Summer Solstice this year was especially full of rich and diverse observances. Each celebration sprang up and flowered exuberantly, just as our gardens are emerging into the height of their flowering. And each one was co-created in a process of cross-fertilization like the activity of bees pollinating midsummer flowers. I will describe three of these gatherings in order to encourage us all to engage in creating heartfelt, homespun celebrations, whether small and intimate or large and communal, to meet the need to share beauty-making in our communities, in order to inspire strength and hope that we may continue to work towards the mutual flourishing of our people with our beloved Earth.
The first event took place two days before the Solstice at a meeting of the women’s chorus I belong to. The second one, on Summer Solstice, was developed spontaneously between myself and a friend. The third gathering, two days later, was a unique community event co-created by a number of women to honor the light of the Divine Feminine in each of us.
Women’s Chorus Celebration
This event drew upon the myths and traditions of Summer Solstice as a fire festival to honor the Solstice, and the Light of our Being. Kathleen Hannan, leader of the Bodies, Voices, & Spirit Chorus, had gotten fired up about old European ancestral traditions of celebrating Midsummer such as by rolling firey sunwheels down a hill in Latvia (video here) or long lines of people running down hillsides with lighted torches in the Pyrenees (here). She planned for us to do a favorite Dances of Universal Peace dance involving a Welsh god of light. I suggested we try invoking the Irish sun goddess Aine (pronounced Anya) instead.
A member of the Tuatha de Dannan, Aine was/is Queen of the Fairies (the Sidhe), a goddess of love and the height of midsummer’s fertility. Also a sovereignty goddess, Aine is one of those many Irish goddesses I love who, as representatives of the sacred Earth, demand that the king must take good care of the land in order to deserve to rule. So we danced, singing Roll, Aine, Roll; Roll, Aine, Roll, your burning wheel into the sky. Her territory and her hill, Cnoc Aine, is near the 1,000 B.C. stone circle known as The Grange. With 113 boulders, it’s the largest extant stone circle in Ireland. Its two huge entrance stones open to the light of the rising Summer Solstice sun. The presence there of early types of pottery suggests to archeologists that this was an important ritual site, possibly dating back many thousands of years.
Roll, Aine, Roll
Roll, Aine, Roll
Your burning wheel, into the sky. (x2)
And the grievances between us are but shadows,
As in the Solstice light I take your hand. . .(x2)
We didn’t role burning sunwheels down the hill, but we imagined standing in that ancient Solstice-aligned stone circle and lit an array of candles as we each shared what we most love about summer.
Ritual With a Friend
A dear friend, Ann Loomis, and I decided to make a small ritual, starting just before noon, to coincide with the exact time of the Solstice. Although in this country we see the summer solstice as the beginning of Summer, in Ireland and many other countries it is considered Midsummer and is associated with St.John’s Day, June 24. I love when holidays coincide with an opportunity to honor one of our native plants or animals. In the herbal apothecary St.John’s-wort is said to be the flower that represents midsummer and protection. (One species is used to treat mild depression.) All three of the native species of St. John’s-wort in our garden are just now opening their golden, sunwheel-like flowers, and they are covered with bees! We made a procession to the Earth Shrine in the moss garden carrying a beeswax candle and those sun-gold flowers as an offering to the Divine Mother. Then, standing at the quartz spiral, we spoke aloud, renewing the heart-felt commitments to Mother Earth that we had made together at a gathering earlier in the year, mine being to honor my ancestors (story here), and hers being to honor the fairies, the nature spirits, the Sidhe. In Ireland one name for white quartz is clocha geala, the stone of the sun. White quartz represents death and rebirth, the ancestral world, the Otherworld, and the Sidhe. It is scattered on loved ones’ graves and covers the facade of the huge 3,200BC sun- and ancestor-honoring spirit mound called Bru Na Boinne or Newgrange.
