Here comes the Sun

Christine Hennebury
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More than the first day of summer, for some, the solstice is a spiritual event

Erin Piatt, a practising neo-pagan, plans to mark the summer solstice Thursday with a personal ritual. In previous years, she was often part of a larger gathering, a circle of like-minded souls who would watch the sun set in Beachy Cove June 20, holding a vigil in front of a fire, sharing food and making music throughout the shortest night of the year before hurrying to Cape Spear to watch the sun rise in the east.

Most people know that June 21, the summer solstice, is the longest day of the year. Few people realize why marking that day was important to people in the past and why it continues to be important to those whose beliefs are tied to the Earth's cycles.

Erin Piatt, a practising neo-pagan, plans to mark the summer solstice Thursday with a personal ritual. In previous years, she was often part of a larger gathering, a circle of like-minded souls who would watch the sun set in Beachy Cove June 20, holding a vigil in front of a fire, sharing food and making music throughout the shortest night of the year before hurrying to Cape Spear to watch the sun rise in the east.

Most people know that June 21, the summer solstice, is the longest day of the year. Few people realize why marking that day was important to people in the past and why it continues to be important to those whose beliefs are tied to the Earth's cycles.

"The pagan calendar originated in a culture that was dependent on the earth. If they didn't get enough sunshine, things would be bad, they wouldn't have enough to feed their children," Piatt explains. "Solstice is the height of summer, the height of energy and fertility that will be available to create something to harvest to get you through the height of winter."

By celebrating the summer solstice (and other seasonal markers), pagans acknowledge that all people are part of the ecosystem, dependent on the Earth and the seasons.

But for modern pagans, celebrating seasonal changes is not only about changes in the Earth, it is about changes within. "Summer solstice is ... the highest energy point of the year. It is time to think about what you want to focus your energy on for the rest of the year."

Following the rhythms of the seasons (both internally and externally) and marking the changes throughout the year is an essential aspect of neo-paganism. Other core beliefs include the three-fold law (the energy that a person puts out, good or bad, comes back to them three-fold), the recognition of both masculine and feminine divinity, and the ethical perspective of respect for others.

This ethical perspective is summed up by Wiccans (a branch of neo-paganism) in the Wiccan Rede, "Do what you will but harm none."

These core ideas are very appealing to those whose beliefs do not fit in with most conventional religions. While neo-pagan rituals are often done in groups, they can also be performed individually and adapted to suit the spiritual needs of the person performing the ritual.

Laurie Grimmell Leehane sees her "eclectic paganism" as less of a religion and more of a spiritual path. "Paganism can be a spiritual journey. It appeals to me because there are no set rules that box me in. ... The beauty of it all is that one can create their own special path of paganism; What works in one's life is for them to connect to the Earth and elements.

"Being a pagan is how one lives their daily life. It exists in their psyche and in their homes."

Grimmell Leehane will celebrate the summer solstice (or Litha, as it is called in the pagan calendar) with a group of other pagans, starting tonight. They will cast a circle and perform their ritual, and then there will be drumming, chanting and drinking mead.

And they will watch the sun rise in a special place.

Jillian Hand Humphries is a Wiccan who also finds the individual nature of paganism appealing. "It is very accepting and flexible, you have the basic tenets but you can use the bits and pieces to fit your own beliefs," she says.

"Rather than following a single guidebook, Wiccans write their own Book of Shadows, creating a personal sacred text of rituals that they follow. Paganism helps me to connect more to my spirituality because I can make it my own."

Ideally, Hand Humphries would celebrate the summer solstice with a beach fire and a special meal, and watch both the sunrise and sunset. However, her seven-month-old daughter may have other plans for her that day, so Hand Humphries may mark the solstice in a smaller way.

"It is hard for me now, with limited space and a baby, to do a lot of the rituals, but I will be doing more when she is older, including her in the rituals."

Hand Humphries' daughter has already had a Wiccan naming ceremony, which, unlike a christening, did not involve promising to bring the child up with Wiccan beliefs. Instead, it called upon the Wiccan deities to care for and protect the child until she is old enough to choose for herself. And her daughter will grow up hearing pagan songs and stories, learning about the cycle of the year and participating in holiday celebrations and rituals.

Piatt describes neo-paganism as "drawing on old ideas that were based on what we go through as human beings on this earth."

By marking the changes throughout the year, neo-pagans strive to honour the cycle of birth, death and rebirth shown throughout nature.

The summer solstice is a good time to remind ourselves of people's place in what she calls "the interconnected lines between living beings."

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