The Los Angeles Times today noted that today is the summer solstice, the longest day in the calendar. The solstice may have been celebrated for 10,000 years.
The summer solstice occurs because the Earth’s axis of rotation is not perpendicular to its orbital plane. In other words, it’s tilted at about 23 degrees. For half a year the northern hemisphere is closer to the sun, and for the other half the southern hemisphere is nearer. The maximum effect of this tilt happens twice a year. In the north this comes between June 20 and June 22, and between December 20 and December 23 in the south. At these times the sun reaches its highest position in the sky over the north or south poles.
There is also a winter solstice in which the sun appears at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon. This happens on opposite times of the year for the two hemispheres.
The summer solstice is the official start of summer, though it is commonly referred to as midsummer, as in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Americans, at least, don’t think of June 21 as the middle of summer.
Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). We haven’t seen the sun stand still since Joshua got the nod from God to finish the battle with the Amorites (Joshua 10:13).
The solstice is not the longest day in the Polar Regions, where daylight stays on for up to six months around the solstice.
The solstice is a memorable day for many groups.
The slabs of stone on England’s Salisbury Plain at Stonehenge are aligned with the Sun. A study of the ground plan and structural engineering of Stonehenge shows that the construction required sophisticated mathematical and geometrical understanding. Scholars in the 1950s and 1960s determined that Stonehenge was used for astronomical observation as well as for rituals. Ceremonies were held in accordance with a variety of periods besides the solstices, including equinoxes and lunar days. BBC News reported in 2008 that radiocarbon dating put the creation of this stones at 2300 BCE. Others put its erection at between 3100 – 1100 BCE.
The stones in Stonehenge consist of “bluestones,” weighing four tons, and Sarsen stones that weigh twenty-five tons. The bluestones had to be brought from 240 miles away. It may have taken more than thirty million hours of labor to erect the monument.
But this isn’t the only monument to the sun about the British Isles. There are more than nine hundred stone rings of its kind. But Stonehenge is the most well-known.
And just to be clear: The Druids had nothing to do with stone rings. They did their worshipping in forest groves. But Druids were among the pagans and curiosity-seekers gathered at the site today.
There are many cultures and religions with sites aligning to the summersolstice, including Egyptians, pagans, Mayans, Essenes, Buddhists, Native Americans and Easter Islanders. (See the web site “Sacred Sites and Places of Power.”)
Amid the Great Pyramids of Egypt, one can stand at the Sphinx and watch the sun in the summer solstice set precisely between the two largest of the Great Pyramids.
There are other places in Egypt, such as the temple at the site of Abydos, which also has a summer solstice alignment. It is called the Osireion and was believed to be the final resting place of the god Osiris. It is dated to between 6,000 – 3,100 BC, although it is may be much older.
Monuments to celebrate the summer solstice could have been built 10,000 years ago or longer.
Other places of pilgrimage during the summer solstice noted by the Times include the six-sided pyramids of Guimar on the Canary Islands, in which a double sunset seems to occur as the sun slips behind a mountaintop and reemerges, then sets again behind another mountain. An earthwork is in the shape of a snake face the summer solstice along the Ancient Ohio Trail in Serpent Mound, where evidence suggests there may have been giant “woodhenge,” at the Moorehead Circle.
Two of approximately 30 temples caves carved into the Ajanta Caves in India are aligned to the summer and winter solstices respectively. The temples were believed to have been created by Buddhist monks. The summer solstice temple features a giant Buddha.
13th century Puebloan people carved petroglyphs on rocks near their homes in what is now the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Petroglyphs are pictograms and images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, carving, and abrading. In the two weeks around this date, there are shadows and light cast upon one of the petroglphs at sunrise.
Other temples aligned with the summer solstice are found in Guatamala and Mexico, as well as in the area of the ancient Mayan civilization in Central America. These indicate that the summer solstice is significant for a variety of cultures in history
While more than 20,000 people gathered at Stonehenge, there were more than 15,000 yoga practitioners rolling out their mats in New York City’s Times Square. There were classes going on all day, starting at 7:30 a.m. The Fremont neighborhood in Seattle has been celebrating the summer solstice since 1989, with a two-day street festival. The summer solstice is referred to as St. John’s Day, and comes complete with bonfires, dancing and naked sprints across town.
Today’s participants could be part of a celebration that is 10,000 years old.
By: Tom Ukinski