A Simple Summer Solstice

The Cicadas are singing, lightening bugs are dancing, and it is finally High Summer!  Most of us look forward to this time of year.  It is full of wonderful festivities and in the pagan community, I’ve heard it called Festival month.  I’ve been fortunate over the years to get to visit some of the organized events such as the Pagan Picnic or Pagan Spirit Gathering and more. Of course, not all of us can.  This year was simple and pleasing, but there is a depth and great importance to the simplest of seasonal rituals.

My little girl stayed the night with her Meme on June 19th.  I asked how late she stayed up, while we ate Chinese food for lunch.  She really likes to stretch her 9 p.m. bed time when she gets the chance. “I stayed up until the sun showed up. Mom, the night is really short.”  Illiondra observed that the solstice was just a few days away.  High summer holds great importance and joy for me, but celebrations are not always the same from year to year, and they are saturated with the experiences of being born in Southern Missouri.  I associate this season with family, revelry, the sun, joy, water and the little folk.  If you were to glance at my altar you’d see a large muscle shell from the black river, a smudge stick of rosemary, stones, herbs, a glass bowl of water, a jar of sweet tea, sometimes flowers and little necklaces or home-made objects –just simple things.

I’ve danced around more than one fire or to the addictive beat of drums at PSG.  I have shared wine with ladies and fellows of like-mind and spirit, embraced the call of pan through a lovers arms and shared laughter with complete strangers. My June last year was a small group gathering full of glow-in- the-dark arm bands, hula hoops, a bonfire and a delicious group pot-luck.  I followed up with a solo camping trip into the woods of the Mark Twain Forest, trying to attune myself to more primal aspects of my nature –a good way to connect with the earth.

June is a spiritual time,  “connections” of all kinds are highlighted.  At some point, I began asking myself during each turn of the wheel:  What have my experiences been with the sacred elements during this season?  At this moment of questioning, my rituals and practices began to unfold with depths that were undeniably tied with my deeper-self.

When I was a kid, my mother and father would haul everyone into car or into the bed of dad’s old blue ford truck and drive into Frisbee. The waters were dark, cold and green.  When it rains this time of year you can ‘smell the rivers,’ as I sometimes say.  The earthy scent brings back memories of digging for muscle shells in the Black river, or visiting my grandmother in her cabin on stilts,  in the woods of Arkansas.  The smell of fried cat fish and fried home-potatoes with a side salad, made my mouth water with anticipation.  My bare feet soaked up the cool feeling of the slippery mud by the river.  While I waited, I’d gaze at the big cypress trees. I looked forward to grandpa driving us on his boat deeper into the swamp, where I could see the massive Cypress and their nubby stubs sticking out of the green-brown waters.

In Missouri, June is the month it’s finally warm enough to play in cold water strait from the hose, take a dip in the old swimming hole or drive out to Wappapello Lake and camp beneath the stars.  I’m surrounded by water in this place.  There is the St. Francis River, the Black River, Little Black, and the Mississippi.  I’ve always enjoyed the water folk (spirits) that seem to be active around this time of year.  They really listen when you reach out and they don’t mind if you enjoy yourself as long as you volunteer to really clean up around the banks of the river. If you’re interested in offerings, they seem to like sweet things and flowers. If I go swimming, I ask for their blessings and stay cautious –rivers do change frequently. The river wasn’t a stop for me this solstice as Father’s day fell on the same day, a double whammy for reasons to celebrate. I began the day by watching the rising of the sun.  I embraced the light with the understanding that from this point onward the nights would gradually be longer.  By three in the afternoon, we were grilling chicken and veggies in the back yard. The family had already pinned the fish-fry in May. My nine year old swam in her pool, decorated with mermaids, and we enjoyed the summer heat.  At the end of the evening, I poured some of the sweet tea in a small bowl and found other treats.  I went to the back yard and sat in stillness for a moment.  I thought of the calm day before digging a hole and leaving the tea and sweets for the little folk.  There were no elaborate rituals or bonfires but still, it was a beautiful, simple solstice day.

These memories paint my deep love for this time of year.  The place I’ve been born and the way I’ve experienced the summer through the years has integrated, truly making my daily routines and rituals a part of my own “Craft”.  I think fondly of what summer has meant to me as time floats by.  Some years, I dance with the drums and the spirts while enjoying revelry with the community.  You might find me swimming in a pond, leaping around a fire, or watching the stars.  Other years, I stay in the comfort of my home enjoying the garden, food, family and all that it means to me.  I look forward to the turn of the wheel as I do every year with nostalgia and joy.

One Final note.  When it comes to teaching about the celebrations of the solstice, I don’t initially start with the fact that it has been celebrated for thousands of years nor do I bother to review history. I start with asking:  How did you grow up with summer and how can you integrate those experiences into your craft?  These are the things that we truly pass to our children and our loved ones –the joy that become legacy to the future generations as the great wheel turns on.