Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer Solstice Rituals: There's Still Time to Light Your Fire Wheel by L. A. Kelley

Greetings Earth Mothers and Fathers. There's still time to light your fire wheel.

The movement of the sun during the course of the year held particular fascination for the ancients. Rites of renewal often involved the different solstices. Named from the Latin words for sol (sun) and sistere (to cease), the solstices occurred during times when  the sun appeared to magically stop one progression and begin another. The summer solstice in the northern hemisphere is on June 20.  On that day the sun reaches the highest point in the sky, signaling the start of the hottest days of year, followed by more rapid crop growth, and an eventual harvest to fend off starvation. Not without proper mystical intervention, of course.

Pagan beliefs
The summer solstice held the most importance to pagan or nature worshipping religions, and they spanned the globe.  Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Vikings, Native Americans, and Druids among many others had celebrations linked to the longest day of the year. They often encompassed wild abandonment and fertility rituals (rather like spring break today). Ancient Greeks marked the solstice with a festival of Cronus consisting of feasts, games, and the strange tradition of having slaves served by their owners for a day. In ancient Rome, the festival marked the only time married women could enter the temples of the vestal virgins to make offerings to Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home. In Chinese mythology, the summer solstice was a time to celebrate yin (femininity) and earth. As the Catholic Church attempted to lure pagans to its beliefs, it adopted June 24 as the festival of the nativity of St. John the Baptist, appealing to ancient beliefs and encompassing the theme of birth.

Summer solstice festivals in Great Britain's pagan times often involved fire. Flames, smoke, and ashes were believed to have purification powers to drive away evil spirits and protect homes, families, livestock, and crops. Hence the continued use of burning palms on Ash Wednesday. Rituals also involved singeing horses or cattle with embers or driving them through the smoke to invoke magical protection. One of the more bizarre practices is still done for tourists.  Locals roll a giant flaming wheel down a hillside and (hopefully) into a lake and not the neighbor’s barn. The wheel is stuffed with straw or hay. Pagans believed if it rolled all the way to the bottom and into the water the harvest would be good. If it didn’t make it or skewed off the path, the harvest would be bad, and probably make the neighbor with the burning barn come after you with a pitchfork.

Changes in Sunlight and Psychology
Psychological reasons may also explain why the summer solstice holds such importance. A lack of sunlight has long been associated with increased depression. Scientific American reported on a study of tweets done in 2011. Researchers looked at random tweets and analyzed them for emotional content as a function of the time of day, the day of the week, and the amount of actual daylight (i.e., the season). They found the amount of daylight was not as important as the relative change in that daylight. Meaning that when the change was positive (days grow longer), people expressed more positive views. When the change was negative (days grow shorter), attitudes soured.

Myths Associated with the Summer Solstice

  • The seasons change because of the Earth's distance from the sun
The Earth rotates around the sun in a fairly regular orbit and the closest point is during the winter. Seasons change because of the Earth’s tilt on its axis. In the summer, the Earth tilts toward the sun bringing more warmth to the surface, while in the winter, it's tilts away.


  • Summer solstice is the overall hottest day of the year
The solstice brings the most light, but not the most heat.


  • On the summer solstice an egg will balance upright on a table.
Actually, you can do this anytime. Shake a raw egg until the yolk breaks inside the shell. Place the egg back in the carton. Once the yolk settles to the bottom of the shell it will stand upright because more weight is at the bottom. Now, invite family and friends into the room, recite mystical mumbo jumbo about the summer solstice, and place the egg upright on the table. Try not to laugh at their stupefied expressions.



L. A. Kelley writes fantasy/science fiction adventures with humor, romance and a touch of sass. She was cast out of the local druid chapter for admitting summer is her least favorite time of year. Check out the books on her Amazon Author Page.






5 comments:

Victoria Craven said...

This was really interesting, and a great inspiration for a paranormal novel. I'm going to have to think about this for a while. I knew about the Pagan rituals but I found the others you mentioned quite intriguing. Great blog!

Diane Burton said...

I'll bet they prayed a lot that the wheel would run straight... and not into the neighbor's barn. Very interesting tidbits, Linda. When we build our worlds, customs (celebrations, festivals, etc.) add so much to our stories.

Maureen said...

I enjoyed the post. lol- at swimsuit season shopping despair season.

Barbara Edwards said...

Interesting post. I didn't know about the fire wheel, but it sounds like fun to watch.

CJ Burright said...

Fun post! I love how so many different cultures recognize the solstice in their own unique ways.