The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, also called Litha or midsummer, comes around about the 20th or 21st of June. (In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s usually on the 20th or 21st of December.) It’s the longest day and the shortest night of the year because the sun rises as high as it can go, so we get more daylight. From here on in, the days will be getting shorter and the nights longer until the winter solstice/Yule, when things turn around again. This is a joyful festival to celebrate growth and abundance, energy, and blessings of the sun.
The summer solstice is midway into the growing season in Europe. According to The Pagan and the Pen, this isn’t actually the beginning of summer, as is so often believed. It’s actually the beginning of the end of summer. It just feels like the beginning of summer because the heat from the sun, which has been hanging around the heavens longer in the build-up to the solstice, gets absorbed into the earth and is released gradually. We’re typically hit with its heat in July and August.
Midsummer can be celebrated on the evening before the solstice day, at sunrise on the day of the solstice, or at the moment of the solstice, as is done in sacred places around the world (Stonehenge, for instance). Neo-Pagans and people from other traditions celebrate the beauty and goodness of the sun because without it, nothing would grow (including humans).
However, in an article by Ian O’Neill for DiscoveryNews about the summer solstice, he points out that although the sun is crucial to life, we also should be thankful for the way our planet is tilted. If it wasn’t,
[t]here would be no seasons, and the world as we know it would be a very different place: a lifeless desert around the equator and frozen poles equally as hostile to life.
So perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we celebrate the mechanism of life on this planet at the summer solstice, where everything in nature works together to maintain a delicate balance.
Growth and Abundance
The summer solstice is the time of the first harvest. Things are growing all around us and we can see that, though not everything has achieved ripeness for harvesting. Many vegetables have a way to go yet, but some herbs can be harvested. We see flowers all over the place. We also see creatures running and buzzing all around us.
Growth is a beautiful thing because it reaffirms life, so midsummer is a time to be joyful. If we were moving with the rhythm of the earth then we planted seeds during previous festivals. During Imbolc, we purified ourselves of crap that could get in the way of future growth. At Ostara, we honored fertility and clarified our desires. At the beginning of May, Beltane, we celebrated the promise of future abundance as we recognized that there was still a lot of work to do. If we went through all of that, we can see that the work isn’t over, but we’re beginning to see results. The growth of those seeds is unstoppable, and their results will nourish us for months to come.
The sun is pure energy, and the summer solstice is a good time to celebrate that. We can feel that energy and move with it to push us into greater achievements. Winter is the time to hibernate ideas and plans in the darkness; the summer is the time to go for it.
When writing about Beltane, I mentioned the Fool from the Tarot and how that festival marked the beginning of the Fool’s journey. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which has become one of the “standard” ones, shows the Fool dancing towards a cliff, about to head over it without a care in the world. It’s a symbol of leaping into action based on our instincts.
Midsummer is the time to take a leap or two of faith. Before we do, though, we need to check our foundation. This isn’t about being stupid. It’s about listening to what speaks deeply to our hearts and feeling what will pan out to our advantage at some point in the future, even if we’re not clear on exactly how that will happen. We’ll make mistakes, but so what? According to Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (and many before and after him), we all have a Fool within us that knows all about mistakes and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about them. That’s the part of us that’s speaking to us during the summer solstice time, if we listen.
Finally, midsummer is a time to open ourselves up to the blessings of fire: energy and life, protection from things in the darkness of the mind that can drag us down, and optimism for the future. We can even ask for these if we perform a summer solstice ritual. Just as we can’t be happy all the time, we can’t be bummed all the time either, and this is a festival where we’re allowed to recognize that.
Something that may block us from accepting the joyful blessings of midsummer is an uneasy feeling that we don’t deserve to be optimistic, to expect good things to come of our actions, and to simply enjoy life. But humans are a part of nature, not separate from it, and what’s true of animal and plant life is also true of human life. Any gardener knows that tilling the soil, planting the seeds, and nourishing them will bring them to maturity. Just why, exactly, should human life be any different?
True, things can get more complicated, as when we pour energy into the wrong things, but the inevitable blessings do come. It’s the human will that stands in the way then. In other words, we have greater control over the blessings we bring into our lives. Spirit cooperates, whether it’s bringing to fruition blessings that keep us tied to an inauthentic life or blessings that raise us to a higher level of consciousness. We can look upon the summer solstice as a reminder that blessings will come, but it’s our responsibility to ensure the blessings are in harmony with a greater good.
The summer solstice is the time to celebrate in ways that our everyday worries don’t often let us. It’s a time to appreciate how what we plant and tend indeed grows, that life has joy, that good things can and will come from our actions, and that sometimes, we just have to leap and trust.
Summer Solstice Inspiration
- National Geographic has photos of Pagan celebrations of the summer solstice from 2010 that will get you in the mood to celebrate.
- A search on YouTube for summer solstice brings up plenty of results, including celebrations at Stonehenge and Avebury in England.
- CelestialElf is a maker of 3D animated films, called machinima, and a Pagan. He’s created an inspiring summer solstice film called “King Arthur’s Summer Solstice.”