I’m helping to organize a summer solstice chat for ADF’s Gael Kin later this week, and in preparation for our discussion, I’ve been doing some research on what summer solstice celebrations might look like for a Gaelic hearth. As I was typing up my lists of deities, practices, and ideas for workings, it occurred to me that this information might be useful to others.
Up front, I’m going to say that I won’t be citing all my sources for this initial draft of this post, mostly because I’m just rounding up my notes. Eventually I’d like to turn this into a more scholarly essay, but for the moment, please accept a few statements of general knowledge without citation.
We know that the solstice wasn’t a big part of Celtic celebration: quarter days, as we call them now, belong to a more modern tradition of pagan worship that collects all eight High Days. Because of this, and a distinct lack of clear solar deities in the Gaelic pantheons, it can be difficult to decide how we should celebrate the summer solstice.
There are, however, a few traditions that merit exploration, and some deities whose connections to the sun and summer make them appropriate guests of honor at a solstice rite. Let’s look at deities first.
- Manannán mac Lir: My personal patron, and my favorite deity to honor at the summer solstice. There’s a Manx tradition of throwing fresh grasses into the sea at the summer solstice as a way of paying rent for the year (Ellison 179). Myth also says that Manannán outfitted Lugh with his boat, horse, and sword (Green 139), which does seem to lend some weight to the notion of Manannán as a deity presiding over the precursor holiday to Lughnasadh.
- Aine: Her name always comes up, and she is one for whom I don’t have a primary source. According to Mara Freeman, Aine “may have been a goddess of the sun, for her funeral was said to be at midsummer, the date that marks the decline of the sun’s power” (171-172). She also has faerie associations that may work well with midsummer traditions.
- Oengus: Born on a “day” the sun stood still (for nine months!), Oengus is a god of love and passion. If the story of the deception around his conception by the Daghda and Boann isn’t romantic enough, he’s also mythologically associated with his own passion and that of others (Green 165). While his sun association is primarily to do with the day of his conception and his parents’ trickery, long summer nights seem as good a time as any to celebrate love and passion.
- Ériu: An earth mother goddess associated with the land of Ireland,Ériu also has sun associations: “the sun was perceived as a golden cup filled with red wine which Ériu, as goddess of the land, hands to successive mortal kings of Ireland, to signify their marriage and the fertility of the country” (Green 92).
So that’s four deities, two male and two female, we can potentially honor at the summer solstice. Their associations with this high day may take some logical yoga to reach, but when you don’t have a recorded tradition to emulate, you take what works for you!
How about traditions, though? We have our deities we want to honor, but how can we celebrate this high day at our altar and on our hearth?
- Manannán-Related Workings: I mentioned the tradition of paying Manannán his rent. In the past, I’ve made straw bundles and floated them down the stream near my house. This year, I’m toying with the idea of asking Manannán to bless my “boat, horse, and sword,” in some symbolic fashion: perhaps my car, pets, and pens? There may be nothing there, but it’s something I’d like to explore.
- Bonfires: There may or may not be a strong bonfire tradition associated with the summer solstice. Skip Ellison writes, “Records going back to the sixteenth century refer to the number of bonfires seen on hills throughout the British Isles,” continuing to say that people jumped through the fires for luck and took home the ashes for ensuring a bountiful harvest (178). However, most neopagans I know celebrate with bonfires at Beltane, not the summer solstice. But when in doubt, I suppose, light a big fire.
- Faerie and/or Nature Magic: Aine seems to be associated with the fairies. Since I don’t have a source for this, though, I don’t want to plunge into that mire without other reasoning. That said, midsummer is a time when we see nature and its spirits at their peak. Animals are everywhere, plants are growing, the nature spirits are flourishing. If you don’t have a strong connection to a faerie tradition or mythos, consider dedicating this high day to a celebration of the nature spirits.
- Sovereignty Celebrations: Irish mythology loves its sovereignty celebrations. Maybe you celebrate the sovereignty of the land at Samhain or the harvest, but consider recreating Ériu’s blessing of the king’s union with the land. A cup of water could receive the sun’s blessing, symbolizing the process of crop fertilization and growth. Or you could dedicate yourself to YOUR land, whether that’s your property or your country or even the earth.
And there you have it: choose a combination of these deities and working ideas, and see what you can come up with. For high days like this one, it’s important both to be informed by our ancestors’ practices and also to be creative enough to come up with our own. Traditions have to start somewhere, you know.
Ellison, Robert Lee (Skip). The Solitary Druid. New York: Citadel Press, 2005. Print.
Freeman, Mara. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. New York: HarperOne, 2001. Print.
Green, Miranda J. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992. Print.