Ah, if we celebrated nothing else, the big party of the year would be the Summer Solstice. It comes second only to Yule in our eyes.
Landing on or around June 21st, the Summer Solstice is when the Earth is at the point in its orbit which the Northern (or Southern) hemisphere is most tilted towards the sun, setting the stage for the longest day and shortest night of the year (which is perfect for a party all night long!)
My ancestors looked forward to this holiday all year long, especially after surviving a harsh winter. Summer days were a true reward – warm, breezy, and full of plentiful food and drink. This season was more relaxed, too, because this was the in-between time from sowing the fields to harvest time. After checking on the crops and the homestead, most of the day was left for other activities – fishing, scavenging, household chores, or relaxing.
Midsummer celebrations revolve around the sun and its power. Bonfires, feasts, dancing, singing, contests, and, well, celebrating life. This is also the time of year to celebrate my brother, Frigga’s son, Baldr…
Baldr is the son of Odin and Frigga, and loved by nearly every being up and down the realms of Yggdrasil. Handsome, courageous, sweet, and full of warm, solar light which causes him to have a bright, glowing aura.
Some time ago, Baldr began to seem down. When his mother asked him what was the matter, he told her that he had been experiencing nightmares that foreshadowed his own death. Frigga, in a panic, decided to take the matter into her own hands. Baldr was her only son, and she could not bear to lose him. She donned her cloak and set out on her mission – she intended to speak to every single living creature in the realms: plants, animals, and other beings – and request they take an oath to never harm her son. All beings obliged and took the oath, so Frigga happily returned to Asgard and informed the gods that nothing would ever harm Baldr.
They began to test the strength of the oaths, and, to all the gods’ amusement, absolutely nothing could draw even a drop of blood from Baldr. Axes, spears, swords, stones, arrows – all were tried to raucous laughter and cheers. However, there was one who did not laugh. Or cheer. Or even smirk. Loki.
Jealousy? Perhaps. No one ever celebrated or loved on Loki like they did Baldr. Was that his fault? Partially. Loki is a being of chaos. It’s difficult at best to control the powerful whims that sweep through, but at the end of the day, it is all a choice. So, Loki made a choice.
“Frigga,” Loki asked casually. “Are you sure that you spoke to every being in our Universe? It would be a great shame if one had been overlooked.”
“I asked every single one I could think of that could be a potential threat to my son,” Frigga responded. “There is one that I did not feel the need to ask – the mistletoe. Such a small, gentle plant would never harm anyone.”
That was all Loki needed to hear. While everyone’s backs were turned, Loki quickly fashioned a spear of mistletoe and put it into the hands of the god Hodr, who was blind. Loki helped Hodr aim while the rest of the gods cheered, unaware of where the spear had come from. It sailed through the air and pierced Baldr through the chest.
Baldr stumbled forward, grasping the spear in his chest. Frigga screamed. The rest of the gods stood in stunned silence. Moments later, he drew his last breath, and disappeared. He had been transported to the Underworld, to Hela, the goddess of death. Quickly, the gods sent Hermod, another of Odin’s sons, to Helheim to see if there was any way Baldr could be retrieved and brought back to Asgard.
Hermod mounted Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged steed, and rode down through the realms of the world tree until he arrived far underneath the roots, in the darkness and dampness of the Underworld, which always seems to glow a faint green. When he arrived in Hela’s hall, he saw his brother, Baldr, sitting next to her. Though seemingly unharmed, Baldr looked very pale and understandably, as if the life had been sucked from him.
Hermod begged Hela to release his brother, that it had been a mistake, and of Loki’s doing. After some time of persuasion, Hela agreed to release Baldr only if the Aesir could prove that Baldr was as universally loved as they claimed – she would grant his release only if every single being in the world wept for him.
The whole world did indeed weep for the generous, kind son of Odin. All shed tears of grief. All but one.
A giantess that the gods had never encountered before, Þökk, callously refused to show any respect for the fallen god. She claimed that Baldr, and the gods in general, had gotten what they deserved. The track record between the gods and the Jötunn (giants) wasn’t great, so on the surface, this seems to be a logical reason. However, all of the giants in Jötunnheim did weep for Baldr – he was one of the only Aesir gods they respected. It would later be known that this giantess was Loki in disguise.
