Happy Summer Solstice

The sun behind the Heel Stone at Stonehenge, s...

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Like its winter counterpart, Summer Solstice is a holiday that has been celebrated around the world since pre-Christian times. In the Christian era it became St. John’s day, but many of the traditions remain. Bonfires to ward off malignant spirits because the veil is thin, purification rituals, gathering of medicinal plants at their prime, all-night parties that start as vigils and end as revels.

Neopagans sometimes call this holiday Litha, after the Anglo-Saxon month that coincided with this time of year.  And because of Shakespeare, we all think of fairies on Midsummer, and delirious dreams and delights and tricks. It is perhaps another interpretation of the veil between worlds being thin, not only the veil between the spirit world and ours but also the fairy realm and ours as well.

I’ve been interested in the discussion going around various places about just what “midsummer” means. I’ve always read in scholarly sources that this is an Middle English usage of  “mid”, meaning “with” instead of the more usual “in the middle of”. Midwife has similar roots. This does not stop people from coming up with the most convoluted theories involving Celts, Astronomy, planting schedules and the like. I think in this particular case Occam’s razor is the way to go.

Even so, it is the middle of the long days and short nights time of year even if it isn’t the middle of summer. I live far enough south that this isn’t quite the same effect as it is in more northern latitudes, and so the inevitable mourning about the coming loss of sun is less sharp for me.  The shortening days are less a dramatic fading away and more of a subtle muting. I do very much miss the midsummer moon of my childhood in the north, though. The moonlight would be almost blindingly brilliant and make everything look so strange and high contrast. I could imagine fairies dancing in that sparkling moonlight world very easily.

For us, this is the beginning of the end of the nice weather, the entry into the time long, hot days that will burn out the garden and violent storms that punish the earth more than cool it. We’re entering a fallow time here, and that makes it almost upside down compared to my friends a little further north. Already we’ve eaten beans and the last of the cucumbers and radishes for now. We’ll have to wait for cooler weather to plant again.

It’s a good time to eat ripe summer fruit, stay up late to look at the stars, and let lazy dreams carry away the afternoon doldrums.  We’ll clear away the old vines and plan what we’ll do next.

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