Aestas Goddess of Summer ~ Summer Solstice
Summer Solstice or La Festa dell’Estate or Festa delle Erbe or Solstizie d’Estate marks the marriage of God and Goddess. From this union comes the bounty of the Harvest Tide. This is a time of growth and life. At this time we do works to heal the Earth. This is a time when the Elemental forces are abound in great number. We honour the fata, the elementals, and other spirits of Nature. This is also the time to reflect on Nature and maintaining a good relationship with all of life.
Aestas (“summer”, or “summer heat”) is the Roman personification of summer.
Aestas (“summer”, or “summer heat”) is the Roman personification of summer. She is mentioned by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, and She may be his own invention. He describes Her as standing by the emerald throne of Phoebus (the Sun-god), with the other personifications of Time such as the Day, Month, Year, Century, and the Hours and the other Seasons, Spring, Autumn and Winter. She is naked except for a garland of grain or wheat-sheaves in Her hair.
According to Pliny the Elder, the Summer Solstice takes place when the Sun is in the eighth degree of Cancer. What the Romans thought of as the first day of Summer was considered to take place on the forty-eighth day after the vernal equinox, which Pliny states as the day when the Sun enters the 8th degree of Aries. (By modern figuring, the Sun enters the 1st degree of Aries on the vernal equinox). Using the current calendar, that puts the Romans’ first day of Summer on the 7th of May. Silvius, though, considers the first day of Summer to be the 27th of June.
Ovid’s depiction of Aestas may owe something to the Greek depiction of the Horai, the Goddesses of the Seasons. Their number varied with the place and time of their worship, there sometimes being two, three, or four of them, but they were generally shown as garlanded with the fruits or flowers of their respective seasons.
The word ‘Solstice’ derives from the Latin term meaning ‘sun stood still’, as in the winter and summer the sun appears to rise and set in practically the same place.
Summer Solstice Date
In the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice date tends to be either June 21 or 22. These dates mark the Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere. In that hemisphere, the Summer Solstice date varies between December 21 and 22. The Summer Solstice date marks the time when the sun is at its northern-most position in relation to the equator for the northern hemisphere and its southern-most position for the southern hemisphere. This time, June 21, is associated with the ‘Honey’ and ‘Mead Moon’, and is now often referred to as ‘Midsummer’.
The Solstice Sky
The sky is naturally an important symbol for the Summer Solstice because this solstice marks the time when the sun is highest in the sky. In fact, the solstice sky is steeped in astrological aspects, ranging from the position of constellations to the brightness of the stars. For astronomers, the Summer Solstice occurs when the sun enters the sign of Cancer, and the full moon is in the sign of Capricorn.
The Body and Seasonal Change
The body itself can be seen to be physically affected by seasonal change. Within the body the pineal gland controlling some of the internal clocks which are affected by the movement or journey of the sun. As the daylight hours shorten, the pineal gland releases the chemical melatonin; this in turn controls the amount of serotonin in the brain. The pineal gland is sensitive to, and reacts to, the amount of light working in conjunction with the endocrine system. The body experiences changes in energy levels and in the emotional balance, so being affected by the environment. Hence many people experience an increase in energy as the sun moves through the Spring and Summer pathways, but find that the energy drops with the decrease in sunlight/daylight hours during the Autumn and Winter.
The seasons can also be seen to directly affect the mating rituals, hibernation and migration times of many animals, all of which are affected by the seasonal length in sunlight hours.
New Stone Age
In the ‘New Stone Age’ (approx. six-to-eight-thousand years ago) there appears to have been forms of seasonal celebrations carried out by a collection of small communities. Farmers, fishermen and travellers, whose very lives depended on information and events such as the condition of the weather that the seasons bought with them it seems, would gather together to appeal to the energies they believed controlled the cycles of nature – birth, life, death and rebirth – of which crops, animal and human were all participants.
