Once again it’s that time of year when one of the major festivals in our rural calendar passes without notice by the vast majority of the population who have no idea that the Summer Solstice and Midsummer mark the culmination of the growing season when nature is rich and verdant and at its blooming best and should be honoured for providing the basics which keep us on this mortal coil.
In order to redress the balance here are a few “facts” about the Summer Solstice and Midsummer which may or may not be true!
- The Summer Solstice is popularly supposed to mark the beginning of summer and is NOT the same as Midsummer’s Day which strangely falls just three days later on the 24th June! As summer in the UK usually consists of one fine weekend in April perhaps this isn’t so strange after all!
However, those who know better will understand that summer actually begins at Beltane, 1st May and ends at Lughnassadh or Lammas, (1st August) which means the Summer Solstice falls midway between the two.
- As there are always two sides to every coin, our cousins down under will be celebrating the Winter Solstice in the company of Old Father Frost. There’s no need to be smug though as that jolly chappie otherwise known as the Holly King, will be making his way northwards just as soon as the days start to shorten.
- The word “solstice” derives from the Latin words “sol” (sun) and “sistere” which means to stand still. At the solstice, the angle between the Sun’s rays and the plane of the Earth’s equator known as “declination” appears to stand still. This is most noticeable at the Arctic Circle, hence the land of the midnight sun, where the Sun hugs the horizon for a continuous 24 hours.
- The Solstice is not a quaint custom associated with the UK. It is celebrated world wide. Ancient Egyptians started their year with the Summer Solstice as this coincided with the River Nile rising and flooding which was important to know for agriculture reasons and personal safety!
- The Irish, who for some reason failed to grasp that divining with hazel twigs can be done at any time, formerly reserved Solstice Eve for seeking water, gold and other precious commodities.
- Stonehenge and other stone circles are regular meeting places for Druids and Neo-Pagans celebrating the Solstice, presumably looking for faeries, ghosts and goblins as those that stay awake within a stone circle have access to the Other World.
- It is said that if you wash your face in the morning dew of the Summer Solstice, old folk will appear younger and girls become more beautiful. I have to say that in my case results have been disappointing, but on the positive side, bacon, eggs and mushrooms taste extra delicious after an early morning romp in wet grass.
- The Summer Solstice is a fire festival and traditionally huge bonfires were lit. Folklore has it that if you can jump over a bonfire without harm then you will have good luck for the rest of the year. A friend of mine did this a few years back and burnt his foot so badly that he was still limping at Christmas. The moral is, if you can’t jump, don’t chance your luck!
- Litha, is the goddess associated with the Summer Solstice and is associated with fertility and children. The Litha fires are said to have very strong magical powers and traditionally the ashes are taken to the edges of harvest fields to encourage bumper crops. (Presumably cold!).
- Midsummer actually falls on the 24th June and to disassociate it from its Pagan origins, the Christians claimed it as a saint’s day. St. John’s Day is named for John The Baptist who the Bible states, was the cousin of Jesus Christ.
- Midsummer is a very chancy day when fairies and witches are wont to give full rein to their mischief. Fortunately Christianity has an answer for everything and St. John’s Wort which flowers at this time makes a superb antidote against evil.
The Goodwives, however, have a more practical application for it knowing it for a traditional cure of headaches, bed wetting, depression and menopausal disorders amongst others. St. John’s Wort is also known as Tipton’s Weed, Chase-devil and Klamath weed.
- Rudyard Kipling was well aware of the fey nature of the Solstice and Midsummer’s Eve. He used it as a catalyst for the summoning of the mischievous fairy Puck by two children who played a version of A Midsummer Nights Dream around a fairy ring on midsummer’s eve. This collection of fantasy short stories and poems recounts the story of English history as told by Puck and an assortment of historical figures both real and imaginary and in my opinion should be required reading for every English school child … and their teachers.
- The 2016 solstice is particularly significant as it falls on the 20th June and not the 21st as in most other years. It also coincides with a full moon in happy-go-lucky, risk taking Sagittarius which as those who follow the way of the stars know is particularly auspicious as both the solstice and the full moon signify the culmination and completion of a cycle or phase. With the referendum on Britain’s continuing membership or exit from the European union to be decided between these two highly significant dates it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to suspect that major changes could well lie ahead!