What Would the Druids Do at the Summer Solstice?
What Would the Druids Do at the Summer Solstice?
Let's see.... Well, considering the available evidence, we have virtually no idea what the ancient Druids really did for the solstices and many "Celtic Studies" sources feel quite comfortable asserting that the Celts did not even observe the solstices and equinoxes at all!
In my book that's just scholarly hokum. Too often, in good books and in bad, the Celts of archeology are confused with the Celts of Irish and Welsh folklore. There are many good reasons that the Celts probably did have solstice and other Sun rites and just because it's not mentioned in the corpus of "Celtic" folklore, first written-down by the Irish monks one thousand years ago, tells us exactly -zero- about what the pagan Celts actually did over two thousand years ago. Thus:
- A lack of evidence does not constitute evidence to the contrary.
- "Celtic" or not, early medieval folklore is not an accurate view back into the pagan Iron Age.
- The common assumption that the Celts had little regard for the Sun is simply wrong. There is an overwhelming body of physical evidence from Celtic and Romano-Celtic archaeology in support of solar symbols, Sun-wheels, Sun-faced gods and solar thunder-gods placing near the top in the lists of Celtic religious iconography from Europe and the British Isles(1).
Two thousand years before the Druids of the le Tene period Celts and three thousand years before the Irish monks, the people of the British isles were already obsessed with the solstices and equinoxes. This assumption is supported by a large body of "hard" archaeological evidence. Stonehenge is just the most celebrated and flashy of a number of late Neolithic/Bronze Age sites laid out with the obvious intention of framing the rising or setting of the Sun on the solstices or equinoxes.
Do we, following a Neo-Druidic path of spiritual exploration, limit ourselves to not using powerful themes, even those established by the regional predecessors of the Druids, simply because there's a lack of evidence for the Druids having used them? I think that, just as long as we aren't found doing something in the style of the Stonehenge folk, saying "the Druids did this...", we are freer to follow the Spirit of Ancientry, as we see it, without the unnecessary constraints of "scholarship" de jour.
We are not "Anciente Druides"... we are who we are, pursuing a modern spiritual path, informed by the artifacts of the Celtic and Indo-European cultures and the few fragments of their lore which have survived the millennia. We study, absorb and meditate upon these fragments and proceed with our only true guide: our own personal "lights". We are NeoDruidic and should be able to embrace that term with pride.
Why not at the Sun?
Postulate: generally speaking, we modern pagans tend to cling to witchy, gothic, lunar, and night-side themes and exhibit a distinct aversion to "solar" themes. Hence, the pursuit of the Solar Principal or the exploration of Sun-worship as an option is all but ignored as "too male, too left-brained for my tastes..."
I believe this suppression of a major aspect of our being poses a severe spiritual imbalance to the modern soul. Many Neopagans compensate for it unwittingly by feeling themselves called to the "Warrior" path, in which the male principle is often still safely gelded by limiting the deities they follow to ferociously "yang," yet clearly female, characters like Kali and the Morrigan.
I'd venture this makes some sense for women and perhaps a little less sense for men -but don't think for a second I'll sit still for my analysis being labeled "sexist". I feel the whole point here is that androphobic* personal and political agendas sometimes can inadvertently hurt us on a spiritual level, limiting our choices and resulting in an unnecessarily distorted and sexist view of the world. Here we need to recognize that "sexism" does not mean "anti-female"; it means any extreme prejudice based on gender.
Am I in trouble yet? Big trouble? Well, hey: I'm sorry; I'm not really here to bump heads on gender-politics, I'm just trying to get some paganfolk to examine their tendencies toward Heliophobia (avoiding of the solar) and to suggest that its roots are probably based on the pervasive post-Aquarian-culturethink: "SUN": male / left-brained / aggressive / oppressive / tight-assed & dangerous.
Many readily will point out that the Sun has not been considered male by all religions around the world and, even in the Western Branch of the Indo-European, we find examples such as the Norse at times addressing the Sun as a Goddess, "Sunna", the very word from which we get our word "Sun."
The Sun DESERVES our love and worship and we deserve to love and worship the Sun, without guilt. The Sun is without a doubt at least one half of our reason for existence on this beautiful planet, the other of course is the great system of Life on the Earth's surface we call Nature. It may seem natural for us to see them as a grand dyad: Mother Nature and Father Sun; but it's not altogether necessary. The choice is up to you... must we then muddy it up with "mortal" gender and familial issues?
At one point in our past, most of us, in a moment of rebellious insight threw-off the chains of our cultural conditioning and embraced things "witchy", "magical" and "Druidic" and found ourselves doing-so because of the beauty and truth and power we found in them. The resistance we broke-through in that moment was the web of falsehoods and negativity that society had spun around them. There is a similar agenda holding us back within our own subculture, a largely unspoken but ever-present agenda which would turn our face away from the sunrise...
NeoDruidic Solstice / Solar Devotional activities
There are many routes by which we can open our minds and souls to the Sun within the context of a modern Druidic spirituality. Here are some starters for personal contemplative and ritual techniques:
- Meditate on the Sun, its actuality, physical glory and spiritual dimensions in your life. Leave the gods and goddesses, heroes and lore for later. If you cannot approach the Sun in it's devastatingly present and neces-sary actuality in your life, you are not spiritually ready to appropriate the mythic lore associated with the Solar Principle for personal work. Start by learning to -not- ignore the real Sun.
- Compose a Salutation of the Sun that you can do at sunrise or sunset, or any time, even while you're driving to or from work. Sunrise or sunset rites and salutations can be very powerful and personally transformative. Ask a Yoga or OTO practitioner about their experiences with solar devotions. Just as important, share your experiences others.
- Observe and mark the seasonal progress of the Sun, particularly its rising and setting, from one or several of your favorite locations. The external component of this activity can be referred to as "Henge Building", even if you are not dragging boulders around but simply keeping notes of the sun's rise/set points, apparent altitude or shadow lengths on certain days. In so doing, you are bringing the external and the internal solar aspects together in a magical way; you are building a trans-dimensional solar-temple in your life.
- Get yourself a big (4") magnifying glass and learn to light your Sacred Fire from the Sun's rays. Solar Need-Fire building is a rite in itself. Experiment with using the burning- glass to purify your tools and to "store" the Solar Principle in a quartz crystal: putting something away for a rainy day (or The Dark Night of the Soul...).
- Begin your personal quest for the perfect Summer Solstice sunrise...
*androphobia: male-avoiding / male-fearing; misandery: male-hating
- Green, Miranda. Gods of the Celts, London, 1986
- Green, Miranda. Sun Gods of Ancient Europe, NY, 1991
- Webster, Graham. Celtic Religion in Roman Britain, London/NJ, 1986
Ritual and Practice