The year is 1100. The date is August 1. The monks in the abbey at Gloucester are celebrating the holy-day of St. Peter in Chains. One of the monks wakes from a strange dream in which God promises to strike down the wicked King who has abused the Holy Church. His superior, Abbot Serlo, on hearing of the dreams sends a warning to the King, William the Red, who has oppressed all of England with taxes and disgusted many with his licentiousness and blasphemy. Red, as he is called, receives the message the following day while preparing to indulge in one of his favorite sports, hunting, in the New Forest. Although there are no longer any people dwelling in the New Forest — they were all cleared out by Red’s father, William the Conqueror — there are rumors that it’s a hotbed of pagan activity. And August 2 is an important pagan holy-day. The Saxons call it Lammas, the Loaf-Mass. William the Red laughs at the warning from the monks and goes out hunting. A short time later, he is dead, struck in the chest by a stray arrow, and his brother, Henry, who was in the hunting party is riding hot-foot for Winchester and the crown.
Now some people say that William the Red was a Lammas sacrifice, …
A solstice happens when the sun’s zenith is at its furthest point from the equator. On the June solstice, it reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the sun, at about 23.4 degrees.
It’s also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.
‘Solstice’ (Latin: ‘solstitium’) means ‘sun-stopping’. The point on the horizon where the sun appears to rise and set, stops and reverses direction after this day. On the solstice, the sun does not rise precisely in the east, but rises to the north of east and sets to the north of west, meaning it’s visible in the sky for a longer period of time.
Although the June solstice marks the first day of astronomical summer, it’s more common to use meteorological definitions of seasons, making the solstice midsummer or midwinter.
Solstices in Culture
Over the centuries, the June solstice has inspired countless festivals, midsummer celebrations and religious holidays.
One of the world’s oldest evidence of the Summer Solstice’s importance in culture is Stonehenge in England, a megalithic structure which clearly marks the moment of the June Solstice.
In the Southern Hemisphere, where the June solstice is known as the shortest day of the year, it marks the first day of astronomical winter, but the middle of winter in meteorological terms.
Midnight Sun or Polar Night?
On the June solstice, the midnight sun is visible (weather permitting) throughout the night, in all areas from just south of the Arctic Circle to the North Pole.
On the other side of the planet, south of the Antarctic Circle there’s Polar Night, meaning no Sunlight at all, on the June Solstice.
Solstice Dates Vary
Even though most people consider June 21 as the date of the June Solstice, it can happen anytime between June 20 and June 22, depending on which time zone you’re in. June 22 Solstices are rare – the last June 22 Solstice in UTC time took place in 1975 and there won’t be another one until 2203.
The varying dates of the solstice are mainly due to the calendar system – most western countries use the Gregorian calendar which has 365 days in a normal year and 366 days in a Leap Year.
A tropical year is the time it takes the Earth to orbit once around the Sun. It is around 365.242199 days long, but varies slightly from year to year because of the influence of other planets. The exact orbital and daily rotational motion of the Earth, such as the “wobble” in the Earth’s axis (precession of the equinoxes), also contributes to the changing solstice dates.
Moving to Other Seasons
After the June solstice, the sun follows a lower and lower path through the sky each day in the Northern Hemisphere until it reaches the point where the length of daylight is about 12 hours and eight to nine minutes in areas that are about 30 degrees north or south of the equator.
Areas 60 degrees north or south of the equator have daylight for about 12 hours and 16 minutes. This is the September Equinox, the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.
Earth does not move at a constant speed in its elliptical orbit. Therefore the seasons are not of equal length: the times taken for the sun to move from the March Equinox to the June Solstice, to the September equinox, to the December solstice, and back to the March equinox are roughly 92.8, 93.6, 89.8 and 89.0 days respectively.
The consolation in the Northern Hemisphere is that spring and summer last longer than autumn and winter.
or many bygone civilizations, the summer solstice—the longest day of the year—was endowed with great significance. People celebrated this special day, which falls in June in the northern hemisphere and is also known as midsummer, with festivals, celebrations and other observances, some of which still survive or have experienced a revival in modern times.
According to certain iterations of the Greek calendar—they varied widely by region and era—the summer solstice was the first day of the year. Several festivals were held around this time, including Kronia, which celebrated the agriculture god Cronus. The strict social code was temporarily turned on its head during Kronia, with slaves participating in the merriment as equals or even being served by their masters. The summer solstice also marked the one-month countdown to the opening of the Olympic games.
At Samhain we honoured, celebrated and welcomed the descent into, and return of, the dark – the beginning of the New Year, acknowledging that all beginnings emerge from darkness. At the Winter Solstice we reach the depth of that darkness with the longest night of the year. Darkness has reached its peak.
“Now we start to wonder: will this continue? Will the Earth grow darker and colder as the Sun disappears into the south until only darkness is left? But at Yule a wonderful thing happens. The Sun stops its decline and for a few days it rises in about the same place. This is the crucial time, the cusp between events. The Sun stands still, and everyone waits for the turning.
In our heads we know the light will return. But in the darkness of Winter, can we…
Here we are, we have arrived at the longest day and the shortest night of the year. The Goddess is now full and pregnant with Child, and the Sun God is at the height of His virility. This is the peak of the Solar year and the Sun is at the height of its life-giving power. The Earth is awash with fertility and fulfillment and this is a time of joy and celebration, of expansiveness and the celebration of achievements.
Yet within this climax is the whisper and promise of a return to the Dark. As the Light reaches its peak so this is also the moment when the power of the Sun begins to wane. From now on the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer and we are drawn back into the Dark to complete the Wheel of the Year.
At this time the God, as Oak King, is rich in abundance, but he…
Litha (Midsummer, Gathering Day, Summer Solstice, Alban Heffyn, Feill-Sheathain) Incense: Sage, mint, basil, Saint John’s Wort, sunflower, Lavender Decorations: Dried herbs, potpourri, seashells, summer flowers, and fruits. Colours: blue, green, and yellow
The Fire Festival of Litha
Midsummer or the Summer Solstice is the most powerful day of the year for the Sun God. Because this Sabbat glorifies the Sun God and the Sun, fire plays a very prominent role in this festival. The element of Fire is the most easily seen and immediately felt element of transformation. It can burn, consume, cook, shed light or purify and balefires still figure prominently at modern Midsummer rites.
Most cultures of the Northern Hemisphere mark Midsummer…