Tomorrow (21st June), those of us in the northern hemisphere will celebrate the "Summer Solstice" - At almost 1:00am, the sun will sit above the Tropic of Cancer and thus begins the longest day of the year. Now, obviously, the day itself is still just 24 little hours but it is commonly known as the day with the longest amount of day light however, for those intent on advocating the proverbial devil, some describe the date as the "one with shortest night". For centuries, the summer solstice has been a great source of speculation and intrigue for many religious and non-religious groups.
Now, the sun will rise directly above the Heel Stone of Stonehenge as it does each and every year. Don't however think for one second that this is a mystical happening that carries any coincidental significance.
The day is an occasion solely born out of astronomical principles and validations however; its significance from a cultural and religious viewpoint has become increasingly prevalent and now extends significantly off the path of simply being relevant to the length of daylight (or lack of night).
The origin of the name "solstice" can be traced back to the Latin words "Sol" - Meaning Sun and "Stare" or "Sistere" - Meaning to "stand or stop" and its celebration dates all the way back to pre-Christian traditions but has since, like with many other ancient prophecies, been welcomed into the modern era. Initially, for many Greeks, according to some writings and calendars, the solstice would mark the beginning of a new year-and, coincidentally, the one month-long countdown leading up to the Olympic games. Additionally, in honour the god Cronus, quite often the solstice has been set aside for the annual occasion for the festival of "Kronia" whereby Greece's successful agriculture infrastructure. In an almost revolutionary idea, this day was celebrated not only by the traditional means of games and banqueting but, uniquely, the slaves of the upper classes were not only allowed to join in with the festivities, but treated fully as equals for a whole day- Maybe in retrospect, not such a noble gesture.
Perhaps more oddly for the Romans, who never needed a good excuse to deviate from the notion of "just another day", used the event of the solstice to create the Festival of Vestalia. During the event, on first day married women could go into the temples of the vestal virgins. There, they would be allowed to make offerings to Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home.
Legend suggests certain plants- acquired physical properties on the year's shortest night that they wouldn't ordinarily have if picked at any other time of year. And on this evening, if you were very, very VERY fortunate, you might even catch a cheeky glimpse of fairies, who favoured midsummer as the best time to reveal themselves to perceived non-believers due to the fact that the night was short and they were vulnerable to capture for the shortest possible time. With this in mind, it becomes easy and somewhat obvious to see why William Shakespeare set his infamous comedy play during the magic of midsummer's evening "Rub fern seeds on your eyelids at midnight's stroke if you want to spy one- but if you do, be sure to come equipped with rue, lest the pixies lead you astray"
"Anything can happen on a midsummer night's eve."
In attempting to produce a cleverly worded blog, I have invented the word "Calandarilly" to mean "from the calendar"- please excuse my poor attempt at redefining the English language.
So, Calandarilly speaking, together with the rise of Christianity and in aligned with the on-going, and somewhat killjoyish threat to many pagan traditions, the summer solstice became intrinsically celebrated in many parts of Europe as the day of St. John the Baptist - St. John's Eve in Denmark, the Feast of St. John in France, the festival of St. John the Baptist in Spain, Ivan Kupala Day in Russia all giving specific reference to the solstice as well as the Croatian festival of Ivanje. In Jewish tradition, the celebration is often referred to as Tekufat Tammuz, the solstice of the month Tammuz, and legend (who, you shall see throughout this blog, is responsible for a number of weird and wonderful traditions being born) has it that, on this particular day, nobody is capable of casting their own shadow.
With all of the "niceties" of the solstice over and done with, there are many cults and groups that have offered themselves as a sacrifice during this day. Some see it as giving themselves to the God of creation some seemingly prefer the attention. For whatever reasons which the solstice is viewed, be it good, bad or indifferent, it certainly has much to answer for in the creation of traditions for many, many groups and individuals. We do look forward to the next wave of traditions.