Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Sacred Midsummer Solstice

Many of us in the Wodenist/Wotanist/Odinist religious community along with people of other prechristian northern European religions will have observed some form of rite in recognition of the summer solstice. This observance goes back into Aryan prehistory and even after the forced christianisation of our peoples some form of observance of midsummer rites continued.
J.G. Frazer in The Golden Bough states "According to a mediaeval writer the three great features of this festival were the bonfires, the procession with torches round the fields, and the custom of rolling a wheel. The writer adds that the smoke drives away harmful dragons which cause sickness, and he explains the custom of rolling the wheel to mean that the sun has now reached the highest point in the ecliptic, and begins thenceforward to descend."

Mr Frazer then goes on to relate that the main features of the midsummer festivals are characteristic of the spring festivals also.

"In Swabia lads and lasses, hand in hand, leap over the midsummer bonfire, praying that the hemp may grow three ells high, and they set fire to wheels of straw and send them rolling down the hill." He goes on to give further examples throughtout the German-speaking lands and France.
"In our own country the custom of lighting bonfires at midsummer has prevailed extensively. In the North of England these fires used to be lit in the open streets. Young and old gathered round them; the former leaped over the fires and engaged in games, while the old people looked on. Sometimes the fires were kindled on the tops of high hills. The people also carried firebrands about the fields."

He also gives further examples from Wales, the Isle of Man, Ireland and even further afield from Lithuania and the Slavic lands. Mr Frazer explains the prevalence of these midsummer rites in northern Europe due to them being sun charms to provide a proper amount of sunshine in the gloomy north. He cites examples of our ancestors throwing blazing discs into the air and reasons that such a practice is a type of imitative magic like the swinging of a burning tar-barrel round a pole or the rolling of a burning wheel down a hillside. "by counterfeiting the sun`s progress through the heavens you really help the luminary to persue his celestial journey with punctuality and despatch."

Walter Keating Kelly writing in his Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folk-lore states:

"Here we see at once that the German custom was nothing else than a dramatic representation of the great elemental battle portrayed in the sacred books of the Southern Aryans. In the one the blazing wheel stands on the top of the hill, in the other the sun stands on the summit of the cloud mountain. Both descend from their heights, and both are extinguished, the sun in the cloud sea, behind the cloud mountain, the wheel in the river at the foot of the hill. Here Indra, Soma, and the army of the Maruts hurl their deadly weapons and charge the demon host; there the triumphant combatants fire upon the foe or brandish their mimic lightning-straw torches-and persue him to the water`s edge. It is worthy of note that the women do not, as on other occasions, take any active part in the German ceremony; their doing so would be inconsistent with its character as an act of mimic warfare. They assemble only as spectators to watch the fortunes of the fight, and to exult in the victory of their own party".

The gathering of druids in recent years at Stonehenge which is perceived[amongst other things] as being a great sun temple demonstrates that we are seeing in our own lifetimes a resurgence in popularity and interest in the prechristian beliefs our our ancestors.