In ancient times people are believed to have used four main techniques for marking the passing of each solstice/equinox:
- Marking a symbol or picture (painting or carving) which would be illuminated by the sun’s rays (sunrise or sunset). When the sun was at a right angle at a particular time of the year, as previously mentioned, the sun’s angle change over the year with the passing of each equinox would be marked. A classic example of this is the ancient chamber which stands in Ireland called Newgrange, where there is a very small hole in the chamber through which the rays pass and illuminate the centre of the chamber at the Winter Solstice. If our forefathers knew nothing else, this is evidence that they had a concept of time and it’s relevance to natural occurrences.
- Another method involved the noting of shadows cast from or onto an upright pillar/obelisk. In temperate areas of the Earth, shadows are shorter during the Summer Solstice and longer in the Winter Solstice period. This particular technique has been connected with such civilizations as the Babylonians, Ionian Greeks, Chinese and Peruvians. (Read more on Mystical Time – History).
- A third method is/was used by central Native American tribes. This requires a specially constructed ceremonial structure. On the longest day of the year the Sun at the exact time of noon directly shines through a hole in the ceiling and onto a particular location on the floor.
- Another method to mark a season/solstice was by watching the Sun or Moon from a fixed position. The method was frequently used throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Stonehenge (England UK) is an example of this method. This is one of the reasons that Summer Solstice celebrations continue even today linking with the acknowledgement of ‘Nature and the Seasons’ and may be why they have been passed on/through different belief systems (Pagans, Druids). Stonehenge is believed to have been constructed before the Pyramids. Incidentally, the temple at ‘Karnack’ in Egypt also appears to have used solstice alignments.
We know from evidence contained within the Chinese ‘Book of Records’ that ‘The Perfect Emperor Yao’ (2254 BC) gave instructions to his astronomers to enable them to calculate the solstices/equinoxes. In this system, the Winter Solstice period acknowledged the celestial male, or ‘Yang Forces’ and the Summer Solstice period acknowledged the opposite, female or ‘Yin Forces’ were connected with the Earth.
To observe the sun’s cycle, the ancient Chinese would read the shadows cast by a pole. Through their interpretations, they determined that the year was 365.25 days in length. By creating six concentric circles divided into 24 equal parts, they plotted the length of shadow made by the sun for each day of the year. While the shortest shadow was marked on the Summer Solstice (because the sun was at its highest point in the sky), the longest shadow determined the Winter Solstice. The plotting of the shadows on the circles created what is referred to as the symbol for Ying and Yang. The birth of Ying (related to female) is marked on the Summer Solstice. Again, the association of fertility arises with the Summer Solstice.
In the ancient Roman period there was a ceremony carried out during the festival of the ‘Grove of Diana’. This was a time when the priest could be replaced by any other man and hold the title ‘King of the Wood’ if he carried out the following actions. He took a branch known as the ‘Golden Bough’ from a sacred tree which would stand within the temple grove and then kill the current priest. It was believed that the old priest represented a God and the death of a God caused a new life to enter into the world. The death of these priests/gods, together with the rituals that followed them, is believed to have been connected with the solstices.
Celtic Summer Solstice Celebrations
Throughout the Celtic countries of Northern Europe, pagans still honor the Lord of Light on the Summer Solstice. They believe that he will bring fertility and abundance to the people.
Other Celtic Summer Solstice traditions include dancing, music, prayer, and storytelling. Often herbs were gathered the night before the Summer Solstice and they were used during the celebration in prayer and blessing. The remaining gathered herbs were also used for medicinal purposes.
Ancient Egyptian Summer Solstice Traditions
The Summer Solstice date was the most important day of the year for ancient Egyptians because the sun was at its highest and the Nile River began to rise. Being able to predict the flood of the river was very important for the ancient Egyptians survival. The Summer Solstice and all that it stood for was so vital to the Egyptians, that correlating celestial events marked the beginning of the Egyptian New Year.
