Here we are on the Friday before Midsummer, the Summer Solstice or Litha. Sunday night is midsummer eve, and Monday is the longest day of the calendar year, the Sun poised at its zenith or highest point and seeming to stand still for a fleeting interval before starting down the long slippery slope toward autumn, and beyond that to winter. This morning's image was taken by the front gate of our Two Hundred Acre Wood in the Lanark highlands some time ago, and it is one of my favorites, capturing the essence of midsummer beautifully with tall trees and hazy sky in the background, golden daisies, purple bugloss and silvery meadow grasses dancing front and center.
This week's word has to be solstice of course, and it has been around since at least the thirteenth century, coming down to us from Middle English and Old French, thence the Latin sōlstitium, a combination of sōl (sun) and -stit/stat. Both stit and stat are variant stems of the verb sistere, meaning to make something stand still. Thus, solstice means simply "sun standing still". It is our little blue planet that is in constant whirling motion though, and not the lifegiving star at the center of our universe. The idea that the sun is in motion is a holdover from the ancient geocentric model (or Ptolemaic system), which held that Earth was the center of all things, and everything else in the cosmos revolved around it.
Whither has the year flown? Summer has just arrived, but it's all downhill from here, at least for six months or so. After Monday daylight hours will wane until Yule (or the Winter Solstice) around December 21 when they begin to stretch out again. Longer nights go along on the cosmic ride during the latter half of the calendar year, and that is something to celebrate for those of us who are moonhearts and ardent backyard astronomers. The Old Wild Mother strews celestial wonders by generous handfuls as the year wanes, spinning spectacular star spangled tapestries in the velvety darkness that grows deeper and longer with every twenty-four hour interval.
How does one go about marking this sunlit moment between the lighter and darker halves of the year? My notion of midsummer night skies as a vast cauldron of twinkling stars is appropriate and magical too. The eight festive spokes on the old Wheel of the Year are all associated with fire, but the summer solstice more than any other observance. Centuries ago, all Europe was alight on Midsummer eve, and ritual bonfires climbed high into the night from every village green.
According to Marian Green, midsummer festivities included morris dancing, games of chance and storytelling, feasting and pageantry and candlelight processions after dark. Prosperity and abundance could be ensured by jumping over Midsummer fires, and its embers were charms against injury and bad weather at harvest time. Embers were placed on the edges of orchards and fields to ensure good harvests, and they were carried home to family hearths for protection. Doorways were decorated with swags and wreaths of birch, fennel, St. John's Wort and white lilies.
My midsummer morning observance is simple and much the same as any other morning of the year, a little more thoughtful perhaps. I make it a point to be outside or near a window with a mug of Jerusalem Artichoke (or Earth Apple as it is called here) tea and watch the sun rise. There's a candle on the old oak table and a lighted wand of Shiseido incense (Plum Blossom) in a pottery bowl nearby. The afternoon holds a few hours of pottering in local flea markets with family and friends, a quiet meal as the sun goes down and night falls, a little stargazing and moon watching later. We cherish the simplicity of our small doings, and the quiet pleasure of being surrounded by kith and kin. This year, there is also serious medical stuff to think about.
Happy Midsummer to you and your clan this year, however you choose to celebrate (or not to celebrate) the occasion. May the sun light up your day from sunrise to sunset, and your night be filled with stars from here to there. May all good things come to you.