Ursi's Eso Garden
Your Competent Esoteric Guide
Wednesday, 20. June 2007
Summer Solstice Fests Have Deep Roots
Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, inspired Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream" and is associated with the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Solstice festivals abound in the United States, from Norwegian bonfires to pagan candlelight labyrinths and American Indian drumming rituals.
On the summer solstice, as the sun reaches its highest point directly over the tropic of Cancer at an angle of 23 degrees 27 minutes north, countless festivities will start to heat up.
Known variously throughout Europe as the Feast of Epona, Gathering Day, Johannistag, Litha, Vestalia and Midsummer, the summer solstice was viewed across cultures as a period of peak fertility and a time for weddings. The term "honeymoon" sprang from Celtic tradition and referred to the June moon and the fermented honey mead drunk at wedding celebrations.
Shakespeare's romantic comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream" commemorates the magical pairings of the solstice, and Aragorn and Arwen hold their nuptials on that night in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
But romance isn't the only reason to party on the summer solstice, which arrives on or about June 21. For numerous religious and ethnic groups, it is a time to pay tribute to nature and express cultural pride.
In Europe, the first day of summer involves revelry with deep pagan roots as tourists and religious groups gather to dance, drum and chant at Stonehenge, a 4,000-year-old stone structure in England.
In North America, the holiday has become a melting pot of sorts, with celebrations crisscrossing the continent, mixing European traditions, American Indian spirituality and new-age environmentalism.
One such festival is the Pagan Spirit Gathering in Wisteria, Ohio, held each June at a 620-acre nature preserve in the foothills. Now in its 26th year, the eight-day event is expected to draw hundreds of people from across the country and abroad to commune with nature.
"Though there are variations, we start every summer with an opening ritual and follow with a potluck festival, workshops and a parade with torches and candles,” said Selena Fox, senior minister of the Circle Sanctuary, a pagan spiritual group that hosts the event. “It is a very diverse celebration, combining Druid, Wiccan, Native American, Celtic, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Baltic and Swedish traditions.”
Ancient customs that honor the sun meld with modern feminism as festival-goers offer herbs and flowers to the sun, a symbol of what Fox calls “the divine feminine,” and stroll through a labyrinth created by 1,000 candles forming a pattern from pagan Crete.
For many new age religions, the summer solstice is like Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter rolled into one.
“Today we see a lot of reinvented religions of nature,” said Philip Lucas, professor of religious studies at Stetson University in Florida. “Pagans, neo-pagans, Wiccans, hedge witches, neo-druids and groups like the goddess spirituality movement all celebrate the solstice.”
While the summer solstice is possibly the highlight of the pagan calendar, Jews and Christians have traditionally downplayed it, even though other holidays such as Yom Kippur, Passover, Easter and Christmas intersect with the changing of seasons.
But some modern Judeo-Christian groups are reviving solstice worship.
“Many of those who grew up in Jewish and Christian religion want to see the modern holidays in their agrarian origin,” Lucas said. “These green Jews and green Christians are incorporating the solstice into their current practices.”
Some religious groups point to biblical passages that may have occurred on the summer solstice, including the verse in Joshua 10:12 in which Joshua stops the sun in the sky. (The term solstice is actually from two Latin words meaning “sun stands still.")
“There is also a legend that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden on the summer solstice,” said Rabbi Jill Hammer, director and cofounder of Tel Shemesh, a Jewish organization focused on the celebration of nature. “In the Jewish tradition, the summer is always about this trade-off: abundance but also danger. The summer is about exile and sorrow and loss.”
For the past three years, Tel Shemesh has honored the solstice with immersions in water, dancing and discussions of casting off past regrets. Last year the event took place in New York’s Central Park and featured a large sun made out of wood and cloth.
In other parts of the country, American Indian groups view the solstice as a time of rebirth and regeneration.
The Pan American Indian Association’s Thunderbird Clan of Red River Lodge hosts an annual sweat lodge in Eureka featuring drumming and a potluck dinner on the summer solstice. “It is a very sacred time of year for indigenous people,” said Skyhawk, the clan leader. “In the summer, we give thanks because we couldn’t be here without the sun.”
In Canada, June 21 – now known as National Aboriginal Day – is also a time for honoring native cultures.
“It’s a day for Aboriginals to be proud of themselves and for all Canadians to celebrate their achievements,” said Jean Ouellet, outreach manager for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. The 10-year-old celebration includes potlatches, powwows, fashion shows and panel discussions on native life. “Last year we had 180 activities that went on around the country that we funded,” Ouellet said.
Many communities in the United States that rely on summer tourism start the season with an annual solstice celebration. The population of Ephraim, Wis., rises from 353 to more than 1,000 when local residents and vacationers host the Fyr Bal Festival the weekend before the solstice.
“The festival’s name, Fyr Bal, is a Scandinavian term meaning fireball, which symbolizes the sun,” said Sue Sherman, a member of the Ephraim Business Council and owner of a local bed and breakfast called the Village Green Lodge.
The festivities honor community leaders through the annual crowning of a town chieftain who will arrive on a boat wearing a Viking hat to set the first bonfire. Afterward, whitefish is cooked over the fires while children perform Norwegian dances.
The giant flames set along the waterfront of Eagle Harbor near Lake Michigan hark back to the gala’s roots in the ancient Norwegian practice of using summer bonfires to burn winter witches.
“Back in Viking times, the fires represented burning somebody,” Sherman said, “but now it is a celebration of summer, and it really draws a lot of tourists.”
Page 1 of 1 pages