As I was telling Ann that I’d like for us to sing a Summer Solstice chant that I’d written, she said, “Did you see that?!” A red-shouldered hawk had flown down and landed on a cedar pole positioned in the East for Air, Dawn, Sunrise, and Rebirth in our medicine-wheel-of-the-year! An Ojibwe friend tells us that for many tribes Summer Solstice is the time to pray for Renewal. The thing is, it’s not the first time this happened. A hawk had swooped in and landed on an (unlit) torch near the pond when I was telling my husband that we had sung the new chant at the chorus gathering the night before. And a (perhaps the same) hawk had flown down and landed on a cedar pole in the moss garden the previous day when my husband and I and another friend were just about to sing the chant! Hawk, day-raptor, has often seemed to me to be a bearer of messages that notify me to pay attention. Calling loudly Kee-eer, Kee-eer, Hawk encourages me to use my voice more strongly. Along with Hawk I feel my ancestors supporting me to do so. After all, my maiden name is Hawkins.
This triple synchronicity suggests rather loudly that Hawk wants to be honored as our native solstice animal, the Solar Bird of Solstice! I am reminded that he appeared at a Winter Solstice ritual two years ago, and so was featured in a poem then, too! (story here) At the risk of complicating things I won’t tell you how many times Hawk has appeared when I have been singing my white quartz healing chant. Thus Hawk and sun, white quartz and ancestors, poem- speaking and this land are all related as part of my mythopoetic identity, part of my mythogeology, as Sharon Blackie would name such kinship associations.
Summer Solstice Chant
Sun rises up, Sun rises up
Sun comes down, Sun comes down
Earth eats sunlight green, Earth eats sunlight green
Plants rise up, Flowers rise up
Plants eat sunlight green, Flowers eat sunlight green
Butterflies come down, Bees come down
Bees eat sunlight pollen, Butterflies eat sunlight nectar
Birds eat sunlight caterpillars
Hawk eats sunlight birds
Hawk rises up, Hawk rises up
Sun comes down, Sun comes down
Celebration With a Pagan Community
This was a large celebration co-created by myself, a friend Farrunnissa Rosa, and two wonderful women’s singing groups, Jewelsong and Stellaria, at a nearby Unitarian church.
We held two intentions for this gathering: One, to celebrate the radiant light of Layne Redmond, who had been a 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, the art documentary that Layne had worked on up until the end of her life. Layne 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 to open the Directions, led by wonderful song-writer Cynthia Crossen and Stellaria, 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, led by Farrunnissa and accompanied by drumming, the ceremony began.
Sitting in circle we imagine ourselves at the ancient Greek temple, the Oracle of Delphi. We are told that 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. Layne Redmond’s voice speaks (on her album Invoking Aphrodite) the most famous saying 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 the last saying of the Pythia that the temples are fallen, the oracular springs are silent, the voice of the oracle is no more, and Layne saying, “But our voices will be heard again.” We sit in meditation holding the 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 priestess, a tender of Sacred Earth?
Jewelsong begins singing their wonderful Come to the Temple. We dance it as a circle dance, then make a slow procession, each woman purifying at the four Elements altars. Each receives a rosewater blessing and a glass stone as she enters the Temple of White Flowers and puts on the veil of the divine feminine in order to become quiet and listen to the voice within. While silence is held inside the Temple, outside the Temple there is a circle of continuous soft singing and drumming. As each woman completes her silence she places her glass stone into a bowl of sea water that will later be returned to Mother Ocean with our prayers and intentions. Leaving, each woman is given a blessing and invited to choose a small white shell. “Please choose a shell as a reminder of your eternal connection with the deep rhythms of Life.” Back in circle we share what came to us, if desired, saying 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 or plant or stone or song or ancestor can support you in your loving work?
Welcome to this community of EarthSpirit lovers!
Text (c) 2019 Betty Lou Chaika. Photos, except where noted, (c) 2019 Betty Lou and David Chaika