So…am I the optimist that says the June summer solstice marks the beginning of summer and is the harbinger of warmer days, leading to the maturing of healthy and plentiful crops? Or…am I the pessimist who says—yeah, the June solstice is the longest day but that also means the days are about to decrease and lead to darker times ahead?
I suppose I’m a bit of both.
When is the summer solstice? The generally accepted answer is the 21st June.
The first memory I have of reading about the June summer solstice was at around ten years of age and I have to admit I was flummoxed back then that something that was a natural process could scientifically/astronomically fall on different days between the 20th and the 22nd June, yet was generally celebrated on the 21st June. It took me a little more learning to understand the reasoning behind the ‘floating’ event—the fact that our use of the Gregorian calendar, with its leap year accounting for the inexact 365 day year (solar), means there seems to be a bit of date manupulation. The summer solstice being the exact moment at which the sun strikes down on the (imaginary) Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere was an amazing thing to absorb.
How could the sun be shining on something imaginary? That our earth’s path around the sun was influenced by the pull of the other planets also orbiting our sun was equally an astounding concept to my young brain.
But to then learn that the earth had a ‘wobble’ in its axis was scary! ‘I don’t understand’ and ‘why’ were the order of the day till accepted that I wasn’t going to be thrown off the planet when the earth did a ‘wobbly’ close to the solstice, or even on the solstice, but the sun rising on the longest day of the year was definitely going to happen.
My imaginary eye tried very hard to make some sense of the information but it was still almost as incomprehensible as this schematic diagram on the left!
Working out what the ancients did, and thought when they built their impressive monuments, is a very mysterious and serious business.
My non- scientific brain at the age of ten hasn’t really matured much over the decades and I put myself into the category of one of the masses who just accept the natural events of this earth.
In the era that I write of in my Celtic Fervour novels, approximately AD 80, I would have been one of those worshippers who believed without question what my druid masters were telling me at times of the main celebrations. Like those ancients, I would have seriously marvelled that the druid priests and priestesses were able to time the solstices to such perfection that they stood waiting at the aligned openings of buildings like chambered cairns and the henge portals of places like Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles of Scotland, which their predecessors had built. That these important ‘openings’ catch the rising sun’s emerging rays on the morning of the solstice was no accident.
Or take the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney. This stone henge circle (NB. not Stonehenge in England) originally had 60 majestic standing stones of which less than 30 now survive (approx. 27). I have visited this ring and scanning as much as is possible around 360 deg turn makes an impressive impact. My visit was made years ago, but it was one of those places where it seemed to me that from a recumbent position on the ground the sky was racing above me and I felt was lying on a floating cloud as though levitating. (It might just be better explained that a force eight gale would do that anywhere in the world, but it’s more poetic to emphasise the mystique of the ancient henge circle!)
As a wannabee historian, I love the idea that there were druids (or earlier ‘un-named’ leaders with similar functions), and learned people, who read the signs in the heavens and the earth so very accurately. To me, it’s completely plausible how those pre-historic leaders must have seemed as though they were truly vessels of the gods. Being at one of the many stone circles that are found in Britain to witness the solstice sun appearing through a narrow gap at a predicted time must have been an intensely moving and motivating experience. This would have been even more profound as part of a learned ritual, the communal worshipping aspect of it enhancing the whole event.
I haven’t yet written about a solstice event in my Celtic Fervour novels but I’m planning to add something to Book 4, one of my works in progress.
I personally won’t be at any of the many standing stone circles to be found in my part of North-east Scotland tomorrow morning at 04.12 hours when the sun peeks though the portals but later on (like 8 a.m.) I will be enjoying a nice long drive into the Grampian Mountains on my way to Ballater, where I’m selling my books at a FOCUS Craft Fair. It’ll be a long day here in my part of the earth since sunset won’t be till 22.09 hours. But, I’m also not going to be outside with a stopwatch watch on the 22nd June making sure that we’ve gained/or lost a second since the solstice!
I just hope we will get some sun tomorrow to make the event a memorable one for all of the contemporary worshippers who WILL be at sites like Stonehenge (England) to celebrate that ‘standing still’ (sistere) of the sun (sol) .
Enjoy the solstice wherever you are- in the northern or southern hemisphere.
Oh, and Aela Cameron in Take Me Now, my fun contemporary mystery, might just be flying Nairn Malcolm over the Callanish stone circle on the Isle of Skye this very moment, since the events of the book take place towards the end of June and Nairn’s Scottish castle on the island of Mull is close by! I know for sure Aela will be wowing over the sight of the sun’s rays hitting the centre of Callanish on the summer solstice. (Callanish is also a place I recommend visiting).
Have a nice Solstice Sunday!
Nancy Jardine writes historical adventures, contemporary mysteries and time travel adventures for th eMiddle Grade/ YA markets.