The summer Solstice usually occurs on the 21st of June – the longest day, when we have equal amounts of daylight and darkness. At this time the sun is also at its maximum height in the sky. Midsummer means a stopping or standing still of the sun.
For thousands of years the summer Solstice has had spiritual significance. The human race have been awed and amazed by the magnificence and great power of the sun. All over the world people have celebrated this special time of the year. The Celts would light bonfires believing they would add to the sun’s energy. Even Christians chose this time in June to celebrate the feast of St John the Baptist, and in China they celebrate the festival of Li who is the Chinese Goddess of Light.
In common with many other religious groups, Pagans are in awe of the incredible strength of the sun and the divine powers that create life. They mark the passage of the year in the form of a wheel and the Summer Solstice is a significant spoke in this wheel. They believe that at the beginning of spring the Goddess takes over the earth from the horned God and at the Summer Solstice she is at the height of her power and fertility. Some Pagans believe that the Summer Solstice marks the marriage of the God and Goddess and they see their union as the force that gives birth to the fruits of the harvest.
Pagans take this opportunity to celebrate growth and life. But they also see the world in balance and are deeply aware of the constant shifting of the seasons and the turning of the wheel, so for them it is also time to acknowledge that the sun begins to decline once again towards winter.
For Pagans the celebration of the Summer Solstice draws on diverse traditions. In this country many Pagans, and indeed non-Pagans, go to ancient religious sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury. They go to be a witness to the sun rising on the first morning of summer. In gardens to woodlands across the country many other Pagans hold smaller ceremonies. They are preserving the ancient beliefs of our ancestors which they feel deep in their unconscious.
The yearly seasonal cycle is often called the Wheel of the Year by the Pagans. Most of them celebrate a cycle of eight festivals, spaced evenly every six or seven weeks throughout the year. These festivals divide the wheel neatly into eight segments.
Four of the festivals have Celtic origins and Pagans know them by their Celtic names – Imbloc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
The remaining four festivals are points on the solar calendar and are well known to most people – Spring Equinox, Autumn Equinox and the Summer and Winter Solstice. In England we have incredible ancient Neolithic sites including Stonehenge. It is believed these sites functioned as gigantic solar calendars marking the solstices and equinoxes. Historians believe that this proves that Pagan solar festivals have been significant dates for hundreds of thousands of years.