The first day of the summer, brings to many, thoughts of lazy afternoons, and for most Americans is just another day. Many in this country usher in the beginning of summer at Memorial Day and pays little attention to the official start of summer which is the Summer Solstice. For some though the Summer solstice which is the longest day of the year is a celebration.
Ancient societies were much more connected to nature, it was a necessity to know nature and all the changes it brought about to survive. It is not surprising that the sun and stars had an impact on ancient culture, and modern society can see evidence of the great reverence that ancient civilizations paid to the sun and the stars in monuments that these civilization built.
From ancient Europe, to the long abandoned cities of the new world monolithic structures still stand, having stood the test time, and at times leaving those who study them dumbstruck that such structures could have been built by societies with out modern tools. The structures leave clues behind, showing the modern world how important days like the summer solstice were and how the longest day was celebrated.
Stonehenge which is located on the Salisbury Plain about 80 miles south-west of London in Great Britain is one of those monuments. The purpose of the monument is still not entirely know and continues to be a topic of speculation for those who study it. Built in three phases between 3000 BC and 1600 BC the ancient gathering place still attracts visitors from around the world. On the summer solstice thousands gather to celebrate the event. For some it is just a big party, but for many New Age spiritualist such a neo-pagans, neo-druids and Wiccans it holds a deep and spiritual meaning. Celebrants dance, played drum, some kissed the stones, and lovers renew their vows. As the sun begins to rise the crowd usually becomes silent. Those lucky enough to stand in the right spot within the monument, and look northeast at the hewn stone on the outer edged of the monument, known as the Heel Stone, can watch the sun rise above the stone.
For those unfamiliar with the spiritual meaning behind the summer solstice it began in ancient times, when humans looked to the sky to tell them when to plant, when to harvest, and to guide them in their decisions. The sun which was and still is the giver of life’s energy was worshiped as a god. On the summer solstice, the Sun God is at his strongest. The first of the summer crops were harvested around this time. In modern times the solstice marks the beginning of summer but in times past it was actually the beginning of the end of summer, often called midsummer. The days now will slowly grow shorter. In ancient times the long, bright day, the bountiful food from the harvest, and the Sun God at his strongest, having overcome the darkness, made this a time of great celebration.
For some ancients civilizations the journey of the sun throughout the sky was a symbol of the journey one takes in life to reach a more enlightened consciences. The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year represents the birth of the Sun God, and the beginning of ones journey to reach enlightenment. As the days slowly get longer, the light and enlightenment in ones life also grows. The Spring equinox represent the resurrection of the Sun God, and his reunion with the Mother Goddess. The Summer solstice, is the time of the return or the ascension of the Father God. It was a time to celebrate the power of light over darkness in the individual, the return to becoming whole just as the Sun/son God, the Mother Goddess and the Father God became one, the conscience of the individual became whole and reached enlightenment.
The ancient Egyptian, Romans, Mayans, Druids, and Essenes built many of their monuments to align with the sun. These sacred sites were place where people gather to celebrate and performed rituals. In Egypt on the summer solstice the sun makes a crown of light on the Sphinx’s head. The Druids celebrated the defeat of the dark god chosen for the year, and the Egyptian celebrated the defeat of the dark god Seth by Horus the god of the sun. In ancient Rome the Druid tradition of guarding the fire was carried on in the festival of Vestalia.
Today the summer solstice is still celebrated, the longest day of the year is a chance for many places to hold festivals and for Pagans to gather together. Some will dance, or burn a Yule wreath in a bonfire, others will drum and chant. Many will go to huge festivals like the one at Stonehenge or the Pagan Spirit Gathering held in fields in Missouri. For others it is a more personal experience and the celebration will be simple, perhaps lighting a candle , or just sitting and watching the sunrise or sunset, and soaking in the power of the sun. Towns and communities across the country hold celebrations, they may not be religious in nature, but it is still a celebration of summer and the fun and warmth it brings.
By Jessica Hamel
Huffington Post: The Spiritual Meaning of the Summer Solstice
The Pagan and The Pen: Celebrating the Pagan Summer Solstice
Belsebuub.com:The Spiritual Meaning of the Summer Solstice
EarthSky: Summer Solstice Seen From Stonehenge
Photo Courtesy of vintagedept’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License
Photo Courtesy of watchsmart’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License