Falling midway between Beltaine and Lúnasa / Lammas is the Summer Solstice, marking the peak of the sun’s influence on Earth.
The spiral of the year has expanded to its widest point and now the hours of light are as long as they will ever be. After June 20th or 21st , the sun’s power will begin to wane and the days grow shorter.
The sun has touched the northernmost point along the horizon and is about to embark upon the long journey back south, ending at the Winter Solstice in December.
The summer solstice was an event of tremendous importance to the early inhabitants of the British Isles and Ireland, who built a number of magnificent megaliths aligned to the sunrise on this day.
In southwest England, an unbroken thread of tradition connects the 5,000-year-old temple of Stonehenge with ritual activities through the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and into modern times.
Another great stone temple to the Summer Solstice is at Callanish on the island of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. Here, four rows of stones lead into a circle from the four directions, forming a Celtic cross in the landscape, and the stones form an astronomical observatory aligned to the solstice sunrises and sunsets, as well as to the equinoxes.
Callanish is so far north, the sky never actually darkens on a midsummer night. This is also the case at the mysteriously beautiful stone circle, the Ring of Brodgar, on Orkney, which was known for centuries by local people as the Temple of the Sun, aligned as it is to the midsummer sunrise.
The Bonfire Dance
Up until recently, this moment of the triumph of the light, and yet also the beginning of its decline, was celebrated with great bonfires when the whole community gathered once again on the hilltops to celebrate life through feasting, dance, ritual and song, to rejoice in the sun at the height of its power – and perhaps also to pray that it not die too soon.
In later years, these celebrations usually took place the night of June 23rd, which was called St. John’s Eve, as the Christian Church dedicated the ancient pagan festival to Saint John the Baptist, the prophet born six months before Jesus Christ.
Herbs of Blessing
This was an especially good time to cull magical and healing herbs: fern seed gathered on midsummer’s eve could make one invisible; elderberries warded off enchantment; stonecrop, vervain, and yarrow were hung in special places around the house for protection against the evil eye and death.
Above all, this was the time for plucking St. John’s wort, the golden, star-shaped flower that was first of all herbs to be gathered on St. John's Eve. Called the ‘blessed plant’ in Wales, it was renowned throughout the Celtic lands for bringing peace and prosperity to the house, health to the animals and a bountiful harvest.
It was cast into the midsummer bonfires in Scotland, and placed over the doors of houses and farm buildings for its protective powers. For these magical plants were filled with the energy of the sun at its peak, now transformed into green blessings for the human kingdom.