This is not a specifically Gaelic holiday and many Pagan cultures celebrate this time with many festivals known by a range of names – Denmark, Sankt Hans Aften. Wiccan sabbat Litha. Slavonia, St. John’s Night. Alban Heruin. Gaul (old France), Feast of Epona, (white mare goddess). Roman Empire, Vestalia. Catholic countries, feast of St. John the Baptist – this was an attempt to shift the natives away for the true date by setting the 24th of June as bonfire night. Hopi Indians and Native Americans celebrate the summer solstice in some fashion, as well.

In Limerick, Ireland, on the west coast of Ireland we find Grange, the largest stone circle in the country. It is over 150 feet in diameter and has 113 stones and was built over 4000 years ago. It makes an almost perfect circle of stones surrounded by a high earthen bank, making it into a Henge. It is aligned with the rising sun on the Sunrise of the Summer Solstice -the sun shines directly in the centre of the ancient stone henge circle. Hundreds would gather here and today people are returning and the numbers increase each year. In England the focus is at Stonehenge where a huge multiple standing stone circle makes a perfect alignment with the rising sun on the Solstice. This has become a hugely popular event for many people from all over the world.

There is one secular event that has meaning for me at the Summer Solstice – my wedding anniversary. I was married then. Perhaps the most enduring modern ties with Summer Solstice were the Druids’ celebration of the day as the “wedding of Heaven and Earth”, resulting in the present day belief of a “lucky” wedding in June. 😉 Pagans called the Midsummer moon the “Honey Moon” for the mead made from fermented honey that was part of wedding ceremonies performed at the Summer Solstice.

Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires, when couples would leap through the flames, believing their crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump; Midsummer was thought to be a time of magic, when evil spirits were said to appear. To thwart them, Pagans often wore protective garlands of herbs and flowers. One of the most powerful of them was a plant called ‘chase-devil’, which is known today as St. John’s Wort and still used by modern herbalists as a mood stabilizer.