Yesterday was the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, the shortest night, and the point in the year when our days gradually become shorter and our nights longer. For cultures that revere nature, the Solstice calls for a celebration. Some communities or families celebrate with a small private event, and some put on large communal events like the annual Pagan Spirit Gathering in rural Illinois. These celebrations include Pagan rituals, prayer, altars, and the honoring of sacred space.
The Pagan Spirit Gathering is one of America’s oldest and largest Nature Spirituality festivals. Since its inception in 1980, the festival has been bringing together hundreds of people annually from throughout the United States to celebrate the Summer Solstice. The festival attracts people from a wide range of Nature religion traditions, including Wiccan, Contempary Pagan, Druidic, Heathen, Baltic, Greco-Roman, Isian, Shamanic, Hermetic, Animstic, Egyptian, Native American, Afro-Carribean, Taoist, Pantheistic, Ecofeminist, and nature Mystic. In addition to a celebration of the Solstice, the festival offers an opportunity for personal renewal, networking, education, and cultural enrichment.
Rituals include burning a Yule wreath in a bonfire, dancing, drumming, singing, and prayer — but the actual practices vary greatly. Some are very traditional and more ceremonial, while others are more spontaneous. The point of any Summer Solstice ritual is to attune oneself with the rhythms of the natural world and to connect more consciously with the natural waxing and waning, birth, growth, death, and renewal of life.
Now on this longest day, light triumphs, and yet begins the decline into the dark…We turn the Wheel and share his fate, for we have planted the seeds of our own changes and to grow we must accept even the passing of the sun. (Starhawk, The Spiral Dance)
Honoring the longest day of the year is also a reminder of just how precious this season is, because the fact of the waning daylight is inevitably acknowledged at the same time. As we bask in the warmth and beauty of the hottest season of the year, we also accept its natural passing.
So it is with life, as well. Attuning to this natural cycle of life will remind us at the highest, brightest highs throughout life that death is inevitably part of this cycle. But, also remember what lies at the other end of the year! The flip side of this cycle is the shortest, darkest day of the year in the midst of the coldest season — but even as we experience this day, we know that the daylight will now begin to wax. And so goes the cycle.