The Wheel continues to turn and we now reach the literal high point of the year – the Summer Solstice, where the midday sun ascends no more, standing still in the sky. It is traditionally the time of Flaming June, where we enjoy the balmy heat, the cool evening breezes and the world is ablaze with a riot of colours, smells, tastes and textures.
Welcome to the celebration of the Summer Solstice!
Since the very earliest times, people have celebrated the rising of the sun on the Summer Solstice. The rise, fall and rise again of celebrations at Stonehenge and other “thin places” around the country are a testimony to the enduring belief in the power of the sun and its influence over our lives, as well as the fact human beings enjoy celebrating that which occurs on a regular basis.
It is on the Summer Solstice the Druidic festival of ‘Alban Hefin’, Anglo Saxon ‘Litha’, takes place. Other paths may call it Midsummer, but the two are not necessarily one and the same thing chronologically, for Midsummer may not fall on the same day as the solstice.
For some within the deep green faith paths, this is the time when according to the story the great land giants of old – the light Oak King, is killed by the dark Holly King and rules over the landscape until the Winter Solstice, when the Oak King returns and conquers the Holly King – thus the Wheel continues to turn. This cyclical battle between light and dark is played out in the vegetation of our landscape as we see various plants rise, fall and rise once more. The Oak King is often portrayed as a god of fertility, of life and abundance, even the Green Man himself. In contrast, the Holly King is often seen as a kind of “Santa Claus” figure, appropriate at that time of the year. In some traditions, the two are seen as dual aspects of the horned god of the landscape, each reigning for half the year. Similar contrasting pairs of archetypal figures which battle with each other include Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
We see these stories partially mirrored in the Sacred Text, the Bible, where the Divine Child, Jesus Christ, is put to death by being nailed to a tree. There the Dark Lord delighted in death, the death of the ‘Light of the World’, seeing this as a victory of darkness over the light. However as we have seen in our celebrations over the year since the seasons of Lammas and Samhain, the death of one thing can lead to newness of life in something else. Earlier this year we looked back at the story of the first Easter Sunday morning, where the risen Christ, full of the sap of the new spiritual life on offer to us all, rose victorious from the grave, defeating death and providing a way back to the relationship we first had with the Divine Creator and the biosphere, and the newness of life therein.
June 10th to July 7th is also the Celtic tree month of oak, or Duir. The oak is throughout the ages has represented strength and endurance, and “Duir” is believed to be where we get the modern term for the spiritual leaders called “druids”. The great Celtic saint, St. Columba (521-597 AD) once called Jesus his ‘Arch Druid’ – I wonder how this would go down in some of today’s ‘risk-averse’ Christian cultures? Yet if the druids were all as evil as their enemy Roman historians portrayed them, it would seem inconceivable for a follower of Jesus to associate his Master as being the chief of evil people¹.
This month is considered to be “the door of the year”, the gateway to the inner realms, opening to let the light in. It is a tipping point of the year between light and darkness, and is a “thin time” (a time of sanctification and purification) where the veil between worlds is “thin” and sacred. Holmann Hunt’s powerful painting of Jesus Christ, “The Light of the World” beautifully captures the spirit of this time. Christ is pictured in it standing at a closed and overgrown door, knocking on the “door of our heart”, patiently waiting for us to open the door and let him in. He comes not to usurp, but to feast with us, transforming our lives for both our good and the good of the world at large and to fulfil our created purpose.
With the endless cycle of death and rebirth found in the battle between the Holly and Oak kings, we may ask, “Do we seek release and freedom from the cycle of good and evil in our lives, from this cycle of life and death?” Certainly in the recent tragic events we have seen unfold across the United Kingdom, many people are asking, “Is there any end to the death and suffering?” And in areas of great darkness, we have seen the Kingdom of God shining forth its light, in the activities and behaviours of those of every creed, colour and nation, as they gather together to help each other out. The Divine One has not abandoned us, but is there in the very fabric of our being, giving us the strength to continue our battle against the dark forces which encircle.
From this point on, the light starts to decline as the Wheel moves onward to the time of Lammas or Lughnasadh – a time of sacrifice.
Questions to meditate upon:
- What light can see see in a world where darkness seems to be in the ascendant?
- What light given to me by the Eternal One remains that I can shine out to the world around?
- How can this light remain in our lives and be strengthened?
- Can I hear the patient, gentle “knock, knock” of the Divine upon the door of my life?
¹ St. Columba knew the reality of the situation rather than the “official line”, because he took the risk of meeting those who were “other” to himself and discovered what they had in common was a lot more than what separated them. I wonder how many Christians today are prepared to meet those who they’ve traditionally thought or been told are “enemies”, to listen to their stories and discover where God may be at work outside of the Church in other people groups and cultures?