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Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year) appears to have been celebrated by the prehistoric builders of Stonehenge (The bronze age “Beaker Folk”) who preceded the Celts. We can only surmise this from the fact that some of the stones are aligned with the rising sun on the Summer Solstice. It may have been that the significance of the time was merely as a good measuring point for the ancient astronomers, enabling them to set the calendar right each year. If so, it may have only been celebrated by a small number of a priestly class … or it may have been a festival for all.

Fire Wheel 2002
“Fire Wheel”
Summer Solstice 2002

Ice Mountain 2002
“Ice Mountain”
Summer Solstice 2002
The rites and calendar of the Beaker Folk were lost when Iron Age Celtic culture arrived in Britain. The Celts appear not to have used Stonehenge for their own rites. They probably looked on Stonehenge much as we do today: with wonder, awe, and mystery.
Certainly, there was no festival in the Celtic calendar corresponding to the Summer Solstice, nor was there a particular celebration of this time in the Roman calendar.
The Summer Solstice probably had a brief revival in the short period of Saxon religious culture, before it was superceded by the feast of St. John the Baptist, as the Saxon people converted to Chritianity.
In Britain, the Summer Solstice celebration was revived in the 19th Century when Sir Norman Lockyer discovered the solar alignment at Stonehenge. The Romantic Druidic revival adopted this festival as their own, although the original druids (Celtic priests) would probably never actually have celebrated it.
However, a teutonic tradition of Summer Solstice celebrations survives to this day in parts of Scandinavia, where people still light fires and sit out all night on the shortest night of the year.
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Sun Arc 2006
“Sun Arc”, Summer Solstice 2006
Photograph: S J Cassandra Wall

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