Midsummer is a time of celebration. We celebrate nature, fertility, creation, abundance, successes. We celebrate the triumph of good hearts over evil spirits. June, the time of peak summer, is the month of the oak tree which is a symbol of strength and vitality. We gather herbs and share meals. The summer solstice is also considered a special thin time when the fairies walk among us.
Here are seven specific ways you can mark the summer solstice this year ::
In the 1920s, doctors prescribed heliotherapy for malnourishment and tuberculosis. The sun and heat can be troublesome for some with MS or for some viruses. The key is to avoid heat. Dr. Niels Finsen, who won a Nobel prize for his work on lupus, eventually showed that solar radiation could help treat smallpox, lupus and tuberculosis. So solaria were built in hospitals in Europe. Doctors at the time preferred morning sunshine because the air was cooler. This finding is what began to make tanning fashionable in the early part of the 20th century. Heliotherapy fell out of practice as antibiotics were found to be effective around World War II. But as with anything, so long as not in excess, some sunshine can improve your health.
Sir Henry Gauvain, Britain’s leading heliotherapist, seemed to foresee heliotherapy’s future back in 1922. Sunlight, he wrote, is “like a good champagne. It invigorates and stimulates; indulged in to excess, it intoxicates and poisons.”
Flowers are a manifestation of the sun. They close at night and open in the sun in a behavior called nyctinasty. Tulips, hibiscus, poppies and crocuses all do this. Scientists are not sure why certain flowers evolved with this behavior, though there are a few theories. Their blooms represent the power of the sun to bring beauty in our lives, so why not honor that by bringing the beauty of some flowers into your home? Sunflowers and daisies are particularly suitable. Why not make a daisy wreath or chain? In Poland on the summer solstice, they hold a festival called Wianki, which means wreaths. Last summer solstice I attended a Wianki at the Lincoln Memorial and danced and made a flower wreath
Throughout many cultures, hill tops are a prime location for solstice celebrations and are important in mythology. There are the Seven Hills on which ancient Rome was built, and one of Hercules 12 labors was driving cattle over Aventine Hill. There’s also the spell of the seven hills of Lisbon. And then there’s poor Sisyphus, the king of Corinth, whom Hades punished by having repeatedly to roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it roll down again as soon as he had brought it to the summit. (What’s often forgotten is that he was being punished for having cheated death).
Bonfires are also often lit on hilltops. In Ireland, the tradition goes back to ancient pagan times, and while bonfires are not allowed, there is an exemption for June 21st. Similar ritual are also practiced in parts of Cornwall which honors their Celtic roots in the solstice celebration of Golowan. In Austria, a caravan of ships move down the Danube River while fires are lit on the banks and on hilltops. We may not be permitted to lite a bonfire, but hills have their own symbolism.
At the height of summer, climb to a height. I suggest climbing a hill, if you’re able, to change your perspective on how far you’ve come. Make a list while you’re up there of your accomplishments as this is a day to remember your successes.
Midsummer is a time of fertility and creation. Do something to get in touch with your creativity. Make a meal or bake some bread. Start a knitting or needlepoint project. Practice your calligraphy or make a mandala. Write a poem. Make up a song. If the 9 muses are elusive, then enjoy some creativity. Go see some theater or listen to live music. Attend a comedy show or go to a dance club. Creativity is how we feel alive, and at midsummer we should celebrate that.
We have forgotten how to play. Midsummer was a time of gathering for fun and for fairs. There would be food and merriment and dancing. So go to a fair or outdoor market with no purpose other than to explore. Buy some bubbles and blow some. Do some coloring out side the lines. Go for a walk without any destination. Dance like no one is watching. Climb a tree. Go catch fireflies. When was the last time you did that?
Fire and bonfires have long been a part of celebrations for this day. In pre-Christian times, they were thought to honor Hercules. In the 1200s a monk wrote that the fires were to scare away the dragon who were believed to be abroad in the night to poison the healing wells and fresh springs. At later times and in other places, the fires were thought to scare away witches and evil spirits. Then the fires and torches were deemed to be symbolic of St. John the Baptist lighting the way for the coming birth of Jesus. Midsummer is a great fire festival which is mirrors the hot fire of the sun burning overhead.
This year in 2018 as we watch families being separated at the southern border of the United States, there is much evil being done. So light a candle to symbolize the hope and prayer for good to prevail.
In Denmark, the midsummer was a time of visiting holy wells for healing. This practice apparently is rooted in Viking times. The day to commemorate St. John the Baptist is June 24th and the pagan celebrations of midsummer were often (and still) shifted a few days to St. John’s Eve. Obviously John the Baptism is associated with water, healing, cleansing and new beginnings. Wells were christened (pardon the pun) for St. John. Pilgrims traveled to be cured, especially in the British Islands:
Description from between the 17th and 19th centuries record that large numbers of pilgrims bathed in a naked state in the wells at midsummer. It can be suggested that these activities are a continuation of pre-Christian midsummer rituals associated with the promotion of good health, not only for humans but also for animals. There are records from Ireland and elsewhere of livestock being bathed at midsummer in order to protect them from illness. (source here, page 9)
So go to a body of water. Swim if you can. Even better – swim naked.
I leave you with this time lapse of the sunrise at the summer solstice last year at Stonehedge presented by English Heritage.
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It's a blessing to wash your face in the summer solstice rain. It's outrageous a man like me stand here and complain.