Starstuff, Contemplating is a regular column at HumanisticPaganism.com: “We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.”
Come celebrate in the heat of the Sun! Summer Solstice (or Litha) is the longest day of the year. The Sun rises early and sets late into the night. In some places, it does not set at all. Though it is the longest day of the year, it is not as hot as it will be in August when the hot temperatures peak. Here in Michigan, the season leading up to the Summer Solstice is perhaps the easiest time to get ourselves (and the kids) outdoors. School is just out, and the kids are ready to party. It’s a time for barbeques, a day at the beach or on the lake, campfire stories and roasting marshmallows, stargazing on a warm summer night, and more. Solstice feels magical, so it is no surprise that it is the time of a magical story like Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
As with the Winter Solstice, the Summer Solstice marks a time when the Sun appears to stop. Whereas in the Winter the Sun appears to disappear to the South or stop at the southern horizon, at the Summer Solstice the Sun stops in its march northward and seems to hover at its northernmost point, before beginning its march South. This stopping point was noted by our Ancient Ancestors, and so Summer Solstice celebrations go back at least thousands of years. Of the many powerful examples made by our Ancestors, Jon remembers his own wonder and joy when, as a child, he learned of the Fajada Sun Dagger from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. From the many examples available, we find it hard to fully grasp the thousands upon thousands of times our Ancestors, both as children and adults, saw the wonder of the Summer Solstice come alive before their eyes. The tradition is so powerful that today it is often a day that is marked even by those who do not celebrate Celtic or other Pagan seasonal holidays. Solstice activities are not uncommon, especially at nature centers. Recently, it has become popular to have community Solstice parties, as a day to gather in community for something that is universally worth celebrating: our human community and the joy of summer!
Litha celebrates the fullness of the Sun’s power (the longest day of the year), and the stable, powerful love of marriage. Weddings are often held on Litha, and so, many commemorate their wedding anniversary on this day, often while camping or taking a summer vacation. The full moon closest to Litha is called the mead moon or the honey moon (hence the name “honeymoon” for the vacation after a wedding). Mead (honey wine) is a traditionally available at this time. Of course, being the longest day also means that the daylight begins to decline after Litha. Just as Yule is the birth of the light, so Litha is the birth of the dark – hence the traditional battle between the Oak and Holly kings, with the Holly King’s victory at the Summer Solstice. Colors include the blazing yellow of the Sun, and the red and orange of fire.
In Deep Time history, Litha can represent the conquest of the land by life, which was confined to the water before around 500 million years ago. The first land vertebrates, first reptiles, first mammal-like Ancestors, first creation of body heat, and first small dinosaurs can all be celebrated on Litha. Jon thinks of dimetrodon with a huge sail to celebrate the full sun of Litha (Time = from 500 million to 200 million years ago). This time also fits well with the beginning of the loss of light – because during this time our synapsid Ancestors failed to become the dominant life form after the Permian extinction, sentencing our line to nearly 200 million years of cowering in the shadows. Comparing that to the fact that as humans, we’ve only dominated the rest of Earth for a few thousand years, 200 million years is a very, very long time.
For Summer Solstice, our family focuses on being outside and enjoying life. We have fun at local Solstice celebrations and attend our own Solstice barbeque with our friends who share this tradition. Being outdoors is a must on Litha! Kayaking local rivers or the Great Lakes, hiking in the woods, or an evening campfire are often part of our celebrations. We may hold a ritual out in the forest or at a barbeque with friends. One of the big things for us on this holiday is being in community, celebrating with others and treasuring the richness of life, our love and friendship for each other, and the powerful connection we have to this Earth – this tiny Oasis of Life in the midst of a great and powerful sky of stars, planetary systems, and galaxies. On Solstice, we celebrate both the amazingness of the fragility and impossibility of Life and the overwhelming joy of the Life all around us. This is it! Isn’t it AMAZING?!
Heather is a parent and a scientist raising her four children to explore the world through scientific understanding and with spiritual appreciation of the Universe. She has a Master of Science degree in Physics from Michigan State University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of the Arts degree in English Literature, also from the University of Michigan. She teaches physics as an adjunct instructor at Delta College, runs the Math Mania program at a local elementary school, has worked at Dow Corning as an engineer and at NASA as an intern, and she has led science outreach workshops for K-12 students through joint programs between NASA and the University of Michigan. She is a naturalistic non-theist, whose faith has been shaped by her childhood within the Episcopal Church, her adult membership in the Unitarian Universalist church, and through Buddhist meditation. She has a passion for bringing science and spirituality to everyone in a fun way, both for her own family and for the wider community of the Earth. She is a co-author with Jon Cleland-Host of Elemental Birthdays: How to Bring Science into Every Party.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.