I’ve been a practicing pagan, of a rather ecumenical nature, since I was a teenager. I’ve been more or less open about my faith for at least 30 years. At any rate, I’ve not denied it when someone happened to guess correctly, though I’ve not initiated any such conversations. I’ve never been openly ostracized and I’ve known many people who share my beliefs. I am lucky in that. But I’ve never felt as accepted as I do now. I’ve never had discussions with people — strangers and co-workers — about my world views. I’ve never felt that I was normal. Until now. It’s been enough to make me cry several times in the month or so that I’ve lived here. There is even the previously unimaginable possibility of joining a public solstice gathering just down the street tonight. I should probably be there, except my wonderful new job running the greenhouse for a garden stand is a bit hard on this old body. And I’m just too tired to dance.
Instead, I’m sitting on my porch listening to soft music and watching the skies. The sun fell below the western hills surrounded by fiery clouds a few minutes ago. It is now the shortest night of the year, though the sun rises and sets at about the same time tomorrow as well. It is the solstice; the sun stands still. We’ve already passed the earliest dawn. The sun began rising at 5:05am on the 12th; it rose one minute later yesterday morning. Tomorrow will be the latest sunset. It sets at 8:37pm and stubbornly sticks there until July 2nd. All this is to say that there is no day that feels substantially longer than any others. The summer solstice truly marks not the day length but the sun’s furthest poleward point on the horizon. This happens at 11:31 at night. Not very conducive to sun salutes.
But Midsummer is a season, not a moment. There are many long days and short nights to celebrate, to salute the sun. Yes, the actual point of the solstice is a moment, a moment that varies from year to year. However, the holiday of Midsummer happens each year on June 24th, a few days after the solstice moment. This is when I plan to salute the sun, probably from my greenhouse.
Humans have been saluting the sun at this time of year for as long as we’ve been humans. Many of the most ancient relics of human culture relate to time-keeping. Many early public construction projects like Stonehenge, Newgrange and pyramids worldwide are oriented to catch and direct light at the equinoxes and solstices, often in stunningly complex fashion. Our ancestors felt the need to erect these amazing structures, laboring over generations, even centuries, to honor our magnificent star.
In that light, perhaps I should not feel so very unusual in my drive to do the same. My ancestors would understand this profound entanglement, connection, communion, this need to feel kinship with the sun, the stars, the rivers, the stones, the wolves and winds and bears and bees and birds. They would know the swelling in my heart at the dawn chorus and the bone-deep calm that descends with the trilling of a robin the dusky purple light. They too would talk with trees and sing with raindrops and dance with meadow grasses. They would understand me, know me, feel me. I would not be so very unusual.
I would not be unusual, but many of the humans I’ve known would be. This whole culture would be an aberration. No, it is an aberration. It has never existed before and likely will never exist again. The rampant dualism, the transcendentalism that places human habitation outside and above this living world, the hierarchies and divisions between human and all else, the sheer hubris of humans in denying vibrancy and agency and personhood to any other state of being — none of that would be comprehensible to our ancestors, and not because they were so simplistic that they could not understand modern concepts. They would simply not understand why anyone would believe such apparent stupidity. And why would you want to? How could you be so willfully blind as to hold such nonsensical ideas? How could you live a life in such alienation and isolation and rejection? How could you not feel the sun on your cheek and know that for a caress from a living, loving, caring universe? How could you not feel kinship? How could you not pause in your summer work and salute the passing of time and the sun that marks that passage?
It is my hope that we do not have many more summer solstices that pass largely unheralded. It is my belief that this aberrant time will, indeed, pass and there will be holidays again. But for now I am living in a place, maybe one of the few in my country, that is not aberrant, that is traditional, that is living as our ancestors did, in a world fully ensouled and alive. The solstice, here, is a day to pause and reflect on time and change. There are Midsummer celebrations all around. There are pagans dancing with this vibrant world of ours, openly and without fear.
And if it can happen here…
A merry Midsummer to you all!
©Elizabeth Anker 2021