At summer solstice, the earth is fully alive in a riot of abundant growth as the sun’s fires peak. At the solstices, both summer and winter, the sun seems to stand still for several days rising and setting at about the same place in the sky. In his book, To the Summer Solstice, John Matthews observes that “the connection between human beings and the natural forces of the Earth” is especially strong at this time of year. This is a meaningful time to visit sacred earth sites such as standing stones and sacred hills and springs.
One such sacred site is the circle of thirteen standing stones at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, which I visited recently. To a viewer standing in the northwest, two of the large standing stones in the circle form a window in which the early morning sun appears for a week around Midsummer. The sun’s appearance in this window heralds the coming solstice (Margaret Curtis, Celebrations in Stone).
Legend holds that the Shining One walks down the avenue of the Callanish complex at sunrise on the summer solstice. The presence of the sun deity is announced by the call of the cuckoo. The Shining One may have been a goddess. In Baltic mythology, the primordial goddess and main protector of human life from Neolithic times, took the form of a cuckoo. In later times, Freya, the light-bringing Norse goddess of fertility, was known as the Shining One.
The cuckoo’s call marks the end of winter’s chaos and the establishment of new order. Cuckoos were once seen as mediators between the living and the dead. In a Lithuanian folktale, a woman who has lost all her sons to war is turned into a cuckoo that flies from country to country looking for their tombs. Thus it was said that only someone who has known suffering and pain will understand the cuckoo’s song. Read more about the symbolism of cuckoos.
Melody Lee, co-creator
As Crones, the Cuckoo Sings to Us
Even as we enjoy the abundant life of summer, we carry within our hearts memories of years and loves past. Just as we honor the spark of light that begins to grow at winter solstice, we recall the kernel of darkness that begins now to swallow the light as the days slowly decrease in length.
Rise early on summer solstice, bathe you heart, soul and body in the bird song of morning. Find a place in nature near your home that feels sacred to you and spend time there on the solstice. You might meditate, pray, dance, write, draw, or offer a song as a gift to honor the life force that is manifest in both nature and us. Leave a stone, shell, flowers, or other object as an offering at your sacred place, to signal your love and gratitude for the land and waters that sustain us and for the abundance in your life.
May the long-time sun shine upon you and bring you peace.
Carla Gomez, Communications
Melody Lee, Karen Edwards, and Dorothy Emerson, co-creators
The goddess winks at us in these ancient lyrics that associate the call of the cuckoo with the return of summer.
Summer is Icumen In
Summer has come in
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
Seeds grow and meadows bloom
and the woods spring anew
Ewe bleats after lamb,
Calf lows after cow,
Bullock leaps, billygoat farts,
Merrily sing, cuckoo!
Well you sing cuckoo,
Nor cease you ever now!
Sing cuckoo now, Sing, cuckoo!