The celebration of the summer solstice, known for being the longest day of the year, traditionally it occurs on or around June 21 or 22. It marks the point when the sun reaches its northermost point geographically. The turning point of balance, from the lengthening of our days, to the process of once again, shortening them.
In the ancient Celtic countries of Northern Europe, the Solstice celebration was a joyous one, celebrating the power of the Sun God and invoking him to "put to flight the powers of darkness" and bring fertility and abundance back to the land and the people. However, at the very height of the Sun's power we also encounter the truth; that whatsoever rises must also fall and so from this high point in the solar cycle, the days will begin to grow shorter and the nights longer.
In Britain this theme of transformation from one thing to another was reflected in the story of the Oak King, god of the waxing year and the Holly King, his twin, god of the waning year. It was at this time that the Oak King fell and the Holly King began his reign which would lead inevitably to the darkness of winter and the longest night of the year at the Winter Solstice at which point the Oak King would return. It was said that at the Summer Solstice the Oak King withdrew to the realm of the circumpolar stars, known to the Greeks as the Corona Borealis, to the Egyptians as ik-hem-sek, 'not-knowing-destruction,' and to the Celts as Caer Arianrhod. This region of the stars never disappears below the horizon, not even at the time of Midwinter.
In Ireland music, dancing and story telling were all part of the Solstice celebrations. Before the celebrations could begin, prayers were recited while walking around the bonfire. Herbs gathered on the eve of Summer Solstice were most often used for medicinal purposes. Others were used for rites and divination. St. John¹s Wort, Elderberries, Yarrow and Vervain were a few that were used. Hazel branches were cut on Solstice eve and used to look for gold, water, and precious jewels.
Long ago rituals took place at Stonehenge (shown above) on the plain of Salisbury, by the Druid Priests. Contemporary Druids gather at Stonehenge during the summer solstice to watch sunrise over the heelstone and claim their relationship with ancient British ancestors, imagining that they can recapture the essence of archaic ceremonies. Only one heelstone stands now, a large block of sarsen (or form of sandstone) though some believe that there was once another such stone and that sun would rise just between the two pillars.
Druids celebrated the Summer Solstice as the wedding of Heaven and Earth. The Goddess manifests as Mother Earth and God as Sun King. Bonfires were lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness. Midsummer Eve festivals in the countryside of Cornwall, England would have firelight shinning from every hill and peak. Dancers adorned in garlands and flowers and young men jumped through the tall flames. This ancient Cornwall Summer Bonfire tradition has been revived during the 1920's and is still a popular festival.
The symbol associated with the Solstices is the spiral, created by the patterns of sacred geometry. Ancient dances follow the Sun's movement like a spiral. People joined hands weaving through the streets, winding into a decreasing spiral into the middle then unwinding back out again. The Sun moving from contraction at the center of the spiral at winter solstice to expansion at Summer Solstice and back again.
Some call this Midsummer's Eve - one of the three spirit nights of the year, when the veils are thin between the worlds. Midsummer is truly a celebration of the primal creative force of the Sun God at the peak of power and the Goddess in Her manifestation as the Mother - fertile and blooming with abundance.