Summer Solstice is also known as: Alban Heflin, Alben Heruin,
All-couples day, Feast of Epona, Feast of St. John the Baptist,
Feill-Sheathain, Gathering Day, Johannistag, Litha, Midsummer, Sonnwend,
Thing-Tide, Vestalia, etc. It has been a grand tribal gathering time
since ancient times. The Goddess manifests as Mother Earth and the God
as the Sun King. Colors are Yellow, Green, and Blue. It is a festival of
community sharing and planetary service.
People around the world have observed spiritual and religious
seasonal days of celebration during the month of June. Most have been
religious holy days which are linked in some way to the summer solstice.
On this day, typically June 21st, the daytime hours are at a maximum in
the Northern hemisphere, and night time is at a minimum. It is
officially the first day of summer. It is also referred to as Midsummer
because it is roughly the middle of the growing season throughout much
"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: "sol"
meaning sun, and "sistere," to cause to stand still. This is
because, as the summer solstice approaches, the noonday sun rises higher
and higher in the sky on each successive day. On the day of the
solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount, compared to the day before.
In this sense, it "stands still."
(In the southern hemisphere, the summer solstice is celebrated in
December, also when the night time is at a minimum and the daytime is at
a maximum. We will assume that the reader lives in the Northern
hemisphere for the rest of our discussion.)
Ancient Celts: Druids, the priestly/professional/diplomatic
corps in Celtic countries, celebrated Alban Heruin ("Light of
the Shore"). It was midway between the spring Equinox (Alban
Eiler; "Light of the Earth") and the fall Equinox
(Alban Elfed; "Light of the Water").
"This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light,
sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the
waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect,
the Holly King, God of the waning year..."
The days following Alban Heruin form the waning part of the year
because the days become shorter.
Ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of
Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility,
sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.
Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe: Ancient
Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires.
"It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of
love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions,
when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames..."
It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were
able to jump. Through the fire's power, "...maidens would find
out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished."
Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a
boost to the sun's energy so that it would remain potent throughout the
rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest.
Ancient Rome: The festival of Vestalia lasted from June 7th
to June 15th. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of
the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta
during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins
were permitted inside.
Ancient Sweden: A Midsummer tree was set up and decorated in
each town. The villagers danced around it. Women and girls would
customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual,
intended to bring rain for the crops.
Christian countries: After the conversion of Europe to
Christianity, the feast day of St. John the Baptist was set as June 24th.
It "is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast,
introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honor a saint."
Curiously, the feast is held on the alleged date of his birth. Other
Christian saints' days are observed on the anniversary of their death.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that St. John was "filled
with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb...[thus his]
birth...should be signalized as a day of triumph." His feast
day is offset a few days after the summer solstice, just as Christmas is
fixed a few days after the winter solstice. "Just as John
was the forerunner to Jesus, midsummer forecasts the eventual arrival of"
the winter solstice circa December 21st.
Neopaganism: This is a group of religions which are attempted
re-constructions of ancient Pagan religions. Of these, Wicca is the most
common; it is loosely based partly on ancient Celtic beliefs and
practices. Wiccans recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four
are minor Sabbaths and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes.
The other are major Sabbaths which happen approximately halfway between
an equinox and solstice. The summer solstice Sabbath is often called Midsummer
or Litha. Wiccans may celebrate the Sabbath on the evening before,
at sunrise on the morning of the solstice, or at the exact time of the
"Midsummer is the time when the sun reaches the peak of its
power, the earth is green and holds the promise of a bountiful
harvest. The Mother Goddess is viewed as heavily pregnant, and the God
is at the apex of his manhood and is honored in his guise as the
It is a time for divination and healing rituals. Divining rods and
wands are traditionally cut at this time.
Prehistoric Europe: Many remains of ancient stone structures
can be found throughout Europe. Some date back many millennia BCE. Many
appear to have religious/astronomical purposes; others are burial tombs.
These structures were built before writing was developed. One can only
speculate on the significance of the summer solstice to the builders.
Perhaps the most famous of these structures is Stonehenge, a megalith
monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. It was built in three stages,
between circa 3000 and 1500 BCE.
"The circular bank and ditch, double circle of 'bluestones'
(spotted dolerite), and circle of sarsen stones (some with white
lintels), are concentric, and the main axis is aligned on the
midsummer sunrise--an orientation that was probably for ritual rather
than scientific purposes.
Four "station stones" within the monument form a
rectangle whose shorter side also points in the direction of the