Many Scandinavian countries, primarily Sweden and Finland, celebrate midsummer, a series of events that center on the Summer Solstice. These festivities are marked by dances and bonfires. The dances are usually around a maypole and are often preceded by the ritual raising of the maypole. The bonfires that follow tend to be very large and honor the light and fire associated with the Summer Solstice.
Christian Symbols for the Summer Solstice
In addition to being a time of fertility for pagans, the Summer Solstice marks the feast of St. John the Baptist for Christians. In fact, St. John holds a strong connection to the wilderness in Christian faith. To represent this symbolism, many statues of John the Baptist depict him as a horned figure. The link between St. John and the Summer Solstice has led many to refer to this day as “St. John’s Eve.”
The Summer Solstice was incorporated into the Christian calendar during the spread of Christianity, and like so many of the old festivals, was given new meaning which was considered less paganistic and more suited to the Christian festival. The Summer Solstice became the feast day of ‘St. John the Baptist’.
Shakespeare took the fairy legends and lovers traditions and wrote about them in his famous play – A Midsummer Night’s Dream when fairies with their magic play the leading characters interacting with humans/mortals. In folklore it is believed that the Summer Solstice in particularly Midsummer’s Eve is a time when fairies would bestow good luck on humans. An old ritual for children was to place food out in the garden for the fairies who would then sometimes leave crystals as token of thanks; this particular offering could explain where the leaving of food for Santa Claus at Christmas also stemmed from.
Summer Solstice and Stonehenge
Stonehenge has often been associated with mystery, but it is believed that other stones once completed the current configuration. It is further believed that on the day of the Summer Solstice the sun would rise between two great pillars or heels. Legends tell of ancient Druid priests who would await the sunrise on the Summer Solstice to celebrate the wedding between heaven and earth. Today, the celebration has been revived.
Pagan Symbols of the Summer Solstice
Two main Summer Solstice symbols from ancient pagan celebrations include the spear (symbolizing the sun god and his glory) and the Summer cauldron (representing the goddess and her bounty). Modern witches often use these symbols in their Summer Solstice or Midsummer rituals today.
Fires were also a strong symbol for the Summer Solstice celebrations. Generally, large bonfires were lit after sundown of the Summer solstice celebrations. The bonfires served two purposes: along with providing light to the ongoing celebrations, the fire was a manner of warding off evil spirits, according to ancient people’s rationale.
Many Summer Solstice traditions include gathering herbs for magical or medical purposes. The traditions and times for gathering the Summer Solstice herbs vary. Some cultures believe that herbs should be gathered at noon of the Summer Solstice because they think that the sun is at the height of its power. Other folk customs indicate the early morning or midnight is the best time because they believe that this is the time when the dew is still on the leaves.
The use of the Summer Solstice herbs also varies by cultural custom. The gathered herbs may be thrown on the ritualistic bonfires of the day, used in medicine, made part of a bath or cleansing or posted over doorways.
Examples of some of the herbs gathered at Summer Solstice were ‘Mugwort’ – the herb of St. John, also known as St John’s Wort, together with chamomile, geranium, thyme, and penny royal. Another reason these were special at the Summer Solstice period is that they possessed beautiful aromas when thrown on bonfires which were common occurrences during midsummer festivals across Europe. These were believed to eradicate bad luck/negative energy, and usually made from branches of the sacred oak and fir trees. Another common ancient practice was to gather bundles of bay leaves and set these alight before rolling them down hills.
Herbs associated with midsummer are chamomile, cinquefoil, elder, fennel, hemp, larkspur, lavender, male fern, mugwort, pine, roses, Saint John’s Wort, wild thyme, wisteria and verbena. Traditionally, herbs gathered on this day are extremely powerful.
