Summer solstice, the longest day, is a festival of life. The life-giving sun, warm, bright, at its peak. The life present in everything growing around us. It’s a time of joy, of spirit – the gift of living, the gift of our own lives.
With bonfires blazing, we celebrate the abundance all around us. The bright colours of flowers in bloom, of crops growing, fruit ripening, the free-feeling of midsummer. All of the hard work, the planning and the commitment and the manifestation of our desires, is coming good. It’s not harvest time yet, but our plans are blossoming and we can see the fruit of our labours.
On holiday in Spain a few years ago, I attended a traditional community celebration for St John’s night (the Christian appropriation of summer solstice). A huge bonfire blazed in the centre of the square, and as people gathered around, a parade of witches and devils circled. There was a strange dance, and eventually, these ‘evil’ spirits were dispelled. (I read later that in many cultures it’s believed that midsummer is a time that witches convene – whilst that seems to scare some folks, for proud witches it may be the perfect time for a coven meeting!)
Later, we shared a gigantic paella, then took turns jumping the fire – a daring display of boldness. Summer solstice celebrates abundance within the community, but also within the individual. This is a time to celebrate who you are, everything that makes you you. To leap over a fire and feel how powerful you are, how invincible, to bring good luck and prosperity. Make a wish, and make it happen. Anything is possible on the longest day!
Elementally, this is the time of fire. Spring’s air element brought us clarity and vision, an enhanced capacity for planning. At beltane, we were mid-way between air and fire – where ideas meet action. Now, summer is pure fire, it’s manifestation, excitement and life. Things are hot and happening, it’s time to go a little (or a lot) wild.
Summer solstice is also a festival of herbs. With so many sacred plants in bloom at this time, sacred herbs are gathered and used to decorate ritual spaces, hung on doors for protection, and used for medicine. St John’s wort – a powerful anti-depressant many of us will know – is in flower. Lavender and lemon balm are two other traditional solstice herbs – and these too have relaxing properties that can ease an anxious mind and warm low spirits. So whilst solstice is energetically a time of life and joy, it may be that you personally don’t feel this way. Perhaps instead you might celebrate by working with these comforting herbs.
And, because the wheel of the year turns continually, this festival brings an awareness of the coming dark. This is the solar peak – all year so far we have been building towards this day. Now the sun begins its slow descent, the days begin to shorten and we start to move from the expansive energy of spring and summer onwards towards a more introspective time. The cycle continues.
Ideas for summer solstice:
- Take a herb-foraging walk and gather the flowers and leaves that call to you. Bring home a bouquet to decorate your home, or identify those which have properties you need and make a tea, a tincture, or a bath. (Follow good foraging practice: use scissors, do as little damage as possible, thank the plant for what you have taken, and only take what you need.)
- Send as much time outdoors as you can.
- Write a list of gratitudes – even if this does not feel like a time of abundance for you, celebrate what you do have and give thanks to the universe, to your goddess, to yourself.
- Make cordial or wine. If the elderflowers are still out where you are, elderflower champagne is an incredible treat, or capture the flavour in a cordial to enjoy all summer long. You can also try this with roses, meadowsweet and many other summer flowers.
- Make a fire, stay up all night, camp out, watch the dawn. Jump the fire and make a wish. Throw herbs onto the fire – rosemary for clarity, lavender for peace, whichever herbs feel important to you. Dance around the fire, celebrate, sing, whatever – be free and silly and fun.
- Gather your friends for a feast.
- Hold a sun ritual.
- Put on a firework display! Or share sparklers with your friends.
- Try this summer solstice tarot reading.
For your altar:
- Flowering herbs, St John’s wort, lavender, meadowsweet, camomile, self-heal, or whatever you find growing near you.
- Oak leaves and branches, a sprig of holly.
- Sun and fire-coloured things – think yellow, orange, red and gold.
- A small cauldron, chalice or cup of water.