I’m still working on my series of posts on the Wheel of the Year, used as a seasonal ritual framework by various modern Pagan/Neo-Pagan groups, including Wiccans and Druids. The celebration that is probably most famous as a Pagan holy day is the Summer Solstice. I attended more than one Summer Solstice celebration, and this post is about the one I attended as part of the Highland Open Circle/ It was a small private gathering at one of the member’s home.
Solstice AltarPhoto by Lynnie K
Midsummer is the celebration of the longest day – in the Northern hemisphere, this is June 21 or 22 (as our calendar year is imperfect in relation to the solar year, it is not always the same day). While Beltane is the start of summer, Midsummer is the season’s peak. In Scotland, the warmest months are usually actually July and August, making Lammas, the next holiday, closer to summer’s peak in terms of weather, but late June is pretty warm too. There’s different terms for the Midsummer Solstice in different traditions and languages. I call it Midsummer’s Night (quite traditionally English; you may recall the Shakespeare play) and it’s linked with St John’s Eve in much of the British Isles; a common case of a local holiday being linked with a Christian one. I’ve seen the Scottish Gaelic term for the holiday being Féill Sheathain, and the Druidic term is Alban Hefin (Light of Summer) and the Wiccan term, taken from the Anglo-Saxon, is Litha. Ancient cultures also had a significance for the Summer Solstice, as can be seen from the building of megalithic architecture aligned to the Summer Solstice, most famously at Stonehenge. We have comparatively little on the religion of the ancient pre-Roman Celts, let alone the cultures before that who built megalithic monuments; archaeological evidence can only tell of some of what happened physically, without the written word, it is difficult to interpret the meaning and mindset that accompanied the actions. Solstice Altar. Photograph by Lynie KutlerOne of the most interesting things about the Open Circle is the diversity of traditions and backgrounds of our members. We’re inclusive of many forms of occultism, witchcraft, Paganism, Neo-Paganism and pantheism/animism, so our celebrations tend to be a mixture of cultures and traditions reflecting the attendees’ paths. Not everyone in the group is out as Pagan, so I can’t comment too much about who believes what, but there are Norse Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, Chaos Magicians, traditional Witches, and even a Christian witch in the group, and we’ve had people from non-European traditions/non-Western traditions join from time to time, too. Our altar reflects a mixture of traditions, and also sometimes items that are souvenirs from the travels and experiences members have had that have influenced their spirituality, but aren’t part of their tradition directly, or which are connected to the season we’re celebrating. The gathering allows us to discuss our different experiences, and to have a collective altar that has elements that are deeply meaningful to all of us, as there is something special from each of us on it, and many things that become meaningful through their ritual use.Elemental Ritual Masks and altar from above. Photo I took myself.I brought the small sun plaque underneath the sun candle-holder at the front of the altar, and the elemental ritual masks. In many forms of Neo-Paganism, especially those that are Wiccan-derived, the Classical elements are honoured in Aristotle’s form as Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Aether, or as it is more commonly termed ‘Spirit’. In Wiccan ritual structure, part of the opening sequence is to call the elements, either to invoke spiritual entities seen as Guardians of the Watchtowers (a concept brought from the Golden Dawn occult framework, but simplified and altered to fit in Wiccan ritual), or as a way to acknowledge the different aspects of the natural world. Personally, I prefer the latter method. I made the masks for participants to better embody the elements they were honouring, and to take the self out of the equation a little for those who are nervous about speaking in front of a group. For the element of Fire, I painted a mask to look like flames, for the element of Water, I painted it to look like a tropical sea, using dimensional paint to make cresting waves for the hairline, eyebrows and nose, for the element of Earth I tried to make the mask look like geological strata, for the element of Air I painted it with shimmery silvery paint and then used more dimensional paint to make little clouds for the eyebrows, and for the element of Spirit (or ‘Energy’ in my practice) I painted it with metallic dimensional paint over purple, with metallic shimmer paint too, to try and make it look like lightning. You will see a sixth mask, this is a Nature mask I made for the Beltane ritual which I was asked to bring this Solstice too. Sun bowl , mirror plaque and orange candle. Photo taken by me.As our ritual was indoors (it was predicted to rain), and the host does not have a fireplace, we had a large orange floral candle as our ritual centre rather than a bonfire. Many of our rituals have had an outdoor fire, especially as several of those who regularly host, myself included, have fire-pits. The fire or candle in the middle represents the sun, and remains lit for the whole of the ritual. It’s ina nice big brass sun bowl for fire-safety reasons – candles have a tendency to melt and drip, and their wicks can shift. Always be careful when you use candles in your rituals. Gecko image next to the sun bowl. Photo taken by me.It was nice to get together as a group – the Open Circle has been difficult to organise this year as we’ve all had a very hectic time, and those of us who usually do most of the organisational work, running the rituals and moots, etc. have had problems with our health (I mentioned that in May I had significant issues with my mental health). We’ve not been meeting up as a Circle very regularly, let alone me for many workings or rituals.In my next post I will write about my visit to Druid Temple stone circle – a circle formed by the remains of a cairn. I went there in the evening after this ritual, and did some meditation.