I am writing this on the 22nd of June, the day after the Summer Solstice. It is now high summer: the days are long and the nights short (in the Northern Hemisphere at least) as the land basks in the life-giving warmth of the sun. This is traditionally a time of celebration and of magic as the faerie folk (or the Sidhe in the Irish tradition) can be seen leaving their homes in the hollow hills to dance and make merry. The period of Midsummer has had special significance in numerous traditions and cultures and it should be no surprise that it is especially important to the people of the far North in those lands that do not see the sun at all for several months of the year. In the Christian calendar, the Feast of St John the Baptist, the precursor of Christ, is celebrated on 24th June (the first day that the sun can be seen to have begun to rise further south after “standing still” at the solstice). The festival of Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light, also occurs at this time.
The whole of Nature seems to be working flat out at this time of year. Birds are constantly on the wing carrying food to their chicks who are growing rapidly as they prepare to leave the nest. The air is alive with a humming throng of insects buzzing busily this way and that as they dart among the abundant flowers in search of the hidden stores of nectar. The June-born fawns are beginning to emerge from the undergrowth and in the hills, where their arrival has not been artificially hastened by modern farming methods, the lambs are still young enough to skip about joyfully under the watchful eye of their mothers.
The Summer Solstice marks the highpoint of the sun’s trajectory through the Northern skies although, because the weather lags a little behind as a result of the time it takes for the land and sea to heat up, the warmest of the summer weather still lies ahead in July and August. However, the sun will now begin his journey South and the days will begin to shorten, imperceptibly at first and then, as we pass the Equinox at the end of September, at a faster rate as the nights begin to draw in and the chill of Autumn can once again be felt in the morning and evening air.
In both Eastern and Western philosophy there is a long tradition of Man being seen as a microcosm of the Universe. The most well-known, if not well understood, example of this is the Hermetic axiom “As Above, So Below” or, as it was originally written: “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing.” [The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus]
This assertion, which has been at the heart of the Western Esoteric Tradition since Plato, enables us to see the life of Man reflected in the turning of the Wheel of the Year and the changing of the seasons.
By Midsummer, the vibrant energy of Beltane has subsided and mellowed. The urgency of late Spring and early Summer, when it seems possible to feel and hear everything around us growing, has been replaced by a more lazy and languid feeling as the lush greens begin to fade to muted browns and the plants shift their energy from growth into setting seed and ripening.
We can see this shift reflected in our own lives. As we approach our middle years the passion and vigour of youth begin to ripen into wisdom and maturity. As the Earth bears fruit from late summer into Autumn, so our best may be yet to come in terms of realising our spiritual and creative potential. There is, however, no escaping the fact that our vital powers and physical strength are beginning to wane, no matter how slowly at first.
The irony of the way in which our youth- and beauty obsessed culture views people of more mature years is that, by discarding experienced workers and generally treating older people as second-class citizens, we are effectively digging up and discarding the plant just as it begins to bear fruit.
As the wheel turns from Summer into Autumn, the land gives up its bounty. Among the fruits of the first harvest is the grain, which has been the staple underpinning of our society ever since our ancestors swapped their nomadic hunter-gather existence for the more settled lifestyle associated with the development of agriculture in the Neolithic period. In Irish mythology the festival of Lughnasadh at the beginning of August was instituted by the god Lugh, in memory of his mother, Tailtiu, who had died of exhaustion after clearing the forests of Ireland for farming.
The next few months, as any gardener or forager will know, are taken up with harvesting a succession of crops and hunting for the fruits of the forest and hedgerow until the last blackberry and mushroom are picked around the time of the festival of Samhain (literally “Summer’s End”) on 31st October.
At that point, just as the icy tentacles of Winter begin to grip the land and the trees and plants retreat within themselves so we, whether for a season or a lifetime, can cease our physical labours and spend our time in contemplation and reflection, preferably in front of a roaring fire with a glass of something warming.