It's been a busy week, what with one thing and another - returning from our road trip, enjoying our first real rain in months, running errands here and there, and house-sitting for our daughter who is out of town. So busy that the biggest celestial event of the week went unnoted in the blog. Yes, I am referring to the changing of the seasons from spring to summer.
One reason that the change went unnoted was that it was imperceptible. We had, in effect, already been "enjoying" summer for weeks, but it wasn't until 12:16 P.M. last Tuesday, June 21, that it officially arrived.
Summer solstice was a huge event in the lives of our ancestors and it is still a huge event in many societies today. Various civilizations have for centuries celebrated the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. In some places, it is known as Midsummer (See Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.). Some call it St. John's Day, and, for the Wiccans, it is Litha.
The word solstice comes from Latin root words which mean "sun" and "to stand still." Ancient people observed that as the days grew longer, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky. Here in Texas this spring and now summer, it has often seemed that the sun was standing still high in the sky and would never give us any relief.
The summer soltice was and is especially important in the Pagan religion. The day was thought of as the "wedding of Heaven and Earth." They have long celebrated the event with bonfires and it is thought to be a particularly auspicious time for wedding ceremonies. They called the Midsummer moon the "Honey Moon" for the mead that they made from fermented honey and used in their wedding ceremonies. Thus, we have the origin of our own "honeymoon."
Midsummer was thought by the ancients to be a time of strong magic. Evil spirits were abroad on that day and to thwart them, people wore protective garlands of herbs and flowers. One of the most powerful of them was an herb called "chase-devil" which we know today as St. John's Wort. It still has an important spot in our herb gardens and is used by modern-day herbalists as a tranquilizer and mood stabilizer.
Perhaps the most important thing for us as gardeners to remember about the summer solstice is that it is, in fact, the longest day of the year and each day now is just a little bit shorter. We may not be able to detect yet but, soon enough, the shadows will be moving and changing, and before you know it, we will be celebrating another changing of the seasons. It will be autumn.