Summer Solstice

by Madeleina Bolduc, Faculty Member at Verse Herbal Medicine School

Blooming into ripeness, the summer solstice is the longest day, the shortest night, calling us into wholehearted activity. In the Northern Hemisphere, Summer Solstice 2022 will be on Tuesday, June 21.

Every land based culture has celebrated the beginning of summer as a time out of time, the moment of full brightness. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol ("sun") and sistere ("to stand still"), because the Sun's daily path (as seen from Earth) pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction. Midsummer is one of four solar festivals that mark the wheel of the year. It is a time that has been honored by many peoples for thousands of years. 

The Solstice is the time when Earth is at her fullness of strength, fertility, and abundance. We too can celebrate our strength by joining together and offering gratitude for life. In creating a ceremony, we can delve into the rites of our ancestors, or we can create a simple honoring. Our focus is on giving-back, pollinating our world through sharing.

Creating a ceremony or celebration is also a way to acknowledge the life force energy within us. This gives back to Creation some of the energy and blessings that we are generously receiving from the Earth, the Elements, and the Sun’s warmth provides the light necessary for all living beings to grow, mature, and thrive. 

Fire is used throughout summer solstice celebrations in praise of the sun. Some customs include bonfires, torchlight processions, circle dancing, and divination. All while asking the fire as the voices of our ancestors, and an Elder Element, to inform. Of course, we use great care in fire safety these days! There are very simple and complex customs.

My grandmother described staying up late to fill a jar with fireflies and letting them go again with a wish before bed. There are architectural customs; Mayas and Aztecs used the “sun-standing-still” day as a marker by which to build many of their central structures so that the buildings would align perfectly with the shadows of the two solstices, summer and winter. These structures would then reveal sacred doorways that would open to a precise location on the horizon of the rising sun. 

The spiral is also associated with the Solstices. Ancient dances would follow the Sun’s movement and the migratory patterns of geese, whales, and herd animals in spiraling figure eight patterns. People would join hands weaving together, winding into a decreasing spiral into the middle then unwinding back out again, passing face after face of the community village. I participated in many of these dances over the last decades, the last one with Starhawk in San Francisco. They are powerfully moving, mesmerizing and deeply connective. Together, we become the Sun moving from contraction at the center of the spiral at winter solstice to expansion at Summer Solstice and back again. 

The Celts and Druids have received the most attention in Neo-Pagan reclaiming movements in the last decades, calling the Summer Solstice Litha or Lady day. However, Mayan, Aztec, First Nations, Chinese, Japanese, Indigenous Europeans, Saxon, Finnish, Lithuanian, Italian, Greek, Islamic, Russian, ancient and modern Egyptian, and Spanish peoples also have their Solstice traditions. Western civilizations have for centuries celebrated this first day of summer often called Midsummer (Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Eve). The Chinese celebrate the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. Our stories show that people have acknowledged the potent life-force with sacred rituals that revitalize the land, the elements, and ourselves. So much brightness shimmering upon the Earth on this day. It is a marriage of Heaven and Earth, which can bring us back to our essential selves as we give-back to something bigger than us. 

To this day, revelers still gather at Stonehenge to see the sunrise. The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun.  Many of the ancient traditions continue — bonfires are still lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness.

In North America, many Native American tribes hold ritual dances to honor the Sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most powerful rituals — The Sun Dance. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the Sun Dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night). So many ways to kneel and kiss the ground, to sing and praise the Sun!

More cultural and scientific details about Solstice.

The plants we love to work with during the summer solstice time are the ones that are blooming! Should we become overheated or have hot constitutions, Honeysuckle flower infusion is the perfect cooling remedy. It is well-known in the Chinese traditional formula Yin Ciao for helping to alleviate symptoms of colds and flus at first arrival. Hibiscus flowers make another wonderful, cooling, nourishing infusion and combine well with Honeysuckle and Hawthorne flowers to strengthen the heart and vascular system. Calendula flowers are a great herb for cleansing the lymphatic system and healing all mucus membranes with their demulcent properties, which can become dry and thus permeable to microbes and irritants in hot conditions. A wash of Calendula infusion or Calendula infused oil or salve can be used externally for sunburn or heat rash. Burdock, aka Gobo in Japanese, is rich in calcium, iron, potassium, and phosphorus, and acts as an immune booster, blood purifier, and liver detoxifier.

Here is one of my favorite recipes for an electrolyte-replacing, cooling, nourishing, cleansing summer beverage.

