Solstice means 'standstill' and refers to the way the sun appears to rise and set in the same place for a few days this week. Here in the west of Ireland, there are very few hours of darkness right now. In fact, at this time of year, I have stayed outside gardening in the almost-darkness, and been shocked when I came inside and found out it was one in the morning.
People used to light bonfires on the summer solstice to celebrate the sun at the height of its power, and to strengthen the power of the sun through ritual. When the Christians arrived in Ireland, they took over the Summer Solstice, as they did most holidays, and declared that a new holiday would be celebrated on the 24th of June (a few days after the solstice). This, they decreed, just happened to be the anniversary of the birth of St. John the Baptist. The custom still exists and, on the eve of St. John (June 23rd), bonfires are lit all over the Irish countryside. Tomorow night, I'll go to the local bonfire and take old cardboard boxes, pillows, and a few other things that need to be 'released' to the flames! But instead of thinking about St. John (who may or may not have been born in June), I'll be thinking druidic thoughts about the symbolic strength of midsummer, and gratitude for how the warmer weather empowers all of us, humans, animals and plants.
Tonight, as the sun was setting behind the mountains, a waxing crescent moon was high in the sky, very close to the sun. It was an oddly magical sight. According to the ancient Celtic tree calender, this is the Oak Moon, a moon that symbolizes strength, security and power. Druids worshipped in oak groves, and later, the vaulting in English churches was made from curved oak timbers. A most powerful tree for a most powerful time of year. Right now is the best time of year to employ nature and use the strength of the sun to aid visualization and guide our personal powers.
I wish you all a blessed and magical season!
'She kneels beneath the huge oak tree
And in silence prayeth she.'
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge