The days are long and hot. The bees, butterflies, and fireflies are claiming the horizons. Mornings are hazy and afternoons are bright. Local rivers and streams are slow and gentle, and fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market are succulent and juicy. Summer is fully here, and it’s lavender season in North Carolina.
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Och: my sleep is all messed up. Too. Much. Light.
6:11 a. m. as I write this, and the Sun's already up. When I woke at 4:30, the cardinals were singing their dawn songs. (Like roosters, they have special receptors in their brains that register even the slightest increase in light.) CST: Cardinal Standard Time. Whtt whtt whtt: cheerio! Yeah, and the broom you rode in on, too.
When I went to bed at 11 last night, there was still light in the western sky. Where I live, it's about 8 hours from sundown to sunrise at the summer sunstead, but as any Northron can tell you, just because the Sun's below the horizon doesn't mean it's dark. In Shetland they call it the simmer dim: the long, slow twilights of summer's solstice-tide.
Nor am I the only one. Here and now we're all walking around in a collective state of chronic sleep deprivation. Add heat and voilà: the proverbial Midsummer Madness. Small wonder I've heard more sirens and seen more car crashes during the past two weeks than in the previous two months put together.
And so that time of year has come again, when the Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the Sun, warming it to its hottest temperature, while the Southern Hemisphere tilts away, resting in the shade. Yes, that’s right, it’s the Summer Solstice for the North and the Winter Solstice for the South and we at PaganSquare are here to celebrate it with you!
As we have in the past for other holidays we’ve gathered a number of articles and posts we found interesting that celebrate this most holy of days. Many of the posts are from our own website, but there’s plenty of stuff from elsewhere listed as well should that catch your interest. In the meantime we wish you a very happy summer... or winter if that’s the side of the globe you hail from ;-) .
Me, when I hear “Midsummer's,” I tend to think "Bonfire."
But of course, that's not the whole story.
Because on Midsummer's Eve there's not just a blessing on the Fire. There's also a blessing on the Waters.
They say that on this night the Sun and the Moon come down to bathe in the waters. For Christian folk it's John the Baptist's night, and what does “baptize” mean in Greek but “dunk” in plain old English? People may have different reasons, but they all agree on what you're supposed to do.
It's the oldest song in a European vernacular language to which both words and tune survive, dating from circa 1250.* You can hear it here.
The original Irish Samhradh, Samhradh (“Summer, Summer”) references Bealtaine—it refers to the traditional gathering and bearing-back of wild greens with which to deck the home—but around here we sing it at Midsummer's, the Bealtaine of the North.
I initially learned the song from my friend singer-songwriter (and Dianic priestess) Ruth Barrett; it was released, with original Midsummer verses, on her 1994 album, The Heart is the Only Nation.
I love Ruth's new verses, but thought I'd try my hand at rendering the original Irish words into singable English. Here they are, just as we'll be singing them on Midsummer's Eve on the highest hill in Paganistan, a-conjuring Summer in.
The summer solstice has been honoured around the world for millennia. In Britain and Ireland its marked by hundreds of earthworks, henges stone circles and rows, and it has a history of celebration from the Neolithic going through the Iron Age druids, through folklore and into the present day where it is honoured by pagans and heathens of many varieties. Solstice means solar standstill, and at this time the suns position from dawn to dusk does its highest arc in the sky, from its most north easterly at dawn to its most north westerly at sunset, before gradually rising further south day on day until the winter solstice. During this time when it is at its most northern arc, its position at dawn appears to 'stand still' until its journey south becomes discernible again. In many ways this can be seen as time where life force and the solar energies are at their height- a time of enthusiasm, celebration and empowerment, but also a time out of time, when the spirit world and our connection to our own souls may become more apparent.
Lighting fires has always been a popular practice at the summer solstice, and one that survived through to the modern era before being taken up with increasing enthusiasm in recent years. In Ireland there are many hills and ancient monuments sacred to or astronomically aligned to the summer solstice, but there are two especially famous hills, Knockainey, sacred to the fire goddess Aine, a faery queen, and Knoc Gréin, sacred to the solar goddess Greine. These two hills near each other in county Limerick were likely to have been beacon hills long ago, with twin fires honouring the sun at this time. Across Britain there are also many 'beacon' hills which are likely to have been used for the same purposes. An agricultural tradition across Britain and Ireland was to drive cattle in between two fires at this time to purify and bless them, and a custom among young men in particular was to leap the flames as well to be blessed and as a sign of fiery prowess....