EXPRESSIONS OF FAITH
Traditional significance of solstices
By Dan Furst
To all appearances, Thursday will be just the day before another welcome Aloha Friday.
But in ancient Hawai'i, June 20 was observed as the summer solstice, one of the two most important festival days of the year.
Its companion is the winter solstice festival Dec. 21.
"Solstice" means "the sun sticks": Twice a year, the sun seems to come to a standstill, then change direction, rising north or south of where it came up the day before. (In some parts of the world, the summer solstice occurs June 21.)
Between Dec. 21 and June 20, the sunrise point seems to keep moving south on the eastern horizon, so the sun moves in a lower arc across our sky and sends less heat to the earth. Welcome to winter.
Then, after the longest day of the year June 21, the sunrise point starts moving north along the horizon, so the sun rides higher in the sky and the days get hotter. Summer is here.
Winter solstice is the birth of the solar child. As days get longer again, the light is symbolically reborn, and along with it the idea that the human soul is reborn as a light body, surviving the death of the earth body.
Summer solstice, on the other hand, marks the point in the year when the days begin to get shorter again, the sun recedes, and the female lunar power rises to dominate the time from now to December. On the summer solstice, the sun moves to the 90 degrees point of its orbit through the zodiac and exits the sign of Gemini and enters the sign of Cancer, the water sign ruled by the moon.
The watering activity of the moon is crucial to the growing seasons and harvest. That is why this time of year has long been sacred to the goddess religions, such as Druids and Wiccans.
As the moon represents the feminine civilizing and stabilizing element, the month of June is named for Juno, wife and patient partner to Zeus. Juno is the protector of the hearth who punishes those who violate the sanctity of the family, but honors and rewards those who keep the home holy. This is one reason why June is always favorable for marriage and family reunions.
Because the sun's light stays so long in the sky now, this is also a time for fire rituals. Ancient people celebrated the season with bonfires and fireworks.
With rare exceptions (such as the Chinese lunar calendar, in which June 21 marks the peak of the male Yang force and initiates summer), the summer solstice is a goddess festival almost everywhere. The Celts call it Litha in honor of the water goddess. For Greeks and Romans, this day was (and still is) the Day of All Heras. For Druids ancient and modern, this is the Day of Cerridwen, celebrating all wise women. The common thread is the dignity of woman as keeper of the home fire and teacher of wisdom.
The Hawaii Fire Tribe will celebrate the summer solstice Friday through June 23 with chant and fire dance, drums and sacred music in the Kualoa Valley. Check online at: geckomoon.com/firetribe.
Dan Furst is a writer, actor and teacher. Expressions of Faith welcomes written works by leaders in faith and spirituality, including lay workers.
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