Summer Solstice otherwise known as Alban Heruin to the Celts falls on the 21st December. This festive day of joy and happiness is one of the great solar festivals and celebrates the peak of Summer. It is the longest day of the year when the great Sun stands proudly at his highest point in the sky. All across the world great monuments can be found across hundreds of cultures that mark the exact moment of the Solstice sun. Great stones, megaliths, tunnels and monuments have been constructed to honour this specific astronomical moment in time. The Solstice is the great joyous celebration of light at its brightest.
For me it is the time when the electrical storms fill the sky and the song of cicadas and geckos echo through the night. The Suns warmth and light brings brightness all around us and within us. We walk more outside, meet more with friends, have BBQ’s and enjoy the beach. Sunshine brings strength and inspiration. He warms the Earth and through his strength and energy, life in the Earth Mother is born and nurtured, and She is able to bring fertility and beauty to land and sea, to the depth of Earth soils and to our hearts.
Timing of Solstice
Solstice is derived from Latin and means ‘sun stopping’ or ‘sun standing still’, as midsummer day is the day in which the sun rises and falls in exactly the same position on the horizon, then reverses its path from this day forward as the season changes. The solstices occur because the rotation axis of the Earth is tilted by an angle of 23.5 degrees from the vertical. If the Earth’s rotation was at right angles to the plane of its orbit around the Sun, there would be no solstice days and no seasons. The celebration of the Solstice falls on the cusp between Gemini and Cancer (between 21st-23rd December).
Stories of Summer Solstice
Summer Solstice is the celebration of the peak of Summers beauty. It is the climax of the Suns power, when the beauty of the union of the Sun and Moon (God and Goddess) shift the seasons. The Sun God Bel-awn dies in ecstasy with the Summer Goddess. Their power invokes a trance that moves and shifts the world and the seasons from this day forward. Tides turn and his warmth leaves as he departs for the underworld. He sacrifices his life and his energy for the Goddess. It is the turning tide as both God and Goddess have their place and their time for bringing fertility to the land. The Great Mother claims her power, after the energy of the Sun has warmed the Earth, and she now brings fertility to the land. Summer Solstice is also associated with Taranis, King of the Oak Thunder God who brings the Summer rains.
To the Celts Summer Solstice is one of the ‘spirit nights’ (with Samhain and Beltaine). These nights are considered strong nights in which spirits and the faerie realm are most active.
Midsummer fires were lit on hills (closest to the sun) and were viewed as protective to the land, crops and livestock and brought strength and fertility in love. Images of the past winter (such as the Winter Goddess or the Holly King) were burnt on the midsummer fires. Sometimes a mock fight between two men in front of the High Priestess and community took place. The Holly King and Oak King symbolically struggle and the Oak (light) wins.
Dancing in circles is often associated with honouring the Sun. The great Celtic Sun God Bel (Bel-awn or Belinos) and Lugh are often honoured. Also due to the turning of light and dark many Gods and Goddesses that represent both polarities of light and dark are celebrated such as Danu, Anu, Macha, Epona, Aine and Rhiannon.
St Johns Wort or Bels Flower is sacred to the Sun and used widely at Summer Solstice. The beautiful bright Yellow flowers are often used to decorate sacred space. St Johns Wort is considered a common plant and is often growing out of control in several city and country areas. In old times women would pick the yellow flowers at Solstice dawn. If they placed the dew on their faces from the Suns flower this dawn it was believed they would find love within the year.
Water on Solstice Day
For centuries the old people have bathed in fresh water on Solstice morning, as the Goddess is said to bathe herself in freshwater streams on Solstice eve, blessing all the waters. Some people offer herbs to the water, throw wishes spoken into roses to be carried downstream, or take water from streams to bless their homes and animals. Wash their faces in the morning dew or take and early morning swim. A gold dish of water left out Solstice eve, is called Sun water and considered blessed by both the Water Goddess Sulis and the Sun God Bel.
Rites of dawn focus on honouring the Father and the Sun .Thanking him for his sacrifice, warmth and energy in nurturing the Earth Mother. Some people burn herbs for the Sun at dawn, and wait for first light welcoming the Solstice Sun with a candle or lantern.
Farwell the Sun at the exact same point on the horizon and welcome the Moon and the Mother with milk, honey and herbs. Feast together and celebrate abundance, fertility and beauty.
Herbs for Summer Solstice
Lavender-Thrown into the Summer fire ensures a good year: stability, calm, blessings
St Johns Wort-Gathered mid-Summer, herb to honour Sun/Bel, protection, fire
Verbena-Gathered on Midsummer Eve- soaked in water overnight, relieves stress, aphrodisiac, dreaming, protection, honour the sun & inspiration.
Lavender, St Johns Wort and Verbena: Traditionally bound together as a solstice fire offering. Can make wishes for the coming season, or burn something you wish to change.
Chamomile- traditional herb of the sun, relaxing
Elder, Birch, Oak, Ash and thorn- traditional herbs to see Faeries on Solstice night
Fennel- Protects Home, family and Fertility, alibility to face danger/adversity. Gathered Midsummer Eve and hung in the home.
Mistletoe- Mistletoe berries were gathered on Solstice night, legends said the berries infused with the suns power of this night would turn golden and were prized for their healing ability.
Rosemary-enhance memory, protection and purification
Mugwort- Midsummer herb for protection, ritual bathing, women’s herb, dreaming & visions, protection of home and safety in journeys (comp. moonstone & pearls)
Offerings-yellow, orange flowers, sun flowers and fruits, incenses
Things to do on Summer Solstice
- Burn herbs for the Sun and to make wishes for the coming season
- Leave out a dish for Sun water (preferably gold) on Solstice night and bath in the water on Solstice morning
- Throw coins or offering into water or streams on Solstice morning
- Go for a swim in the Solstice waters
- Leave crystals out for cleansing under both the Solstice Sun and the Moon as the season changes
- Light a candle or lantern with the Solstice Sun at Dawn, Welcome his light and his nurturing to the Earth Mother and give thanks at Sunset as he departs
- Write letters to special men in your life and tell them how they nurture your life
- Watch the sunset and burn herbs in thanks to the Sun God
- After dark place milk, honey and herbs into the ground to welcome the Mother
- Place herbs, cake, honey and incense in the garden for the faeries
- In Celtic tradition some people spent the night before Solstice out on the hills awaiting the dawn and seeking inspiration
- Have friends over and enjoy food and celebrations
- Dance, drum, sing and enjoy
- Get some elderflower cordial (found at most shopping centres and health food stores) and mix with champagne or use for jellys to bring the fun and the sacred together
- Decorate the house with orange and yellow flowers
- Put a big sunflower by your bed or on your work desk
- Light torches, have bon fires or roll a sun wheel lit on fire down a hill
- Light a bonfire to encourage and honour the light of the Sun- do fire jumping for cleansing and new beginnings
- Decorate your altar with sunflowers, marigolds, gold material, orange and yellow crystals and images of the Sun
- Children often enjoy activities such as making decorations with golden tinsel and images of the sun, making a sun dial and planting sun flowers
- Have a picnic with friends and children and bathe in the sun
- Place mugwort and any other midsummer herbs under your pillow on Solstice night to encourage dreams on this strong night
- Celebrate the light and joy of the sun by hanging lanterns around your home, lighting candles or hanging fairy lights