What is the Summer Solstice?
The Summer Solstice is a sacred time of year where northern cultures celebrate the life-giving Sun and gratiously accept the Sun’s abundance. This is a time of creation, growth, development and expansion.
During the month of June, the days are long and productive and the night is very short, if it exists at all. While I write this post, it is 12:30 am and yet the night sky is not black. Night time during the month of June is very light where I live, the sky is dark blue and the glow of dawn is always present towards the north. The Sun barely dips below the horizon at around 11 pm for about 4 hours before it begins to rise again.
What does the Summer Solstice symbolize?
For northern people, the summer is a time of abundance, life and celebration but also it’s a time of labour, spiritual expansion and of preparation, duty and self-sacrifice. Traditionally, summer was an opportunity to work as much as possible in order to prepare for the scarcity of the upcoming winter. The Sun has risen higher and higher in the sky until it reaches it peak on June 21st, the summer solstice. After June 21st, the Sun begins it’s descent into the darkness of winter.
The Sun has always symbolized life because our ancient ancestors recognized that all life depended on the Sun’s light. As the Sun rose higher in sky and it’s rays became warmer, life on Earth begins to flourish again. During this time, everything is growing and becoming highly productive. People were no different.
The mythology surrounding the Summer Solstice
In Norse tradition, Odin sought the divine powers of manifestation held by the Norns, three beings with the ability to shape destiny. The Norns sculpted destiny by carving runes into the trunk of the Tree of the World aka Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil is said to grow from the Well of Url and span the entirity of the Nine Worlds, with Asgard cradled by the upper branches. Odin became envious of the Norns’ powers of conscious manifestation and sought to influence destiny for himself.
The runes were only known to the Norns and it was said that the runes only reveal themselves to those that are worthy of their power. Odin suspended himself from Yggdrasil, piercing his skin with his own spear and forbiding anyone from helping him. He hung himself from the tree for 9 days until after the ninth day, he began to see the shape of the runes forming in his mind’s eye. Through his vision, Odin learned the secrets of the runes and conscious manifestation. The Summer Solstice is a pagan celebration of Odin’s discovery of the runes and of conscious manifestation.
How is the Summer Solstice celebrated in Northern Europe?
Summer Solstice is typically celebrated in Northern European traditions by the raising of a Maypole – a large tree decorated with summer greenery, flowers and coloured ribbons signifying one’s intentions. This Maypole is a symbol representing the Yggdrasil, Odin’s self sacrifice and conscious manifestation. Ribbons attached to the top of the maypole are held by individuals as they dance around the base of the tree. These ribbons represent Odin hanging himself from Yggdrasil as an act of self-sacrifice.
During the three days of celebration, a huge bonfire was lit for three days. It was customary to gather foliage and flowers to create sun wheels or wreaths and hang them in the home and to wear them as crowns or necklaces. It is said that healing plants and herbs collected during the Summer Solstice are at their most potent. The Summer Solstice marks the beginning of the harvest.
How is the Summer Solstice celebrated in North America?
In North American tradition, the celebrations of the Summer Solstice are eerily similar to those found in Northern Europe. During the summer solstice, many northern groups of indigenous americans hold a ceremony called the Sun Dance. The Sun Dance ceremony is a traditional ceremony that involves self-sacrifice as a method of spiritual expansion. In preparation for the Sun Dance ceremony, a tall tree is decorated with foliage, coloured pieces of cloth are tied to top and the tree is erected at the center of the ceremonial grounds. This tree symbolizes the Tree of Life. Sun Dance participants dress in traditional clothing, tie bracelets of herbs around their wrists and ankles, then they wear a crown of herbs on their heads. Sun Dance participants then pierce their skin and suspend themselves from the tree until an altered state of consciousness is reached and they experience a vision. ***Sounds like the Odin myth -doesn’t it?!***
The Sun Dance ceremony includes a sacred fire that is kept lit for the entire three day celebration. It is also customary at this time to begin harvesting from land – some plants are ready to be picked! During the Sun Dance time, wild strawberries and wild saskatoon berries are ripe and ready for harvest.
It’s easy to see the similarities in the two celebrations and I often wonder if these cultural practices are so old that they originate from a time when the people of the North were of one circumpolar culture. Through the study of Ojibwe mythology and northern European mythology, many similarities can be noted. The celebrations of the solstices is only one of those similarities, another major similarity is the Earth Diver myth which is present in cultures throughout northern Europe, Asia and North America.
How can we celebrate the Summer Solstice today?
I feel that it is extremely important to preserve these ancient traditions that have been apart of our collective northern culture for thousands of years – it would be an absolute shame to forget it now!
- Harvest foliage and flowers. A Summer Solstice tradition of picking plants and flowers to create beautiful wreaths that represent the Medicine Wheel or Sun Wheel. Wear the wreaths as crowns or decorate your home with them. Spend the day counting your blessings, being grateful and enjoying nature’s bounty. At the end of your celebrations, toss your wreaths into the sacred bonfire and give thanks for the productive summer ahead.
- Have a bonfire. You can go all out and have a traditional, 3-day bonfire that is maintained the entire time. It is customary to do this with a group of people so that each one can have a turn tending the fire through the summer night. Tending the fire is an honour that many people thoroughly enjoy as it ignites ancient emotions. When you are alone, awake and staring into the fire – your mind begins to wander. This is a form of meditation that is believed to tie you directly with your ancestors. It is believed that your ancestors are sitting around the fire with you, sharing stories and enjoying it’s warm, dancing flame – WITH YOU!
- Pick wild berries or harvest healing herbs. Always be grateful for every plant that you harvest and treat it like the precious gift that it is. Wild berries are extremely potent in nutrients and antioxidants. They are often smaller than domestic berries but have a concentrated taste! It is time consuming work to harvest enough wild berries to make jam or fruit leather with. It reminds us of how hard our ancestors had to work just to stay alive. While I pick berries and harvesting herbs, I like to think of my ancestors and thank them for their hard work – without them, I wouldn’t be here. If you harvest herbs, bundle them together and hang them from the ceiling in your home to dry.
- Erect a Maypole, symbolizing the Tree of Life. The size of the
tree can vary depending on the space and the number of hands you have available to help you erect it. It is customary in Native American tradition that the tree be chosen and cut down by young women. In Northern European tradition the maypole is erected for young women. In both traditions, young women play an integral role, as they AND the maypole represent life. Decorate the tree with foliage and flowers. Cut
pieces of coloured cloth into strips and tie them to the top of the tree. As you do this, think of all that you are grateful for. Once the tree is erected, participants can dance around the tree in a clockwise direction. The dancing can be joyous and modern or traditional and solemn – it’s up to you! If you make the strips of cloth long enough, each person can hold a piece while they dance around the tree.
- Self Sacrifice as a means for Conscious Manifesation. A major theme of this time of year for northern people is self sacrifice. During the summer months, everyone is wishing to enjoy themselves. It’s finally warm and everything is so beautiful and alive. Summer is when northern people tend to fall in love and conceive new life. Summer is a time when it would be easy to relax and enjoy one’s self. However, northern people know that we just cannot spend the summer enjoying ourselves. We must work hard to prepare for the tough winter that we know is coming. Thus self sacrifice is necessary for life. Physical work is necessary for the conscious manifestation of abundance. We must place our wants behind our needs. During the summer, northern people spent the long days working in order to ensure that there would be enough food to survive the winter. In modern times, we can do physical labour with the intention of consciously manifesting our desires. During the summer, the energy on earth is conducive with conscious manifestation.
Thank you so much for reading!!!! Please share how you celebrate the Summer Solstice in the comments section!