Celebrate the Summer Solstice


June 17, 2020

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Midsummer is a time of celebration. I know none of us feel like celebrating in the northern hemisphere. Still, specifically this day rejoices in the triumph of good hearts over evil spirits… and that I can get on board with.

Traditionally we celebrate nature, fertility, creation, abundance, successes as well. June, the time of peak summer, is the month of the oak tree – which is a symbol of strength and vitality. It’s a time of herb gathering too, as the earth’s aliveness is peaked.

We all could use more of that! I’ve been diffusing a lot of wood essential oils to help ground me during this time of upheaval.

The summer solstice is also considered a special thin time between our world and the spiritual world. This thinness enables the fairies, ghosts and spirits to walk among us, to touch us and to speak to us. So keep your eyes and ears out for signs.

Here are seven specific ways you can mark the summer solstice this year ::

1| Bathe in the sun

In 1922, Sir Henry Gauvain, Britain’s leading heliotherapist, wrote that sunlight is “like a good champagne.It invigorates and stimulates; indulged in to excess, it intoxicates and poisons.”

In the 1920s, doctors prescribed heliotherapy for malnourishment and tuberculosis. The sun and heat can be troublesome for some with MS or for some viruses. Dr. Niels Finsen, who won a Nobel prize for his work on lupus, eventually showed that solar radiation could help treat smallpox, lupus and tuberculosis. Solaria were built in hospitals throughout Europe. Doctors at the time preferred morning sunshine because the air was cooler. Heliotherapy fell out of practice as antibiotics were found to be effective around World War II.

But, this finding is what began to make tanning fashionable in the early part of the 20th century. (Isn’t history amazing?)

As with anything, so long as not in excess, cool sunshine can improve your health and your sleep. It’s also great for jet lag – get some sunshine when you land and it’ll reset your body clock.

2 | Buy flowers

Flowers are a manifestation of the sun. They close at night and open in the morning when sun rises. This behavior is called nyctinasty. Tulips, hibiscus, poppies and crocuses all do this!

Scientists are not sure why certain flowers evolved with this behavior, though there are a few theories.

Their blooms represent the power of the sun to bring beauty in our lives, so why not honor that by bringing the beauty of some flowers into your home?

Me at Wianki Summer Solstice 2017

Why not make a daisy wreath or chain? Sunflowers and daisies are particularly suitable for summer solstice. In Poland on the summer solstice, they hold a festival called Wianki, which means wreaths. In 2017, I attended a Wianki at the Lincoln Memorial and danced and made a flower wreath.

3 | Climb a Hill

At the height of summer, climb to a height. Throughout many ancient cultures, hill tops are a prime location for solstice celebrations and important in mythology.

It’s a blessing to wash your face in the summer solstice rain.
— Paul Simon

There are the Seven Hills on which ancient Rome was built, and one of Hercules 12 labors was driving cattle over Aventine Hill. There’s also the spell of the seven hills of Lisbon. And then there’s poor Sisyphus, the king of Corinth, whom Hades punished by having repeatedly to roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it roll down again as soon as he had brought it to the summit. (What’s often forgotten is that he was being punished for having cheated death).

Bonfires are also often lit on hilltops. In Ireland, the tradition goes back to ancient pagan times, and while bonfires generally are not allowed, there is an exemption for June 21st.

Similar rituals are also practiced in parts of Cornwall which honors their  Celtic roots in the solstice celebration of Golowan. In Austria, a caravan of ships move down the Danube River while fires are lit on the banks and on hilltops.

Climbing a hill to change your perspective on how far you’ve come. Make a list while you’re up there of your accomplishments as this is a day to remember your successes.

4 | Create

Midsummer is a time of fertility and creation. Get in touch with your creativity by making a meal or baking some bread. Start a knitting or needlepoint project. Practice your calligraphy or make a mandala. Write a poem. Make up a song.

If the 9 muses are elusive, then enjoy another’s creativity. Listen to music. Watch a meaningful film. Escape into a book.

Creativity is how we feel alive, and at midsummer we should celebrate that.

5 | Play

Midsummer has always been a time of gathering for fun and for fairs. There’s food and merriment and dancing.

We can not do that today, but we can go for a walk with no purpose other than to explore. When was the last time you did that? In France, that is called flâneuring, from the French noun flâneur, meaning “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”. Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. Imagine the freedom of having no purpose!

Blow some bubbles. Dance. Climb a tree. Catch fireflies. Do some coloring out side the lines with chalk on some pavement or sidewalk. Here’s an official drawing of Stonehenge from English Heritage that you can download to color. And here are options for the young people or the young at heart in your life! We’ve forgotten how to play… and summer is the time to remedy that.

6 | Light a candle

Fire has long been a part of celebrations for this day. In pre-Christian times, bonfires were thought to honor Hercules. In the 1200s a monk wrote that the fires were to scare away the dragon who were believed to be abroad in the night to poison the healing wells and fresh springs.

At later times and in other places, fires were thought to scare away witches and evil spirits. Then fires and torches were deemed to be symbolic of St. John the Baptist lighting the way for the coming birth of Jesus. Midsummer is a great fire festival which is mirrors the hot fire of the sun burning overhead.

This year in 2020, there is much evil being done. Light a candle to symbolize the hope and prayer for good to prevail.

7 | Visit water

In Denmark, the midsummer was a time of visiting holy wells for healing. This practice apparently is rooted in Viking times.

The day to commemorate St. John the Baptist is June 24th and the pagan celebrations of midsummer were often (and in some places still are) shifted a few days to St. John’s Eve.

Obviously John the Baptism is associated with water, healing, cleansing and new beginnings. Wells were christened (pardon the pun) for St. John. Pilgrims traveled to be cured, especially in the British Islands:

Description from between the 17th and 19th centuries record that large numbers of pilgrims bathed in a naked state in the wells at midsummer. It can be suggested that these activities are a continuation of pre-Christian midsummer rituals associated with the promotion of good health, not only for humans but also for animals. There are records from Ireland and elsewhere of livestock being bathed at midsummer in order to protect them from illness. (source here, page 9)

So go to a body of water. Swim if you can. Even better – swim naked.

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