It is nearly Summer Solstice. For me this is a sacred time of year and perhaps my favorite time, and it holds a special place in my practice.
Summer has always been my favorite season of the year. I love warm days- and yes, even hot, sticky days when the air is thick and still. I love the light hours that stretch late into the evening. I love lightning bugs and summer storms and wearing shorts and sundresses. For me, the shedding of the external layers that shield from the cold has always reflected an internal process- an opening up to the world, a fearlessness. The Sun is light-giver and protector and all things seem to thrive like the flowers in his presence.
Many earth-based spiritual practices celebrate the seasons through the turn of the Wheel of the Year, with eight holidays celebrating the two Solstices and Equinoxes and the “cross-quarter” days that fall in between each. I grew up in a Christian household, and first heard of the Wheel of the Year when I was in my late 20s. Although I had no awareness of pagan practice, I always felt a keen need to attune myself to the seasons.
Christianity celebrates two of the eight spokes of the Wheel of the Year as major Christian holidays. The time of Winter Solstice is celebrated as Christmas, and is frequently still referred to by its Norse pagan name of Yule meaning “wheel”. The time of Spring Equinox is celebrated as Easter, and like the pagan Ostara the name of the holiday comes from the Germanic goddess Eostre. Indeed, since the year 325 the date of Easter has been set “on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.” Sounds very pagan doesn’t it? Of course another notable Christian holiday with pagan roots is All Hallows Eve, also known as Halloween or the eve of All Saints Day, rooted in the Celtic pagan holiday Samhain. (I will of course say lots more about Samhain in October!)
This was the culture I grew up in, and while American Christianity retained versions of holidays related to several spokes of the Wheel of the Year, Summer Solstice is not one of them. In Britain the time of Midsummer is celebrated as the Feast of St. John, and parts of Britain still retain many of the old pagan customs at this time such as bonfires. But in the US there is no spiritual association with the Solstice.
As someone who felt a great spiritual affinity for summer, I never realized how much I missed the celebration of the Solstice in my spiritual life. I never knew, that is, until I heard the words Summer Solstice. I can only say that just hearing this phrase, “Summer Solstice”, made me aware of something I had always longed for before I even knew what it was. The words were beautiful to me; I wanted to chant them (Summer Solstice, Summer Solstice, Summer Solstice…). And I knew that my spiritual path was drawing more towards something I had yet to explore but had always known in my heart and that somewhere, somewhere there were names for the things that I held sacred.