Because this one being would not comply, it sealed Baldr’s fate. Hela addressed the gods after their failure and divulged a new prophecy – that Baldr would be released at Ragnarök, or the end of times. When the gods protested, she hushed them and said, “Ragnarök is not the end of the Norse. It is the ushering in of the New Age. Old gods will fall, and new gods will rise. Baldr will lead the new generation.”
And so it is.
So, for me, Midsummer is a time where I try to honor and speak to my brother, to send him the light and the warmth from our plane as he bides his time in the Underworld. We all learn a lot from that realm, and I know he is going through necessary transformations and lessons in preparation for the New Age, whenever that comes to pass.
For you, celebrations may take on a different purpose (all of my holidays are typically multi-layered as well). Midsummer is a time to celebrate the polarity of fire and water, two things that pair together well in the summer. When we get hot, we need water – whether that means drinking it or swimming in it!
In early European cultures, especially for the Celts, a large wooden wheel (sun wheels) would be built and adorned with flowers, food offerings, and colorful streamers. The wheel would then be rolled to the top of a hill near a river or creek, and under prayers and blessings, the wheel would be set aflame and pushed down the hill to roll into the water below. There are a few symbolic reasons for this, but the most prevalent is that it was mainly a rite done to ensure that ample rainfall would come down on the crops during the middle of summer, in essence to show the water element’s power over the destructive, hot fire. So perhaps you want to focus on the healing, rejuvenating aspects of connecting with water during the longest day of the year.
In some traditions, Midsummer is considered the yearly climax of the battle of light vs. dark. In the Wiccan tradition, it is said that the Oak King rules the world from Winter Solstice to Summer Solstice – bringing the light and warmth. Conversely, the Holly King takes over starting at the Summer Solstice and begins the descent into the dark and cold until Winter Solstice. Perhaps your celebrations include contemplation of this shift; the knowing that the days will start to become shorter as we transition into the second half of the year.
For most contemporary Pagans, regardless of path or pantheon, the day of Midsummer is a day of inner power, brightness, and light. A day to recognize your own personal brand of power, where in your life you use your light, and of course, the parts of your life that may be in the dark. Rituals that revitalize you or raise your energy would be ideal, or even ones where you honor yourself.
Once you have an idea in mind of what you’d like to celebrate on Midsummer, here are some suggestions for altar decoration and other correspondences for the holiday:
Symbolism: life, fire, rebirth, transformation, power, purity
Symbols: bonfires, sunflowers, swords, spears, sun, sundials, bird feathers, seashells
Colors: red, orange, yellow, gold, white, green, blue
Food & Drink: mead, ale, summer fruits and vegetables, strawberries, honey cakes, whipped cream, oranges, lemons, summer squash, honey
Herbs/Oils: Saint John’s Wort, lavender, rose, sandalwood, peony, vervain, honeysuckle, mugwort, chamomile, chickweed, chicory, sunflower, lily, thyme, hemp, fennel, nettle, wisteria, rue, fern, heather, oak, yarrow, holly
Deities: Baldr, Sol, Aine, Saule, Etain, Sulis, Helios, Apollo, Hemera, Electryone, the Snake Goddess, Aurora, Beiwe, Dazbog, Igbo, Aten, Bast, Hathor, Horus, Ra, Khepri, Huitzilopochtli, Guaraci, Inti, Akycha, Malina, Ah Kin, Wi, Malakbel, Surya, Arinna, Amaterasu, Shamash, Mithra.
Crystals & Gemstones: citrine, tiger’s eye, carnelian, red aventurine, solar aura quartz, lapis lazuli, aquamarine, celestite, green aventurine, emerald, malachite.
Animals: butterfly, crow, wren, horse, stag, robin, cattle, phoenix, dragon
Ethereal Beings: fairies, satyrs
Magical Rites: This is the time to celebrate the Sun and all that he provides for us. Protection spells and fire magic are great to do at this time as well. Take stock of your life and see if there’s anything you want to burn away. Write it all down, sit with it, and then burn it in a sacred fire. You could also do the opposite of release, which is to intend. Write your intentions for the second half of the year and either keep them with you in a special journal, or burn them in the fire with the intention that the ashes float up to the Universe. This is also a great night to communicate with the faeries and seek their help if you so wish – be careful, though. The Fae are tricky. Do not tell them your name, and do not go to their world. Stay grounded.