The Summer Solstice occurs on or around 21 June, and marks the point where the sun appears highest in the sky. This is due to the axial tilt of the earth as it orbits the sun throughout the year. On the Summer Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is most inclined to the sun, and therefore receives the most light, making it the longest day and shortest night of the year.
The word “solstice” comes from the Latin sol sistere, meaning “the sun stands still”, as it indeed appears to do in the sky, leading to up to 15 hours of daylight. The Summer Solstice is celebrated by cultures around the world, from Scandinavia to Japan, and is perhaps the most prominent festival in modern Paganism.
Here in Britain, the Solstice is observed by Druid rites at Stonehenge, which can draw crowds of thousands of interested spectators, both Pagan and non-Pagan alike. Hutton writes that around this time “Midsummer bonfires, with much the same rituals” have been recorded in Britain since at least the 12th century CE, though these are probably continuations of much older traditions.
The Summer Solstice is usually placed at the south on the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and its themes are “growth, fruitfulness, abundance, and strength” (Higginbotham). According to Philip Carr-Gomm, the Summer Solstice, also called Alban Hefin (the light of the shore) in traditional British Druidry, is a time to “open ourselves to realising our dreams and working in the arena of the outer world”.
Within the Norse tradition, the Summer Solstice is a day of celebrating community, and is often marked as sacred to Sunna, the goddess who can be seen as the personification of the sun itself. Our Own Druidry states that the Summer Solstice is “among the larger of the Norse High Days”.
The weather at this time of year tends to be warm and dry, and crops are growing strong in the fields. It is a time to rest and take stock, but it also marks the hinge of the year, when the days begin to get shorter and the light wanes as we move inexorably on to Autumn.
ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.
Carr-Gomm, Philip. Druid mysteries: ancient wisdom for the 21st century. London: Rider, 2002.
Higginbotham, Joyce and River. Paganism: an introduction to earth-centered religions. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2008.
Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.