Get ready to celebrate! In 2016, the summer solstice falls on June 20th, which is also the date of the full June moon, traditionally called the Mead Moon in northern Europe. Since mead is an intoxicating beverage made from honey and June is the traditional month for weddings, the two ideas were wedded into the term honeymoon. What a luscious time to celebrate with the double intoxication of the long time sun and a full moon. The riot of bright day will give way to the pearly sheen of moonlight, and for a little while darkness will be banished from the earth.
The Summer Solstice is also known as Midsummer, for in the ancient Celtic calendar, summer begins on May 1st. Traditional festivities for Midsummer’s Eve include rolling wheels of fire down steep hills, building bonfires, fire leaping, games of strength in which the winners are crowned with garlands, and divination, especially for young women hoping to find out who they will marry. Pulling off flower petals and reciting “he loves me, he loves me not” was originally a Midsummer’s oracle. In the Christian calendar, June 24 was declared to be the feast of St. John the Baptist. The vigil and festivities for the saint took on the character of the older Midsummer celebrations.
A contemporary festival that celebrates both the solstice and St. John takes place in Penzance, a small town in southwest England in the county of Cornwall. This weeklong celebration includes a serpent dance, which probably was intended to energize the dragon or serpent energy that is perceived as a source of power within the land (John Matthews, The Summer Solstice 99), so that together earth and sun would produce a bountiful harvest. We too take vitality from the sun. The long days of midsummer give us the energy to bring projects to fruition. It is a time also to play and indulge our senses. As crones, we can delight in the sensuousness of our bodies and savor the sweetness of life all the more because we know its limitations.
The summer solstice marks the boundary of the sun’s northward arc, and the waning of the its power. Even as we embrace the lushness of the season, we also are called to honor the dark. I imagine standing on top of a hill shaped like the belly of the earth mother, throwing out my arms, and singing into the vastness of space, spinning silken threads from my soul out into eternity. Until, as Walt Whitman wrote, “the gossamer threads you fling catch somewhere, O my soul” (“The Noiseless Patient Spider”). With my voice I will build a bridge between this life and the world we cannot see, a bridge the fairies can slide across with gossamer wing, and over which the spirits of loved ones who have gone before can come to melt into our hearts with gladness as we frolic through the long day, and tend a bonfire through the moonlit night.
Ways to Celebrate
Build a Midsummer bonfire. As you light the fire, recite an invocation such as this one. “I light this fire in the spirit of all those who have lit fires on this night, and I call upon the spirits of the Solstice to be present and to bless this fire.” As the fire dies down, you may want to do some traditional fire leaping. Try formulating a question for the spirits before you jump over the fire and see what answer comes to you on the other side (Matthews 101). You can wake up the serpent energy by dancing around the fire to the chant “Snake woman shedding her skin.”
To honor the dark, go for a dip in the cool waters of a pond. The sun glints over its smooth sepia surface, but beneath lays the cool, sleek dark. It is the twin of the darkness that grows stronger within the belly of each heavy, hot summer day.
Another Midsummer tradition is making charms by tying together bundles of herbs and placing them over the doorway of your home or office for protection against unwanted influences. One of the plants gathered at this time of year for its protective power is St. John’s Wort, whose bright yellow flowers bloom around St. John’s Day. Make this herbal ally into a tincture of liquid sunlight to lift your spirits in the dark days of winter.