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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Summer Solstice

The shoe that fits one
person pinches another;
there is no recipe for living
that suits all cases.
~~Carl Gustav Jung~~

Solstice, from the Latin for sun stands still, in astronomy, either of the two points on the ecliptic that lie midway between the equinoxes (separated from them by an angular distance of 90°).

At the solstices the sun's apparent position on the celestial sphere reaches its greatest distance above or below the celestial equator, about 23 1/2° of arc. At the time of summer solstice, about June 22, the sun is directly overhead at noon at the Tropic of Cancer.

In the Northern Hemisphere the longest day and shortest night of the year occur on this date, marking the beginning of summer. At winter solstice, about December 22, the sun is overhead at noon at the Tropic of Capricorn; this marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. For several days before and after each solstice the sun appears to stand still in the sky, i.e., its noontime elevation does not seem to change from day to day.

Solstice and Equinox

Long before the dawn of any of the modern Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths, rituals followed a more simplistic path. Guided by the natural cycle of birth-life-death-and-renewal, the ancients marked their seasons by celebrating each phase of the wheel of life. Both male and female principals were honored, God and Goddess, and each was given honor as the sun and moon entwined in their cosmic dance.

The festivals that mark the change of season—winter, spring, summer and fall—have been transposed to our modern world. This site explores their meanings and how the old ways of honoring these times have been assimilated into our rituals of passage today.

What is a Pagan?

The celebration of equinox and solstice are commonly referred to as pagan holidays. Although the term pagan is used to describe any number of non-Christian belief systems, the actual term means something far different. The term’s origins are from the Latin word paganus meaning “country dweller.”

Christianity had taken hold in most of the towns and cities of the old Roman Empire but, by no means, was embraced outside of those enclaves. Those whose livelihood depended on the natural cycles of the seasons still followed those ancient beliefs. So the term paganus became synonymous with one who not only lived in rural areas—most of ancient Europe and Great Britain—but also one who did not follow the teachings of the Church. In time, and through language changes, the old Latin word became shortened to pagan and, while its original meaning became lost in the passage of time, the reference to non-Christian belief systems remained.

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