This year we will celebrate with a small fire ceremony, but the summer before Covid, Summer Solstice was especially rich with diverse observances. Each celebration sprang up and flowered exuberantly, just as the plants in our gardens were stretching up and emerging into the height of their flowering. Each heartfelt, homespun ceremony was co-created in a process of cross-fertilization, like the activity of bees pollinating midsummer flowers, to meet the need to share beauty-making in our communities, to inspire strength and hope that we will continue to work towards the mutual flourishing of people with our beloved Earth.
Two days before the solstice the women’s chorus I belong to created a ceremony that drew upon the myths and traditions of Summer Solstice as a fire festival to honor the Light of our Being. Kathleen Hannan, leader of our Bodies, Voices, & Spirit Chorus, had gotten fired up about old European ancestral traditions of Midsummer, still carried on by young people rolling fiery sunwheels down a hill in Latvia or by long lines of exuberants running down hillsides with flaming torches in Pyrenees’ villages of Andorra, Spain, and France, to light carefully constructed wooden beacons, unique to each village. Teens learn from their elders the precise craftsmanship needed to faithfully carry on the traditions of their ancestors. These celebrations of fertility serve to initiate adolescents into adulthood, regenerate social ties, and strengthen feelings of identity and belonging of the living with the dead and with the circling cosmos.
Lacking long traditions of intergenerational celebration of Summer Solstice, our displaced Euro-American community desires to follow the human impulse to align ourselves with the wheel of the year by creating our own rituals. The Latvian fire wheels are echoed in a favorite Dances of Universal Peace circle dance for the Solstice, but we adapted it from invoking a very obscure Welsh god of light to calling upon the well known Irish sun goddess Áine (pronounced Anya, “luster/ radiance”). Dancing, we circled among partners, over and over again, singing,
Roll, Áine, Roll; Roll, Áine, Roll,
Your burning wheel into the sky.
And the grievances between us are but shadows,
As in the Solstice light I take your hand.
At noon on summer solstice the sun is at its highest point in the sky, directly overhead, creating no shadows, so dancers experience a renewal of friendship and community, which often brings tears of gratitude. The partners also may represent estranged others and the possibility of forgiveness with them.
A member of the Tuatha dé Dannan, Áine is Queen of the Fairies (the Sidhe or Sí), a goddess of love and the height of midsummer’s fertility. Her place of power, the hill Cnoc Áine, was an inauguration site of Celtic kings of the region. Áine is one of the many Irish sovereignty goddesses who require that, to maintain harmony with the Otherworld, the king must take good care of the fertility of the land, and thus the health and prosperity of the people, in order to deserve to rule.
In rites of Áine on the Eve of Midsummer, a similar custom using fiery torches to bless the land was documented as late as 1879 during which the farmers of Knockainy in Co. Limerick would process with lit torches to the top of the goddess’s sacral hill, circle it sunwise, then run down, waving the lit firebrands, around their fields to ensure the vitality of crops and livestock. Áine was said to sometimes be seen leading the procession or standing at the burial cairn at the top of her hill during these rites.
In Sacred Ireland Cary Meehan tells us that the local Celtic people believed the ancestral cairn on the summit was her palace and the entrance to the Otherworld, adding, “However, the cairn is Neolithic and the barrows probably Bronze Age, so this would have been a ceremonial site long before Celtic times. Áine’s presence here is most likely a continuation of a much earlier sun deity tradition.” She adds, “It was believed that they were emulating the fairies who also performed this rite under the direction of Áine as she impregnated the land with her solar energy once the humans had gone.”
Áine’s territory and her hill, Cnoc Áine, is near the 3,000 B.C. stone circle known as The Grange at Lough Gur. With 113 boulders placed contiguously against a high embankment, 150 feet in diameter, it’s the largest extant stone circle in Ireland. Its two huge entrance stones face a pair of great slabs whose tops slope to form a v-notch through which shines the rising Summer Solstice sun. Nearby are three more stone circles and what has been called “the greatest concentration of Neolithic structures on any single site that is known in Ireland,” making this one of Ireland’s many vast ritual landscapes.
