In the Northern Hemisphere, the night of the 20th to 21st June marks the longest day of the year. Nowadays, in a time with an all-round electricity supply, this may not seem significant. But picture a day a few hundred years ago. There were no street lights, TVs, or other artificial sources of light. In the home candles and fireplaces were the only tools to illuminate the darkness. Outside however the only light sources in the night sky were the moon and the stars.
Having longer access to daylight was so significant that our ancestors worshipped the longest day of the year. It meant that the growing season was at its peak and the countdown to the shortest day of the year (21st December) would begin. This is of course only true when you live in the Northern Hemisphere. “Down under” the opposite happens and the December Solstice is the longest day in the year.
Monuments to worship the Solstice included The Karnak temple (Luxor, Egypt), Stonehenge (UK), Angokr Wat (Cambodia), and the Serpent Mound (Ohio, US).
On Serpent Mound, believed to have been built thousands of years ago, a large serpent and head are carved into the landscape. On the 21st June, the open jaws of the serpent align with the setting sun, as if the dragon is spitting out ‘fire’. This spectacle was even further enhanced by a large crystal (showing the eye of the dragon), which was situated in the serpent’s head. Unfortunately, this large crystal was stolen during the 18th century and the solstice effect is now only half as effective.
What happens during a solstice?
As the earth moves around the sun, its path resembles more of an eclipse than that of a circle.
When the path of the sun is at its most northern point in the Northern Hemisphere (which happens every year on the 20/21st June) we see a summer solstice – the longest day of the year.
During the night of the 20/21st December however, the sun lies at its most Southern point, therefore it is the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere and the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. On the 21st March and 23rd September, the sun forms an exact 90-degree angle, therefore days and nights are the same – everywhere.
There are so many traditions that I can’t mention them all. One of my favourite is the ritual of the Baltic sun goddess Saule. Every day this tireless goddess rides her fiery chariot across the sky, from morning to nightfall, when she retires to her castle. Saule is the goddess of fertility and the land, a similar version to Demeter in Greece.
Farmers prayed to her to have a good harvest and around the Summer Solstice, the whole community celebrated by lighting bonfires. Partly to worship her and ward off evil spirits. Young people wore wreaths of flowers, leaping over fires, singing, and dancing.
Today we are still singing and dancing – although this year we will have to dance alone at home. This is made even more powerful that this year’s solstice falls on a day of a New Moon (signifying retreat, new beginning and time alone – very poignant). And to top all this there will also be a solar eclipse happening on the 21st of June – so a monumental day in the sky!
Here is a link to this year’s Solar Eclipse at Stonehenge . The first in history that takes place on facebook instead of in situ. But this means that you can watch it now the comfort of your own home!