossom and thorn, fragrance and blood. The story of Old tells that on this day Goddess and God embrace, in a love so complete, that all dissolves, into the single Song of ecstasy that moves the worlds. Our bliss, fully matured, given over, feeds the Universe and turns the wheel. We join the Beloved and Lover in the Great Give-Away of our Creativity, our Fullness of Being.”
To symbolize this, Livingstone distributes flowers, fruit, and the like to ritual participants, who then give away this bounty by casting it into the central fire.
“Sadly, most Americans are ignorant of this seasonal moment. We seem marginally more familiar with the winter solstice, probably because of the vast commercial pressures that have accreted aro
und that time in late December. Even so, most of us remain unaware that the winter solstice, our time of maximum tilt away from the sun, is the inverse, the opposite, the antithesis of the summer solstice. Six months removed from one another, we might regard these two celestial events as antipodes, points on opposite sides of a circle representing the cycle of the seasons.
The poetics of the winter solstice are perhaps slightly better understood in our popular culture: the birth of light in the depths of darkness. What, then, are the poetics of the summer solstice? If it is truly the inverse of the winter solstice, then it stands to reason that it must be the birth of dark at the peak of lightness, or the dying of the light at its very summit.
Perhaps this is why Americans have forgotten the summer solstice and the Midsummer holiday. We love summer, with its connotations of fun in the sun and trips to the beach. You’d think we’d be interested in celebrating this moment when the sun is at its zenith. But at this moment of the sun’s greatest power, it begins to decline, to wane, to die. There’s something subversive about recognizing this, something almost offensive to our national character. Our nation is caught up in a fantasy of endless growth and constant improvement. Acknowledging limits established by nature goes against our grain”
“As I stand here on this celebration of Litha, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in times before and my descendants may do in times to come, I honour the old ways. This is the time of the Summer Solstice, Alban Heruin, the Light of the Shore. On this longest day of the year, when the warm sun has reached its height and the world around me is abundant and green, it is time to honour great Sol as it shines down brightly upon the earth. In the midst of the warmth, light and beauty of the summer sun, it is a time to look forward and to anticipate the coming harvest as the days begin to shorten and we head once again towards winter. I give thanks for the blessings of the great star.”
Jon Cleland Host of the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo discussion group suggests kayaking local rivers or lakes, hiking in the woods, and holding a ritual in the forest. He also takes this as a time to celebrate marriage, as well as to consume mead:
“Mead is often consumed – celebrating the honey of our marriage and the season. Mead is honey wine, and the full moon closest to Litha is traditionally called the mead moon or the honey moon (hence the name “honeymoon” for the vacation after a wedding).”
“I often conceive of life as being a wild and dangerous dance. It starts slow, speeds over time, careening wildly, until it gradually slows from exhaustion, and finally dies. This pattern is visible in human and animal life, but also in the changing seasons on Earth, and throughout Cosmos as stars and planets are born, collide, and die, only to be reborn again.
“The Summer Solstice is the peak of the dance. It is that time in your time, that moment on Earth, those millennia in the life of a star, when performance and creativity are at their most prolific. It is the time when dreams are manifested, art created, offspring born.
“Beyond it is the inevitable spiral back down. But right now is the time to dance.”
For those on the Southern side of our Earth, preparations for Yule/the Winter Solstice are underway as well…….
This is an updated version of the yearly Summer Solstice post. Feel free to share your own naturalistic celebrations below.