Paganism is a religious outlook which is world-wide and as old as humanity, venerating the natural world and recognising many divine beings, both goddesses and gods. Since other indigenous traditions often have their own names, e.g. Shinto and Hinduism, Paganism today is mainly understood as the indigenous traditions of Europe, revived in a modern form from the 18th century onwards. Pagan rituals remind us that we are part of a greater whole and our life is part of a greater life, and the cycle of the seasons mirrors the cycle of birth, growth, death and renewal or replacement in human endeavours.
The summer solstice is one of the most joyful festivals of the modern Pagan year, the high point of the cycle, when the sun is at its strongest and the light lasts longest. It is a time for outdoor parties and festivals, for a temporary holiday from reality. In northern Europe, with its weak sunlight, the summer solstice is an important festival. German troops on Hadrian’s Wall around the year 90 requisitioned beer and other supplies for their solstice celebrations.
Contemporary Scandinavians celebrate midsummer with bonfires and all-night parties, and flaming firewheels are rolled downhill in some localities. The fire and light of the sun are seen as inimical to all harmful influences, and solar deities in the time of official Paganism were often seen as bringers of justice, adding their influence to the law courts which were held at this time of usefully clement weather.
Modern Pagan solstice ceremonies salute the Sun, give thanks for the bounty of Nature, and end with dancing and feasting. But we also keep an eye out for the darker time that is coming, when we must conserve and make use of the fruits of this season. Some ceremonies depict this turning point as a battle between the Oak King, whose leaves must fall in autumn, and the Holly King, whose leaves endure all year round but whose berries only glow at midwinter. The summer solstice, like its midwinter counterpart, is an uncanny time of stillness between the bustle of the two half-years, a time to pause and reflect, to celebrate and enjoy, but also to take stock and remember that every season will fade inevitably into its opposite.
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