Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer Solstice, the Apex of Light

Happy Solstice!!

Let's start off with a little science lesson.  June 20th was the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.  Here in Northern California, on this day the sun rose at 5:48am and set at 8:35pm, for an impressive 15 hrs 47 mins of sunlight.  This is compared to the shortest day of the year, which will be this coming December 21st, when there will only be 10 hrs 33 mins of sunlight here in the Bay Area.  This difference in the amount of light we get as the days either move towards or away from the summer solstice is all a result of the tilted axes on which our planet revolves.

Because the axis is tilted, we get these seasonal shifts.  But the closer you get to the equator (that middle line that runs around the part of the earth where the tropical islands are), the more balanced out these days become.  The difference between their longest and shortest days is a lot smaller and it's generally warmer there, which accounts for it being a travel destination, especially in winter.  As you pass the equator and move into the global south, the difference between the longest and shortest days increases, but opposite from what we experience up here.  While June 20th was the longest day of the year for those of us in the US, in Australia they were celebrating June 20th as the winter solstice or the shortest day of the year.

The solstices are important pagan holidays.  Tied to the rhythms of nature as we are, we like to celebrate these seasonal accomplishments.  Due to our modern conveniences, we do not experience the impact that the change in temperatures during the year used to hold for our human ancestors.  For most of human history, a mild and warm summer season led to an abundance of food, which meant survival through the long dark winter.  While this isn't news to most of us, the honoring of these cycles provides pagans with an opportunity to really contemplate the fragility of our world and be thankful for all that we have.

While modern technological advances free us from our dependence on seasonal weather cycles, we have lost our ties to the cyclical nature of time.  It is easy to fall into a pattern where our lives feel like they just keep moving forward, like a train with no destination.  The monotony of our jobs and the repetition of our lives can lead to a sense that we are not really accomplishing anything.  We experience a growing sense that time is slipping away and there is nothing we can do about it.  Suddenly, we look at a calender and it's Christmas again and another year is gone.  The years pass and suddenly we are older than we feel and have not accomplished even half of the things we had imagined we would do.

There are ways to slow things down.  I have discovered that by participating in celebrations of the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarters, I have been able to regain a sense of time and movement in my life.  As pagans we watch as the earth awakens to the first movements of spring, through the fluttering of life and newness in May, the height of the sun's light followed by the first big harvest as summer begins to wind down.  We watch the big harvest times as the children return to school, and move into the time when the veil is thin and we honor our beloved dead.  We arrive at the darkness of the year, prepared to wait through the quiet of the longest night and the promise of a new sun and a new year to come.  The end of the year never sneaks up on you if you have taken time to note the movement of the earth every six weeks.

Additionally, my pagan tradition has a year long ritual that we do to manifest change in our lives.  We not only mark the passage of time, but we put effort into making changes so that next year we will be an improved version of ourselves.  For me, the choice to consciously work on different aspects of my life has led to changes, experiences, and adventures that have made my life feel meaningful, even through those years at the monotonous job that just paid the bills.  The seasonal work creates continuity and a logical narrative that has been invaluable through the more recent chaotic years of my education, with all the moves and changes in my academic and vocational plans.  I can look back and see the trajectory of my self-manifestation, and appreciate how much I have accomplished.  I remember the year I put energy into seeing myself as an artist, the year I worked to finish grieving the loss of my parents, and the year I dedicated myself to healing my relationship with my body.

Which moves us to this year.  This year I am working to teach myself how to be alone and in peace with my solitude.  In February, when I first spoke these words into the void, I trembled in sorrow and grief at the idea of being alone.  When Ostara came along, I planted this change, physically into the ground, trusting God to help me find my courage to face this deep and long standing fear.  And as the months have passed, I have watched my codependent tendencies slowly fade as I discover the joys of solitude.  Now that we have arrived at the solstice, I can feel the full power of the sun's light on the little plant in my heart as I grow ever stronger in my understanding of who I am and how to live with stability and certainty, regardless of who I have in my life.  I am learning that alone doesn't have to mean lonely and that being single doesn't mean being left without help.  These are powerful lessons and I am grateful for them.

So I, along with my circlemates, grow and learn, healing these old patterns as we work our year long rituals together.  Six weeks from now, when it is time for the first harvest, I will finish these lessons and internalize them in a way that changes me forever.  Each year we gather to honor the days and transform ourselves, and we owe this opportunity to the 23 degree tilt of the planet that we live on.