Today, Saturday 21st June, is Midsummer’s Day, also known as Summer Solstice, literally meaning a “standing still of the sun”. It is the longest day of the year, with almost 17 hours of sunlight in London, but with an increasing amount of sunlight the further north you travel. In Northern Scandinavia the sun does not set at all for about three weeks!
It is a day that has been celebrated by pagans, druids and others for thousands of years, right back to the Neolithic era. It is certainly a pre-christian festival, although with the arrival of Christianity in Britain the day became associated with the Nativity of John the Baptist.It was a day filled with superstition: the veil between this world and the next was said to be at its thinnest, and powerful forces were abroad. It was believed that spending a night at a sacred site on Midsummer Eve would give one the powers of a bard. Conversely, there was also the possibility that one would go mad, die, or be taken away by the fairies.
The Celts celebrated by lighting fires all over the country, while modern day druids gather at Stonehenge, where the light signifies the sacred Awen. Traditionally St John’s Wort was gathered, thought to be imbued with the power of the sun, giving it magical healing properties, as were certain other flowers such as roses, rue, Vervain, and trefoil.
Today, the people of the South West region of Britain, particularly Cornwall, are those that most avidly celebrate the day. If you want to join in the these festivities there is no better place to go than Glastonbury, home of the infamous music festival, which has a host of celebratory events including: Glastonbury Tor for sunrise before 5am, Glastonbury assembly rooms’ free Festival of Light, King Arthur’s Glastonbury Summer Solstice Festival, a night of Soul and Funk Music at the Glastonbury Avalon Constitutional Club. Then of course you could join the druids at Stonehenge, or the campsite nearby which hosts a Solstice Festival that is less focused on picking healing flowers and more focused on beer, cider, food and music.