  • Burdock root
  • Hibiscus flower
  • Calendula flower
  • Honeysuckle flower
  • Hawthorne flowers and leaves
  • Combine 2 Tbs each in a [4 qt jar]. Pour boiling water to the top and let sit overnight for a nourishing infusion.
  • Strain plant material in the morning by pouring infusion into another jar.
  • Pour infusion back into the first jar and add the juice of one organic lemon, 1 tsp grey, Atlantic sea salt, and a splash of maple syrup or stevia drops if desired, for sweetness.
  • Drink 2-3 c of this concentrate, slightly watered down with hot water so as not to drink beverages refrigerator-cold (harmful for your digestion!) 2-3x/day. Lovely!

Warming herbs can be good in the summer, too. We can draw on the wisdom of many Latino and Asian cultures with their spicy cayenne and habanero pepper dishes eaten throughout the year, but especially on hot afternoons. This seems counterintuitive, why would people eat hot, spicy foods and sauces on a hot day? Because these plants are diaphoretic and circulatory stimulants. This means they make us sweat, our body‘s natural cooling response! It’s a great strategy.

Traditional cultures have so much wisdom! Of course, each person needs to pay attention to their own constitution and experience which foods and herbal medicines are correct for them. If you are unsure and want guidance, you can hire a professional herbalist to create a personal formula for you according to your specific needs. 

The weeks leading up to the Summer solstice are good for ritual. I just planted sunflower starts last moon cycle. As the plants and trees are growing, flowering, fruiting, unfurling, we too can keep opening up. Our voices and breath allow exploration into the vibration of sound, bringing more circulation, sense of connectedness, and joy! We humans can bring gifts to nature by singing for the trees, into the wind, with the waters, to our medicine. Let’s remember the oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange that we have with the green growing life on our precious planet, our home. We truly belong here, and we are always giving in the form of our breath, and we can be more intentional, consciously directing that gift by deliberately making offerings. 

For the actual summer solstice day, we can greet the Sun first thing in the morning when they rise. Come with a song, a bowl of water, and your generous heart. As he/she/they arise, speak directly to them and thank them for carrying the world. You can say something like “because of You everything wants to be alive, growing in the daylight! All colors become the rainbow spectrum of brilliant beauty, and time doesn’t happen all at once so that we may actually have lifespans to create, love, grieve, change and make more beauty.” (My teacher Martín Prechtel has said not to call the Sun “it”. Instead, we can say He/She/Them, depending on what you prefer and which culture you are honoring/come from.) In Japan, for instance, the sun is a goddess, her name is Amaterasu. In Australia, the Aborigines also believe the Sun is Female, but best if men address Her, being that they can stand facing Her. The opposite applies for the Moon. In contrast, many Native American First Nation peoples call the sun, “our Father “. 

So! Offer your breath and then throw some of our Mother, Water, which is Life, as an offering to the Sun on this, his longest workday! Pour a little water to the Soil, also our Mother, as another offering and finally drink some of the water, saluting and toasting our Sun-Father/Mother. Spend the day feasting, celebrating, dressing beautifully, and feed as many beings as you can with praise and homemade food, even better if it’s from your own cultural heritage. Weave garlands of flowers to wear (which in some cultures are not only thought of as pretty, but also called the ‘Warriors’), as a stand for beauty, fearlessness, and also fierceness because there’s a lot for us to stand up for these days. Bring together your people to create a spiral dance or a (safe!) bonfire. As the sun goes down, repeat the ritual from the morning and then continue on with your generous celebration of living. We all can toast life and give and receive the vital force, the vitality of life!

I especially relate to this time of increasing light as a call to continue to “shed the light” and educate myself and others to stay clear and steady in the work to protect human and nature rights. I feel it’s important to share knowledge of the genocides and oppression that occurred on this land that I live in just in the last few generations, and to keep my mind and hands open and available for heartfelt empowerment for ALL. Shining that light of inquiry into the dark places, bringing compassion, deep listening, and willingness to help provide safe places of sacred ceremony to grieve and praise, metabolize trauma, and heal together.

For more rituals, check out this book: Midsummer: Magical Celebrations of the Summer Solstice  It’s fairly European-centric, but still worthwhile. 

I always love this book for rituals! New Orleans and Afro-centric author and Priestess, Luisah Teish.

Madeleina Bolduc

About Madeleina:

Madeleina teaches in all levels of our SOTHA + Verse Herbal Medicine Certifications, focusing on herbal energetics, clinical practice, and plant spirit medicine.

Madeleina is available for private sessions: Herbal, counseling, or individually curated personal rituals.