After a chaotic spring of temperature swings in Chicago from 50 degrees to 90 and back, we have finally, and officially, arrived at summer by the marking of the Solstice. Summer Solstice marks the point at which daylight is at its longest, the sun is at its highest and from now through the end of summer both will continue to decline into shorter days. This is the nature of the season’s cycles. But let’s not spoil the joy with thoughts of its ending just yet!
During my Lutheran upbringing, I marked this time of year after Easter in the spring, leading to a summer of Vacation Bible School and swimming lessons. While I was raising my children, I migrated over to the Unitarian Universalist Church because it met the needs of my growing curiosity of the multitude of religious traditions in the world and my awareness that it was going to take more than my curiosity to provide a religious education for my son and daughter. Together, we discovered new holidays, celebrations, meditations, and social justice. Independently, through a women’s group that formed within the Unitarian Church, I discovered the earth-based traditions of Wicca.
In the Wiccan tradition, the “Wheel of the Year” rotates through the natural season cycles of the earth. The Spring and Fall Equinox’s and Winter and Summer Solstice’s are marked as important occasions in the turning of the wheel. There is a long and vibrant history of cultures that recognize and celebrate the traveling of the Sun and the importance of the time of year when the plant world is in full bloom.
Ancient Egyptians believed their sun god, Ra, sailed in a golden boat across the sky. The Greeks thought Apollo drove a chariot through the sky with the sun as one of its wheels. Many Native peoples like the Pueblo People in New Mexico and the Chumash in California have long histories of celebrating the summer solstice. Of course, many are familiar with Stonehenge, with some of its circle of stones lined up with the sunrise of Summer Solstice and others lined up with the sunset of Winter Solstice. Similarly, on an entirely different continent, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, an 80-foot-wide circle of rocks believed to be created by prehistoric Native people, also lines up with the sunrise of Summer Solstice and the sunset of Winter Solstice.
There’s your history lesson of Sun traditions, but how does someone celebrate the summer solstice today? In the earlier times mentioned above, when these traditions started in all corners of the world, the Sun at this time of year meant more than swim lessons and summer camp. It meant light and warmth; food and bountiful harvest! It meant drying clay into usable building material. Whether you plant decorative flowers or delicious tomatoes, you have surely noticed that the fruits of your labor in Spring are starting to show. Spring is when we plan and plant. At Solstice, we begin to see the manifestation of that work. It is a time of joy and contemplation. While we maintain our garden, we are mostly stepping back to let the plants do what they do best.
Let’s use this garden metaphor to relate to the work we do in our intellectual and spiritual lives. There is a time to plan and plant; what do we want to manifest in our lives? We have choices. Those choices will plant opportunities that are helpful to us, or they will create barriers to our growth. We can choose to neither plan nor plant and experience our lives through a series of defaults. There is no right or wrong. Whatever route you chose in spring will play out and you can change course as needed.
At Summer Solstice, also called Litha in the Wiccan tradition, a person may gather with a group, or mark the moment in solitary practice. Dressing in bright colors of yellow or red for the sun or green for all that is growing can add some fun. Symbols of abundance and summer that can decorate your ritual space may be flowers and fresh fruits. A candle lit for each direction; North, East, South, West. Candles for both the God and Goddess, male and female energy in equal balance and harmony. And a single candle for the Center that represents the wholeness of the Universe without binary, exclusions, or limitations. You can use an existing guided meditation found online or in a book about Wiccan traditions can or you can make up your own authentic reflection of gratitude for bounty.
One of the exciting things about this time of year is that we are not actually harvesting, but noticing what is growing.
Sitting in contemplation, you may see what has manifested in your life and decide to make some changes. One of the exciting things about this time of year is that we are not actually harvesting, but noticing what is growing. It’s a wonderful time to do any needed “weeding” in your life to clear the way for more healthy and productive growing during the summer months to come! If you like, you can add an activity with the element of fire. We are celebrating the biggest known fireball in the sky. Write down what you would like to change or release in your current situation and toss it into your backyard firepit. There is great satisfaction and release in watching a thought leave you in a trail of smoke!
That is what a solstice ritual can look like. I like to keep it simple and personal. Grounded and grateful. Empowering and intentional. I wish you a blessed Litha, and a bountiful summer ahead!