Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Living the Sabbats - Summer Solstice

Summer solstice-what is there to celebrate?

A beautiful spring is turning to summer, but June already seems to be flying by.   Next weekend, I expect that one if not both kids will be coming home for Dad's Day… so another family celebration needs planning and preparing for.  Since it’s so close to the solstice, I intend to weave some elements and symbols into the occasion.  The day of the solstice is my husband's day off, and if the weather is decent, we'll be doing some chillin' and grillin', Solstice style!

While a happy family gathering and nice evening with my husband are my main goal, I also want to honor the occasion of the Solstice in a way that is meaningful to me (the lone pagan in the household).  And that requires answering the question:  what does it mean to me?

June has always been one of my favorite months.  Doesn't hurt that it’s my birthday month!  But when I was growing up, there was also the long awaited Last Day of School:  freedom!  Long days to be outside with my friends, or off by myself exploring somewhere.  Being called in for supper was only a brief interruption, even if I had to help with dishes.  Before long, I was outside again, til the lingering dusk finally gave in, the bats began hunting the mosquitoes, and fire flies blinked in the warm darkness.

Where I grew up, school went through the second week of June at least; its ending was the start of summer for us then.   So the idea that the official first day of summer was not until June 20 or 21  fit for me, back then. 

But after I was through with school, and had started work, with my evenings and weekends relatively free, I pushed back the start of my summer to Memorial Day weekend.  With any luck, late May offered fine weather for hiking, camping, boating and fishing…. All the things I would enjoy all June, July, August and even into September.    And, by Memorial Day, all danger of frost has past, so it became my deadline for getting the gardens cleaned out and planted, to make the most of our relatively short growing season. 

Turns out, my instinctive sense for the start of summer jives with the meteorological first day of summer:  June 1rst.  Why the difference between the meteorological date for the first day of summer, and the calendar date?  Meteorologists define summer as the three warmest calendar months:  June, July, and August; therefore the season starts at the beginning of the month, not the middle.  Meteorologists have noted that the sun’s position does not directly correlate to the temperatures at the surface, but rather, the general temperature change throughout the year. 

And where is the sun on June 20th?   The astronomical definition of the summer solstice is when the sun is in its furthest northern position (for those of us in the northern hemisphere).  At this point, the angle of the sun upon us is the most direct (creating the warmer temperatures we experience) and the hours of daylight are at their longest.  The summer solstice brings us the longest day of the year, and the shortest night.  But it is now hard for me to call this the first day of summer, when in many ways, this day is the beginning of the end of summer.  From this day forward, the days begin inching towards that shortest day and longest night.  At first it’s an imperceptible creep, caught up as we are in the physical enjoyment of all things summer.  But where I live, within a few weeks, the difference is noticeable, and by the first of August, tinges of the next season begin to appear.  There’s a part of me that completely resists that dying of the light, so what do I celebrate at the Summer Solstice?

Does saying that the solstice is not the beginning of summer, but the beginning of the end of summer, make me a pessimist?  I don't think so; I guess I am a realistic naturalist.  But although the days from here on out will slowly but surely begin to shorten, some of the best of summer is yet to come.  I love the warmth of the sun, hot lazy days on the beach, even muggy evenings on the deck, and sleeping with the windows open, lulled by the insect sounds.  Although the solstice is when the sun is at its highest, and its rays the most direct, it does not mark the warmest weather.   That's because it takes the earth some time to accumulate the heat; our hottest weather usually comes a few weeks after the solstice. 

For me, the solstice represents a shift, a new phase in the cycle.  Ostara - when the young God is gaining his strength - marks a beginning point, for when (mud season permitting) I can look forward to working outside.  I can start clearing away the dead growth from last year, seeing which plants survived the winter, where I may need to replant.  April weekends, the cleanup continues, but I also start seedlings inside.

At Beltane, the union of the God and Goddess and the return of life and fruitfulness is celebrated, and by this point, hopefully my cleanup is finished. I mulch the flower beds and get the vegetable bed prepared.  Mid-May I seed the cold weather veggies and transplant self seeded seedlings; other planting has to wait til danger of the last frost is past, closer to Memorial Day where I live.  Hopefully, all of this is completed by my birthday in early June, and we put up the fence around the vegetable garden.

As we approach the solstice, the energy is shifting from preparing and planting, to growing.  Now commences the most active period of growth for my gardens … unfortunately that includes the weeds, so my work is never done!  With any luck I will soon be pulling up radishes (a favorite of my husband's) by Father's Day, and re-sow some more.  The succession of flower blooms continues; my peonies and lupines are at their peak; I have a ton of buds on my coreopsis and daisies that are just about to open; and if I can keep the red beetles at bay, my lilies are promising me a show as well.  The Sun/God has reached his full power, and the Goddess is pregnant, holding the bounty of the harvest to come.  As the warmth continues and builds, my vegetables thrive, and before long, I will be enjoying even more of the fruit of my labors.

My observations for the Solstice will be simple. I will be planning on trying some new sides using seasonal fruits and vegetables while my husband will be concocting some kind of barbeque (his specialty).  I need to get some bright yellow candles, and I'm hoping to make a bouquet of golden yellow coreopsis and a red lily.

Several years ago the legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King captured my imagination. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until the Summer Solstice. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the Oak King, and defeats him. The Holly King then rules until Yule.

At some quiet moment next Wednesday, I will pull from my special cabinet a twig with three dried oak leaves, cut the previous June.  This will be burned in my fire (grill), symbolic for the death of the Oak King.   Afterwards, I will cut a fresh twig to be saved for the following summer.  Come December, I will pull a dried holly branch from my cabinet, to be burned in the fireplace at Yule.  The next  morning, I will cut a new sprig from my  holly bush, to continue the cycle….

Every blessing in its season… Summer Blessings to all!


  1. Thank you for sharing! The Oak King and Holly King story is interesting, I didn't realise the fight was supposed to be on the solstices, I always imagined equinoxes, or May Eve and November Eve. I'm gonna have to read up on Robert Graves! :) Summer Blessings )O(

  2. Yes, the folklore of these two kings does vary depending on which author/tradition you read. The common elements do have the kings continually vying for power, which each one in power for one half of the year.

    Graves depicts the Oak King at the height of his power at Midsummer, at which time the Holly King is at his weakest. But the Holly King is gaining strength by the autumn equinox, and conquers the Oak King at Yule.

    Other traditions have the Oak King ruling from Yule to Midsummer, whereas the Holly King rules the dark half of the year, from Midsummer to Midwinter.

    I prefer the latter interpretation, only because it concurs with my sense of the world. This essay offers a good explanation:


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    thanks for stopping by!