An Ojibwe friend tells us that for many tribes Summer Solstice is the time to pray for Renewal. When my husband and I visited ancient sites of the Hopewell peoples, several of the huge earthen circles opened to Summer Solstice sunrise for ceremonies of World Renewal.
At chorus we imagined standing in the light of that ancient Irish Solstice-aligned Grange Stone Circle and lit an array of candles as we each shared what we most love about summer, how summer energizes and renews us.
Two days after Solstice, we celebrated a unique community event co-created by myself and a friend Lila Rosa, with a number of singing groups, to honor the light of the Divine Feminine in each of us, regardless of our genders.
We held two intentions for this gathering: one, to celebrate the radiant light of Layne Redmond, who had been mentor and teacher of ritual and drumming for many of us, on the occasion of the reissue of her influential book When the Drummers Were Women, and the recent completion of Axe Orixa, ‘Ashe Orisha,’ the art documentary that Layne had worked on up until the end of her life. She had created this film to highlight the nature-imbued Brazilian spiritual tradition of the Orishas (ancestral powers of the elements) and the spirited Brazilian rhythmic traditions. Our second intention was to celebrate the light that we each shine on the world, and to ceremonially bring the light of consciousness to empower our roles as ones who speak for Earth-Spirit.
After participating in singing an uplifting Earth Energy Chant and She is Calling, led by wonderful song-writer and community song-leader, Cynthia Crossen, and her group Stellaria, to open the Directions, we experienced a powerful chakra breathing / movement meditation recorded by Layne. After dancing a spirited circle dance to honor Yemanja, the Orisha of the ocean, accompanied by powerful drumming, the ceremony began.
Seated in a large circle, we are guided to imagine ourselves at the ancient Greek temple, the Oracle of Delphi. The Delphic Oracle may have been present as early as 1400BC at a site sacred to Gaia, the Earth Mother. The oracle, the Pythia, would undergo purification rites and veil her face to prepare to receive communications from the divine. Listening to a ritual drumming composition, we hear Layne’s voice speaking the most famous words of the Pythia: Know thyself . . . accept the gifts the gods have given to you. . . make your own nature your god in life.
In the late fourth century AD, the Christian Emperor Theodosius ordered the destruction of all the pagan temples. We hear Layne’s voice intoning the last words of the Pythia, The temples are fallen, the oracular springs are silent, the voice of the oracle is no more. . . but our voices will be heard again, Layne adds. We are invited to sit in a silent meditation holding these questions: What brings me to tears? What gives me the greatest joy? What do I want to give voice to? What do I feel called to speak for as an oracle, a priest/priestess, a tender of Sacred Earth?
Jewelsong begins singing their passionate invitation Come to the Temple:
. . .
Come to the temple, come to be healed
Come to be tested, tempered, and steeled.
Come with your weakness, with every last flaw.
Come to release them, to sacrifice all.
Come with your tenderness, come with your pain.
Come to the temple, come home again.
. . .
The line of priestesses is open, and there is work to be done.
The great Earth Mother has spoken. She is calling her daughters and sons.
. . ..
First we dance it as a circle dance, then, peeling off, make a slow procession, each purifying at the four Elements altars. We receive a rosewater blessing and a sea glass stone as we enter alone into the Temple of White Flowers hung with white curtains, with a central altar of white summer garden flowers.
Seated in the Temple, each of us puts on the veil of the Divine Feminine in order to become quiet and listen to the oracular voice within. While silence is held inside the Temple, a circle of continuous soft singing and drumming outside the Temple envelops and holds us. When we complete our inner listening, we emerge and place our sea glass stone into a bowl of salt water, which will later be returned to Mother Ocean with our prayers and intentions. Each is given a sweet blessing and invited to choose a small white shell, “as a reminder of your eternal connection with the deep rhythms of Life.” When all arrive back in the circle we share what came to us, if desired, beginning with I am one who speaks (sings, works) for . . .
After celebrating with a potluck feast we watch Layne’s Axe Orisha, one of the many ways she spoke for, worked for, drummed for Mother Earth and all those who love Her.
What gives you joy? What would you like to give voice to?
What brings you to tears? What do you feel called to speak for?
What animal, plant, song, or ancestor can support you in your loving work?
Welcome to this community of EarthSpirit lovers!
Text (C) 2022 Betty Lou Chaika