The summer solstice is always a significant event in Talking Trees household as we celebrate that we have reached the zenith of the year of the longest day but begin to look towards the daylight shortening after midsummer’s day on 24th June.
Solstice means to ‘stand still’ and for 4 days that is what happens in terms of our daylight hours. We like to use these four days as productively as possible, making’ hay while the sun shines’, so to speak.
We began by witnessing day break and the sun emerging, all be it a bit of a feeble looking one, due to our recent mixed weather, had a red sky this morning 'shepherd's warning'! We look towards hills and upland where many have trod as drovers, tin miners, farmers, celebrants of the annual wakes and now the occasional walker. We have our ‘sacred’ well, now a long abandoned site with only a spring and a few buried stones, and Holiwell brook, now only a trickle at this time of the year. We have a small iron age hill fort, a hill on which the annual wakes took place, once attracting over a thousand people, abandoned tin mines now taken back by nature and our little but magickal stone circle. We have a story of a witch named Mitchel or Medgley (she has many other names) who provides us with a part of the rich folklore of our area. All of which inspire our coming days to re-visit at this special time. Many ancient sites appear to be aligned to the rising or setting solstice sun implying that our ancestors also wanted to mark this time of the year and related to the importance of the sun in their lives in a way that is lost to us today.
We will of course light a bonfire tonight and on midsummer’s day, for us it’s a chance to reflect on the first half of the year as we stare into its flames. As with the winter solstice some believe that the lighting of the bonfire is to inspire the sun and add to its strength.
On Midsummer's Eve people lit bonfires on hills, in villages, on commons and on farm land. In some places this was known as ‘setting the watch’. Many purposes have been attributed to these midsummer fires: to keep evil spirits and the fey folk at bay, to bring fertility, to purify, to give power to the sun and to mark the change in the year. Often fire was taken from one bonfire to another by lighting torches. There was a tradition of jumping the bonfire which was said to bring good luck. It was also thought that the highest jump indicated the height the crops would grow to during the year.
Wishing you all a wonderful Solstice, celebrate our sun and all the traditions we associate with it thanks to our ancestors.
image detail of a painting by Samuel Palmer (1805 - 1881)