Making flower headdresses is an ancient tradition for this day, with wreathes of sacred plants and herbs hung on houses for good luck and prosperity. Five plants have been commonly known in rural folklore to possess special magical powers at this time: rue, roses, St. John’s Wort, vervain and trefoil, with any of the herbs thrown in the bonfire for luck (or to honour the Sun, symbolized by the fire itself).
Midsummer’s Eve & St. John’s Eve
These two are often considered separate but both are the night before June 21st.
In England, it was ancient custom on St. John’s Eve to light large bonfires after the sun went down to ward off evil spirits. It was believed that wearing your jacket inside out on Midsummer’s Eve will keep you out of danger.
It also believed that Midsummer night on June 21st, that elves and fairies would appear and if you picked fern seeds at the stroke of midnight, you would be able to see them.
The first full moon at Midsummer is called the Honey Moon because it is the best time to harvest honey from bees. Traditionally, a honey drink was taken after wedding ceremonies held on the Summer Solstice.
The Summer Solstice celebration was more than just the longest day of the year for ancient cultures. In fact, it was also an important way of marking fertile seasons. Many ancient cultures associated the prosperity of their crops with fertility of human sexuality. The connection between fertile land and wombs became so powerful that pagans began to associate the celebration of the Summer Solstice with the time for marriage.
Ever wonder where the term “honeymoon” came from? Because marriages became more and more frequent during the Summer Solstice season, ancient people started calling June’s moon the “honey moon,” referencing the honey mead served during the weddings. While the association with the Summer Solstice has dropped today, honeymoons now characterize modern celebrations that happen immediately after a marriage. Today, the honeymoon refers to the special time that newly married couples take for themselves.
Other customs included decorating the house, especially the front door, with birch, fennel, St. John’s Wort and white lilies. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s Wort, vervain and trefoil.
The First Harvest
The Summer Solstice marks the time of the first harvest, which usually consisted of the herbs planted during the Spring Equinox. These herbs are considered most potent the night of the solstice. Herbs gathered at this time may be used to adorn the altar, as well as used both for rituals and everyday use. Whether for food, medicines or ritual, these gifts of the land clearly denote the importance of the harvest and the cycle of growth to the body, mind and soul.
June weddings, honeymoons and the Summer Solstice
With all the reference to the cycle of life, it is small wonder that June has been the month for both Handfastings and weddings. Handfastings, or pagan marriages, are a method of pledging faithfulness to one another. The pull to bring forth the harvest of feelings is as bountiful as the harvest of the land.
Ideas for personal rituals
- Make your Solstice water, the most potent Sun water of the year, leaving water in a gold coloured dish surrounded by golden-coloured flowers from dusk on the Solstice Eve until Noon on the Longest Day. This is especially healing and empowering and you can keep it in clear glass or gold coloured bottles to drink or add to bath water to give you energy and confidence.
- Make a small sun wheel garden, either indoors or out using the flowering herbs of vervain and St John’s Wort and Sun herbs such as frankincense, juniper, rosemary and saffron and all yellow or golden flowers. Arrange them in the form of a wheel and fill in the centre with tiny golden crystals or glass nuggets. You can breathe in the golden light from your living sun wheel.
- Light sun oils, frankincense, juniper, rosemary, orange or benzoin or burn them as incense to bring the sun power into your home or workplace.
- On the Summer Solstice, greet the dawn by lighting a lantern just before sunrise, from an East facing hill or plain. Spend the day in the open air and then say farewell to the Sun on a West facing slope, lighting your lantern once more to give the sun power even as it descends.
- Cast golden flowers or herbs into the air from a hill, a handful at a time, making empowerments for courage and achievement to the winds. Where they land and take root represents in the old traditions places of buried treasure or in this case symbolizes new or buried talents you can develop to realize your hidden potential.
- Make Sweet Summer Incense. 2 parts sandalwood – 1 part mugwort – 1 part chamomile – 1 part gardenia petals – a few drops rose oil – a few drops lavender oil – a few drops yarrow oil. From Scott Cunningham’s Incense Oils and Brews.