Around the 21st and 22nd June, falls the Summer Solstice, or Litha, as some Pagans call it. Summer is at its peak, and this Sabbat honours the longest day of the year. The Western hemisphere of the Earth is closest to the Sun.
The word solstice comes from the Latin words “sol,” meaning Sun, and “stitium” or “sistere,” meaning still or stopped. In ancient times, our ancestors most likely used this day as a marker to decide when to plant or harvest crops, noticing that the Sun switched from a southward direction to a northward in the sky.
What Is The Summer Solstice?
As with all Pagan festivals and rituals, there is no one way to celebrate. This special celebration can be traced back as far as Stonehenge, which is 5,000 years or more, meaning that different cultures around the world now celebrate the Summer Solstice. It celebrates the Sun and is a period of pause when we can bask in its warmth, knowing that the crops are ripening in the fields, the frantic fertile period of Spring has passed, life is filled with abundance. The Solstice was a time of celebration and a break from the norm. Many cultures believed that magic took place on the night of the Summer Solstice, with fairies showing themselves to humans, while evil spirits were dispelled from their lives.
Global Celebrations Of The Summer Solstice
Based on an article by Gaia, here are some ways that ancient cultures around the world and across time have celebrated the Solstice:
Those living in Ancient Greece would use the Summer Solstice to mark the beginning of a new year. It would kickstart the month-long countdown to the Olympics. Not only did the Greeks celebrate Litha, but also the festival of Kronia. During Kronia, they would worship Cronus, the god of agriculture, meaning that all slaves were given the same rights as their owners. This unsurprisingly became a welcomed holiday as slaves were finally allowed to participate in games, festivities and some cases, reverse roles with their owners.
Similarly to Greece, in Ancient Egypt, the Summer Solstice also represented the start of a new year. However, in this case, it would be used to express the coming of the brightest star, Sirius. They believed that Sirius was responsible for floods as not long after the beginning of the Summer Solstice, the Nile would flood its banks and create the season of wealth from the land.
The Ancient Romans commonly celebrated the festival of Vestalia, which honoured the goddess of the hearth (home). During celebrations, married women would visit the temple of Vesta and bring offerings in the hope that the goddess would provide blessings for their families. Due to this, the Vesta also adopted the name of the goddess for women and would protect married women and virginity. When visiting Vesta’s temple, women would also bake a sacred cake which was created using a strict recipe. As part of the recipe, sacred Springwater would be used which would be carried in blessed jugs that prevented it from coming into contact with the Earth.
In Northern Europe, the Summer Solstice was celebrated through bonfires. Pagans believed that the bonfires would help to banish any evil spirits or demon and in return, cultivate magic. When delving deeper into the different Summer Solstice celebrations, you will notice that bonfires become a reoccurring theme across cultures, almost always accompanied by feasting and dancing.
Again, the Celts would gather around bonfires to celebrate the Summer Solstice in the belief that it would enable them to open a path towards the light. One by one, they would launch themselves over the fire to purify their soul and burn away any impurities.
Bonfires were again a popular form of celebrations for Slavic Nations Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus during the Summer Solstice. Couples were encouraged to jump over the fire while holding hands. If they were able to maintain a grip while jumping, their relationship would be considered as strong and striving for success and happiness. If, on the other hand, they lost their grip, they believed that it was a sign that their relationship was doomed. While bonfires were used for couples, rivers would be used for single women. The women would create rings of flowers that would be released into the water. A bachelor would wait on the other side of the river to catch the flowers, in the hope that they would find a partner.
The Summer Solstice was widely celebrated in Native America. During the day, Sioux’s famous Sundance would take place. Tribes would gather for Sun gazing dances around the sacred cottonwood tree, a symbol of the connection between Heaven and Earth. They would use the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, which aligned with the sunrise and sunset during the Solstice.
In Ancient China, the Solstice’s are represented by male and female energy. The Summer Solstice was the feminine energy, “yin” and the Winter Solstice was the masculine energy, “yang”. Many different festivities were celebrated on this day.
While other cultures were celebrating during Summer Solstice, the Vikings were tackling more serious matters. Thanks to the longer days during the Summer, the Vikings used the Solstice productively. They would discuss legal issues and resolve disputes. It remained the prime time to conduct trade, shipping, fishing, and of course, raids.
After familiarising yourself with the Summer Solstice celebrations of ancient cultures, it becomes clear that this festival has widely become a time of celebration. It is thought the feeling of joy is down to the increasing sunlight and longer days. The Solstice marks the longest day in the calendar year and the beginning of the Summer.
Sunlight is not only effective in bringing happiness, but also promoting mental and physical health. The sunlight and vitamin D enhances a form of human photosynthesis, instantly improving our mood, immune system capabilities and strength of the bones and heart. The Sun is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing.
Stonehenge and The Summer Solstice
A guide to the Summer Solstice cannot be complete without mentioning Stonehenge. Although the famous monolithic site remains somewhat a mystery, it is clear that the solstices were an impetus in its construction. On the evening of the Summer Solstice, the sunset cleverly aligns with the base stone of the monument and continues to shine brightly through the others.
Many historians have concluded that the construction of Stonehenge was a societal ceremony. While the construction dates back as far as 3,000 and 2,000 BCE, they believe that it was created to bring individuals together and show collective strength to outsiders. Nowadays, during the Summer Solstice, people from across the globe still come on pilgrimages to celebrate at Stonehenge.
Summer Solstice Therapies and Training
As you can see, through all time and all cultures, the Summer Solstice is one of the most important festivals of the cycle of the year. The therapies and training that I like to focus on sharing with my clients and students at this time of year are centred around healing and resting. Lomilomi massage (and Lomilomi massage training ) is a wonderful therapy to have and learn at this time of year as it is a modality that focuses on deep inner healing and releasing of trauma. It is a very Spiritual massage as we connect with the Ancestors to ask for guidance and help with the healing. Lomilomi is quite an exposed treatment, being performed directly on the couch with minimal draping (see the attached video for an example of how Lomilomi is performed ) – client modesty is maintained at all times.
At AuroraStar we give the massage on removable, washable BPA free plastic, to ensure utmost hygiene for our clients and to avoid damage to the couch, with lots of coconut oil, to facilitate the body being able to let go completely. Because the temperatures are warm, it’s the perfect time of year to have this massage, as it encourages the client to relax and release, to look within, and to participate in their own healing, at the same time as learning to surrender.
The Summer Solstice is the perfect time to press the pause button, to stand still and reflect, to get out and spend time in nature and notice the beauty that is all around. This is where starting or renewing a meditation/mindfulness practice can be brought in. At AuroraStar, I run beginners’ meditation classes, and also give one to one sessions, that can be incorporated into an individual treatment plan with other therapies for your inner healing, spiritual development and wellbeing.
Learning the practice of mindfulness allows us to truly be in the moment, to switch off external chatter and to appreciate and show gratitude for all the abundance in our lives – what better time to notice that abundance than at the time of the Summer Solstice? The warm summer nights allow us the chance to experience meditation/mindfulness sitting out in nature, around the fire, with our family and friends. We can reflect and look into the flames as our ancestors did, it can be as simple and joyful as that!