We at SRTB have been out & about celebrating and seeking inspiration, whilst enjoying the Summer; exploring & contemplating the layers of meaning in the common imagery, myth-narrative & folklore that we interact with at this time.
BELTAINE to SOLSTICE
This is the Greenwood period, the maturing of the green. The Lord & Lady have made their vows, this wedding although a union is also an initiation/transition from Bride & Groom to Queen & King of their summer domain.
Casting our minds back to last year, where in the UK it was mostly cool, wet & dull, our expectations of early summer were not reflected by the weather. However the activity of beasts & birds fully expressed the natural cycle. The rhythms of nature were evident in the mating calls of the animal kingdom, nest building & pelt shedding. Though the wheel of the year may not be picture perfect, when we are out & about in nature we become attuned to the underlying energies.
In the Land/Solar cycle a shift from ‘Green to Red’ occurs, a transference of kingship from ‘Green Man’ to ‘Red Man’, & ‘Flower Maiden’ to ‘Queen of the Beasts’.
During this time of light nights our twilight comtemplation walks feed our psyche, giving rise to magical encounters and providing inspiration for our forthcoming Solstice work.
Rather like Mole in ‘Wind in the Willows’ we have experienced intense moments of awe on our travels, & we delight in sharing with you the following passage:
Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror— indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy— but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.
‘Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.
‘Rat!’ he found breath to whisper, shaking. ‘Are you afraid?’
‘Afraid?’ murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. ‘Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet— and yet— O, Mole, I am afraid!’
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
Sudden and magnificent, the sun’s broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn’
(Kenneth Grahame, 1859-1932: ‘Wind in the Willows’ first pub. 1908)
Summer Solstice 21st-23rd June is the time of zenith, the crowning of ‘Sol Invictus’: From Northern Europe to the Mediterranean coast, ‘Midsummer’ is one of the most important festivals of the year, a major focal point for celebration & feasting. In Sweden fish & fruit feature heavily on the menu, whilst in Spain pilchards & potatoes boiled in their skin are the traditional Midsummer fare. Across Scandinavia parties with huge bonfires are held. In Sweden Midsommerafton (Midsummers eve) & Middsommardagen (Midsummers day) are celebrated during the period 19th-26th of June. In Norway & Denmark it is known as ‘Sankt Hans Aften’, Danes gather for a picnic after which a bonfire with the effigy of a witch is set alight, a rocket like firework is concealed in the witch’s clothing, which upon ignition represents the witch’s return to Bloksbjerg; a mountain in the Black Forest which is the home of the devil. In Finland bonfires are lit at midnight on Midsummer Eve, whereas in Spain this festival largely honours ‘San Juan’ (St John the Baptist). Parties are often organised at beaches with bonfires and firework displays. These fires are again usually lit at midnight, a dummy being placed at the top representing a witch or the devil, which is burnt to cries of ‘Meigas Fora’ which translates as ‘Witches Off’. Closer to home in the UK the festival of the Bale Fire still takes place on old Midsummer Eve (4th July), in Wharlton, Northumberland. An emerging theme is the growing partnership of opposing elements, namely Fire & Water.
Solstice is one of the ‘Three Classic Spirit Nights’, we see these not in terms of one night but as a tide or period where the layers of of experience/reality shift and EHE (Exceptional Human Experiences) are more likely to occur. These exceptional experiences are often linked to geographical location, time, and state of consciousness. Personally during this period we find a Fey contact prominent, whereas in the darker half of the year we find an ancestral/land of the dead contact to be more in evidence.
Midsummer/St. John’s Eve is on the 23rd June, with St John’s/Midsummers Day on the 24th. It is interesting to once again juxtapose Midsummer with Midwinter, as John the Baptist is the only saint to have his birthday commemorated, this is a direct reflection of Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. In Masonic tradition St John’s Day is celebrated as the ‘Setting of the Watch’ and from a masonic perspective we see the balanced dualism of Baptist & Evangelist, the Saint’s day of the latter falling on the 27th December. Together ‘The Two Johns’ represent the balance of passionate zeal with the learned knowledge of faith. We interpret this as the twin pillars of study/knowledge & practice/experience; between which we seek to walk the middle way, in essence we become the middle pillar. A famous quote from Marx says “Practice without theory is blind, theory without practice is sterile”. Together they represent and form a balanced path towards enlightenment & union.
There are many customs associated with St John’s Eve and the period in which it falls. Herbs are gathered around this time for ritual & medicinal use, customs & superstitions surround both the gathering & usage of these plants, i.e. time of harvesting (early in the morning with the dew still upon them), phase of the moon (depending on the results you desire), etc. Uses include altering consciousness by ingestion or by sleeping with them under a pillow to enhance divinatory dreams, drinks brewed to be used during the rest of the year as fortifying tonics or for ritual/celebratory purpose.
Sitting around our summer fires, the importance of being outside making magick on the land is rekindled within us. Whilst at Midwinter we seek the comfort of hearth, bring in the green and decorate with tinsel & fairy lights; here where nature’s abundant decoration is all around us, we have no need of such sympathetic magicks. In terms of community, where our Samos communion sees family gathered around the table for the Midwinter feast, our Gaimos communion finds expression in summer picnics. Historically the food consumed at these festivals is locally produced and in season, a practice that many of us are keen to continue in our celebrations today. So if your hometown is famous for its Oysters then the first dredging of the season will figure in your Harvest ritual.
LOOKING BEYOND SOLSTICE
As we look forward to July with its hot days and sultry nights, we are enticed to cool off in the element of water, be this at the coast, riverbank, pool or lakeside. For those of us lucky enough to live near the beach, or for those ‘en vacances’ the city summer sluggishness is relieved by paddling in the Ocean, eating ice cream & sipping long cool drinks. As we wash away the clinging sand, we are refreshed and re-baptised, ready to return to our labours.
The Fire & Water theme now culminates; the pressure builds and humidity rises, triggering the famous July storms. These natural dramatic displays often release & dissipate the by now oppressive temperatures. The late summer heat continues until the shorter days ahead lead us toward Autumn.
NOTE: Southern hemisphere readers will at this time be celebrating Midwinter with its own themes & contrasting elements.
Whichever festival you are celebrating we at SRTB send Bright Blessings.