Justine Brooks bloody loves a solstice. On Midsummer’s Day, she tells us why.
Apart from symbolising the ascent of the human soul into other worlds of love and light and the climax of the journey to enlightenment, I always think a solstice is a great excuse for a party. And unless you’re a die-hard Druid there aren’t confining traditions dictating how you should celebrate. You can have any kind of celebration you jolly well like and (in my book at least) it can be entirely different every year.
The summer solstice is traditionally considered full of magic. Think A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which a collection of fairies inflicts general chaos on four quarrelling Athenian lovers. They spend the solstice in a wood, which I think is one of the perfect locations to spend a solstice.
Unless there is torrential rain it’s a good idea to spend as much time as possible in nature on a solstice. Preferably at natural landmarks where there is a convergence of ley lines and ideally on some sort of energy portal. Like Stonehenge.
In many Northern European traditions, though, the summer solstice is a Really Big Thing. Traditions include feasting, maypole dancing and burning stuff – interesting fact: the word ‘bonfire’ comes from the fire of cleaned bones (or bonefyre) that would be made in England on Midsummer’s Night to celebrate the Christian festival of St John’s Day.
“In old folklore the summer solstice was considered the best time to collect healing herbs. With the advent of antibiotics and ibuprofen, it’s probably best to concentrate instead on fun things like maypole dancing and lighting fires.”
There’s a waft of something ancient about solstice celebrations (there may be wafts of all sorts of things if you’re heading to actual Stonehenge or Avebury or places like that to queue up with other new agers to join in the fun). It goes to show that humans have been celebrating the summer solstice for thousands of years.
The ancient Egyptians were so convinced of the power of the solstice that they positioned the Sphinx so she’d be crowned by the sun at the summer solstice. In Christian mythology, Jesus the son of God was born at the winter solstice, resurrected during the spring equinox and ascended into heaven at around the time of the summer solstice.
In old folklore the summer solstice was considered the best time to collect healing herbs. With the advent of antibiotics and ibuprofen I don’t think we need to worry about that though; it’s probably best to concentrate instead on fun things like maypole dancing and lighting fires. Perhaps also drinking beer and feasting.
Great things to do on a solstice include, obviously, going to festivals. My friend Chris tells the tale of his best solstice: “It was Knebworth, 1978. Roy Harper on the main stage with his guitar, pretty pissed and stoned while the stage was set up for Genesis. And then watching Genesis as the sun went down.”
In the spirit of Roy Harper, I’m all for throwing caution to the wind and having a good party, but sometimes it’s a good idea to consider the consequences too. Therefore I also think caution needs to be employed when approaching solstices. With excessive partying and celebration often come faulty decision making. And bless him, he’s the father of my child and for that I respect him etc etc, but the fact that I met my ex-husband at a spring equinox does make me think that one really can’t be too careful.
Which brings me back to A Midsummer Night’s Dream where in similar circumstances, Titania, all love-potioned up with solstice madness, fell for the ass-headed Bottom and upon setting eyes on him and hearing his dreadful singing proclaimed:
I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again:
Mine ear is much enamour’d of thy note;
So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape;
And thy fair virtue’s force perforce doth move me
On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.
These days I tend to mark solstice occasions as quietly and contemplatively (boringly) as possible – perhaps by lying on the lawn for a long time and staring at the sky. It’s probably safer.
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Justine lives in beautiful north Leeds with her 12-year-old daughter and a lurcher called Lionel. She runs a PR and marketing agency and is writing a novel.