Summer Solstice Traditions, Beliefs and Superstitions

Sunset at the summer solstice viewed at the Sun Circle sculpture, Rillito River Park, near Tucson, Arizona.

The summer solstice usually occurs on June 21st and is the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It is also the longest day of the year. Some people feel that with more sunlight their mood and energy get a boost.

Historically, the summer solstice is one of the most sacred days of the year. It is traditionally a time for making resolutions to start new positive habits, strengthen relationships, and let go of negativity.

The summer solstice is when the sun is its furthest away from the equator. It seems counterintuitive that this has been known as midsummer since the Neolithic era even though we think of it as the start of summer. The middle of summer was considered to be on the longest day of the year, but summer solstice and Midsummer’s Day are actually different events, normally a few days apart between 20 and 24 June. The difference is thought to stem from variations in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

In European Neolithic cultures, it was related to the timings of crop cycles. Celtic, Slavic and Germanic people would light bonfires in order to boost the sun’s strength for the crop season and ensure a strong harvest. The Neolithic stone circles, most famously Stonehenge, were built around the movement of the sun at solstices with stones aligned with the sun’s movements to frame the Sun at summer and winter solstices.

Sun worship was part of Ancient Egyptian religions. The summer solstice occurred with the rise of the river Nile and Ra (or Amun-Ra) was one of the most important gods as the creator of life and ruler of the sun, sky and kings. From the view of the Sphinx, the sun sets squarely between the Great Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre on Egypt’s Giza plateau on the summer solstice.

Following the establishment of the Christian Church, solstice celebrations were combined with St John’s Day, commemorating St John the Baptist. In the 19th century, Christians used St John’s Day to act out the baptisms of children who had died as “pagans.”

Here are some common summer solstice superstitions:
An Icelandic superstition says that if you roll in the morning dew during a solstice it will cure many skin ailments. That sounds safer than jumping over the bonfire, but avoid rolling in poison ivy.

Jumping over a bonfire brings a year of good luck, purification, and it helps lovers find their mate.

The remaining ashes from the solstice bonfire can be put on you to keep you safe, and put in your garden to guarantee a good crop. (Wood ash is an excellent source of lime and potassium and trace elements for your garden.)

This night was an important one for witches. Magic was thought to be strongest during the summer solstice and midsummer night (as Mr. Shakepseare portrayed in his play).

Myth stories told of the world turning upside down or the sun standing still at midsummer. This was a time when the normal laws of nature or divinity could be suspended. Spirits and fairies could contact humans. Humans could exceed the usual limitations of their world.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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