Updated: Jun 21, 2021
The start of summer is upon us in the northern hemisphere.
Ancient cultures throughout history have tracked the sun, moon and other celestial movement, and based their religions, beliefs and celebrations on astronomical activities. Stonehenge, constructed between 3,000BC and 1,600BC, is generally accepted as a prehistoric temple aligned and dedicated to the stellar progress. Click to read more. Many people gather at ancient monuments today to observe the astronomical occasion as they believe our forefathers did before us. This year (during covid-19 restrictions) English Heritage will be live streaming the sun rise at Stonehenge www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/things-to-do/solstice but be warned, cloud coverage has been forecast.
Solstices occur because of the tilt of the earth's axis. Summer solstice when the axis is tilted towards the sun and winter solstice when it is tilted away. The northern and southern hemispheres therefore experience their solstices at opposite ends of the year. The longest day of the year in Britain is 16 hours and 38 minutes long, from sunrise to sunset whereas the shortest only gives us 7 hours and 5 minutes of daylight.
The word solstice derives from the latin for sun 'sol' and 'sistere', meaning to stand still, as the sun appears to stand still in the sky and has been celebrated as Vestalia in ancient Rome, Kronia in ancient Greece, and the coming of Sirius the brightest star in ancient Egypt, to name a few. After the summer solstice the days begin to get shorter again, as the earth's axis begins to tilt away from the sun.
Midsummer is a magical time in folklore and it has long been associated with magic and faeries. Ancient myths of the world turning upside down were popular when magic was believed to be at its strongest at this time. The belief that Druids once worshipped the dawn of midsummer at Stone Henge remains popular and activities such as lighting bonfires, feasting and procession are associated with the summer solstice in northern Europe. The traditional Swedish celebrations of midsummer include wearing floral wreaths, singing and dancing, drinking and feasting. In Greece, bonfires are built to purify, and young men jump over them, making wishes as they go. Bonfires feature in many worldwide pagan celebrations, generally believed to deter evil and mischief-making spirits and even witches.
Romance and the quest for finding a life partner are at the heart of many solstice activities. Herbs are c