In the old Europe we inherited from the Bronze Age, this great feast of the Solstice was celebrated with multitudinous small fires lit throughout the countryside. Fire and the great living sun two great aspects of the flame to be honoured.
The Summer Solstice on June 21st traditionally marks the start of the astronomical summer which ends with the autumn equinox on 2nd September.
Traditionally the summer solstice period fell between the planting and harvesting of crops, leaving people who worked the land time to relax. It actually signals the moment that the sun’s path stops moving northward in the sky, and the start of days becoming steadily shorter as the slow march towards winter begins.
The actual term solstice comes from the Latin word ‘solstitium’ meaning ‘sun standing still’. Astrologers say that the sum only ‘appears to stand still’ at the point on the horizon where it appears to rise and set, before moving off in the reverse direction.
Over the centuries the June Solstice has inspired many festivals, midsummer celebrations and rituals around fire and watching the sunrise – the idea being that flames would keep away the dark.
Christianity and solstice
Though the summer solstice has not played a major role in the history of Christianity or Judaism, unaware to most, several summer solstice traditions have been passed down through the millennia. The most notable in Christianity, which occurs during the summer and winter solstices, are the births of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. According to tradition, John the Baptist’s birthday occurs on June 24th, which is the point when the sun visibly begins descent from its pinnacle during the summer solstice.
Similarly, the birthday of Jesus, which was set by early Roman Catholics on December 25th, marks a time of “rebirth,” as it is when the sun first visibly begins its ascent from its lowest point on the horizon, which occurred on December 21st, at the winter solstice. In essence, between the winter solstice and December 25th, the sun mimics the death and resurrection of Jesus, as it “dies” on December 21st, and remains at the lowest region in the sky for three days, and finally begins to visibly rise from the horizon on December 25th.
Likely, early Christians also appointed John the Baptists birthday to follow the same concept, in regard to the summer solstice. Believing that John the Baptist marked the “greatest pinnacle” of the Old Testament, early Christians likely set his birthday to follow the suns descent from its pinnacle. Thus, as John the Baptist’s “light” gave way to the Light of Jesus of Nazareth, so too the sun reaches its pinnacle at the summer solstice on June 20th -21st, and visibly begins its descent from that pinnacle on June 24th – 25th.
The June Solstice can inspire us to connect with the cosmos and with all of nature and the seasonal rhythm of movement and change, as well as recognising that we too can gain much by understanding how to be still and find our centred direction in all things, with God Self at the centre of our being.
It is also a time to celebrate and give thanks for the abundance and extravagance of God’s generosity in all we see and experience in our lives.
St. John the Baptist: (St John’s Eve)
Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill
Burn for the man who makes way for the Light:
‘He must increase and I diminish still,
Until his sun illuminates my night.’
So John the Baptist pioneers our path,
Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer,
Unlatches the last doorway into faith,
And makes one inner space an everywhere.
Least of the new and greatest of the old,
Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre,
He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold
The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!”
So keep his fires burning through this night,
Beacons and gateways for the child of light.
~ Malcolm Guite
and see Malcolm Guite