The June solstice — occurring this year on the 21st, when our planet’s rotational axis is most inclined toward the sun — is both the longest and shortest day of the year. Depending on where you live, it is celebrated as the Summer Solstice or the Winter Solstice.
In the Northern Hemisphere, we observe the Summer Solstice (also known as midsummer) and the longest day of light. In the Arctic Circle and North Pole the midnight sun will be visible all night long. In the Southern Hemisphere where winter is in full force, we observe the Winter Solstice and the Polar Night (where there is no trace of light) takes over the Antarctic Circle.
This solstice is associated with change, nature, new beginnings and time-honored ceremonies. Many Native American tribes participated in midsummer rituals, and some still do. The Sioux are known for their ceremonial sun dance around a tree (symbolizing the connection between heaven and earth), their bodies and clothing decorated in colors symbolizing the sky, lightning, sunset, light, dark. Teepee are sometimes set up in a circle around the tree, representing the cosmos.
Some historians believe that Wyoming’s Bighorn medicine wheel, an arrangement of stones built several hundred years ago by the Plains Indians, aligns with the June solstice sunrise and sunset, and was the site of that culture’s annual sun dance.
Stonehenge is famously thought to be evidence that ancient humans organized their calendars around this solstice. Viewed from its center, the sun rises at a particular point on the horizon on day of the June solstice. Thousands of people, including modern-day druids and pagans, gather at Stonehenge for this occasion.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the June solstice commemorates the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the agricultural new year with events that include feasts, bonfires, picnics, and traditional song and dance.
The Andean people of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina celebrate Inti Raymi, the “Sun Festival,” with a prayer to the Sun God Inti for his return, and blessings for a bountiful harvest in the coming year. This ancient celebration spread across the Incan Empire mixing with local Andean beliefs. Inti Raymi has also become a celebration of Andean pride. In Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, the festivities include ceremonial appeasement of Inti at the Temple of the Sun, and a procession to the nearby Sacsayhuaman ruins.
Some of Australia’s 35,000 pagans gather at sunrise and again at sunset to walk the outline of a large earthen spiral, symbolizing entry into the underworld (subconscious). Others spend the solstice celebrating Yule, a historic Germanic festival marking the transition from the dark half of the year to the light half. Bonfires, spiced cider, gifts of clove-spiked apples and fragrant boughs symbolic of immortality have long been part of the Yule celebration.
For shamans, it is customary during this time of solstice to create a fire ceremony with friends and family to pray to ancestors for assistance. Open sacred space by calling on the four directions, Heaven and Earth, then place your written prayers in the fire. Close sacred space when you are done. Be sure thank the ancient ones who have held you, and release their energies to return to the four corners of the Earth.