Reprinted from "The Joy of Family Rituals: Recipes for Everyday Living" with permission of St. Martin's Press
Summer is a time of celebration, of prosperity and abundance. How eagerly we all look forward to our summer vacations. With its long days and short nights, summer is synonymous with love and romance. It's no wonder that June is still the most popular bridal month. Interestingly, this harks back to ancient times, when ceremonies were performed to represent symbolic marriages between mortals and gods.
Traditionally, cultures around the world have seen summer as a celebration of the strength and fertility of Mother Earth and of other goddesses who represent the Divine Feminine. The Romans dedicated the summer solstice to Vesta, goddess of the hearth, and the Greeks to Hestia, who served the same purpose in their culture. Because this is a time when the sun begins to wane (it waxes after the winter solstice), ancient cultures in Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany, Britain, and Spain, as well as native peoples in North Africa and South America, lit bonfires to guarantee the sun's return the following year. Often, as part of these rituals, celebrants picked prized summer flowers and herbs-mugwort, chamomile, geranium, St. John's wort, thyme, and pennyroyal-to throw on their festival bonfires. They believed these fires would banish sickness from their livestock and their families. For good luck, they jumped across the fire and even walked on hot coals, a precursor to the fire-walking ceremonies practiced today.
Traveling around the globe nowadays, one can find other summer rituals that echo these ancient beliefs. In Swaziland, the most important festival of the year, Incwala, which honors kinship, is always held on the summer solstice. Part of the ceremony involves a burning of ceremonial objects that represent the death of the king-the sun-followed by purification and a ceremonial rebirth.
Here in America, we tend to define the beginning, middle, and end of summer by our civil holidays--Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. However, the following ritual will remind us of the real marker of summer, the sun.
: To celebrate summer and the power of the sun
: At noon, around the time of the summer solstice (June 21-23)
- Yellow (power) and orange (playfulness) candles and matches
- Copal incense or resin (purification)
- Fireproof bowl
- Ginger (love)
- Summer flowers of your region
- Paper plates
- Carnelian (power and creativity); bloodstone (courage and renewal) or other colored stones of red, orange, gold (colors of the sun)
- Paint, markers and glue
- Sunflower seeds (good luck)
- Spool of red thread
: This ritual is best done outdoors on a very sunny day. Prepare an altar with the candles, matches, incense, essence of ginger, and summer flowers, which represent the lush growth and beauty of the season. You can also add symbols of the sun, such as sunflowers, or a spiritual figure, such as the Egyptian sun god Osiris or the Hawaiian fire goddess Pele. Also include personal mementos that remind you of summer, like suntan lotion, a shell, a souvenir from camp or a previous summer vacation, or a piece of summer fruit.
Begin the ritual as close to noon as possible. To create a sacred space, sit in a circle and light the copal in the fireproof bowl. Take a deep breath and feel the heat of the sun bathing your body. As you light the yellow candle, say a prayer honoring the power of the sun: "Thank you, God, for giving us sun, which keeps us warm, gives us light, and nurtures everything living."
Each person takes a paper plate and, using colored stones and paint, makes a sun-power disk--a protective symbol honoring the power of the sun. Draw symbols that can help you have courage, power, passion. Use the colored stones to represent the qualities you want or need. Add the sunflower seeds for good luck. If you want, include a picture of your power animal on the sun disk. These can be hung up near your bed to protect you all year.
Now, carefully place a few drops of the ginger essence on the orange candle, light it, and place the burning candle in the center of your circle. Each person should jump over it three times to bring in good fortune. Be careful with little ones; very young children can be picked up and carried over.
Finally, each person takes a length of red thread (approximately 12 inches) and ties five to seven knots in it. Make a wish with each knot. Help each other tie the string around your wrists to bring you summer love--or to strengthen the love you already have. Wear it until it eventually falls off or wears out.
End the ritual with a summer barbecue or picnic.
: Take this opportunity to teach children the why
of seasons. During the summer, keep track of the sun's path. Young children especially delight in discovering that as Earth moves in its rotation around the sun, the sun appears to be moving, rising in different places and getting continually lower in the sky and at more of an angle as summer wears on. You can track this by keeping a summer diary, standing in a particular place at the same time every week, and noting the position of the sun--how high it is and at what angle it shines down. Or, you can make a sun dial and observe how the shadow changes.