The History of the Summer Solstice
Before we get into the history of the summer solstice, you may be wondering exactly what it is. Due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, it angles us perfectly towards the sun that it creates the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. This day is the summer solstice and has been celebrated throughout the world for thousands of years. When we have the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere – usually between the 20th to 24th of June – our southern counterparts have their winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year.
Summer Solstice Traditions
The summer solstice has been celebrated within many different religious and geographical communities, each having their own beliefs associated with the longest day of the year. While the reasoning and method of celebration may differ, they are still relatively similar with common themes being practiced.
Bonfires are a common feature of summer solstice celebrations, often believed to have negative spirit and energy deterring prowess to ensure that they have a good harvest or to prevent ill fortune. The Danish use bonfires in their celebration but with a metaphorical witch figure on top of it, believed to deter witches. The Spanish, however, jump over the bonfire for the same reason, with the belief that doing so will also deter any witches in the surrounding area. On the other hand, Estonians and Latvians light their bonfires to ensure a rich harvest, with Estonians believing that failing to do so will bring fire to their homes and cause devastation.
Another common theme is the collecting of flowers and herbs, especially those attributed with healing properties such as St. John’s Wort. These plants are often seen to aid with love and fertility, with Norwegian and Swedish natives believing that leaving flowers under a young girl’s pillow will cause her to dream of her future love.
Association with Magic
The summer solstice has also been long thought of as being heavily connected with magic and mysticism. The sun and moon have always been believed to play a part in magical powers, strengthening certain aspects of their practices. Some even believed that the world would turn upside down and a bridge between the natural, spiritual, and mythical worlds would open, allowing humans to transcend their natural world and for otherworldly beings to communicate with us. Many sorcery-based rituals would take part on the night of the summer solstice, with the belief that the power of the sun would be at its greatest.
While many of the ancient traditions may no longer be practiced due to the advancement in technology and our understanding of the solstices, some of them do continue to this day. Throughout the world you can find events and ways to celebrate the summer solstice, whether that be watching the sun rise perfectly from behind the heel stones at Stonehenge or picking flowers and dancing in Sweden.
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