Today is the Summer Solstice… well, not exactly – a solstice is a point in time rather than a day, and in 2012 that point in time was 23:09 UT last night. And only in the northern hemisphere – if you’re reading this south of the equator, your Summer Solstice is of course 6 months distant, at 11.12 UT, December 21. Something to look forward to anyway…
So, the Summer Solstice – pay attention now, there may be questions asked later :
The summer solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet’s semi-axis in a given hemisphere is most inclined towards the star that it orbits. Earth’s maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26′. This happens twice each year, at which times the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole respectively.
The summer solstice is the solstice that occurs in a hemisphere’s summer. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the Northern solstice, in the Southern Hemisphere this is the Southern solstice. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the summer solstice occurs some time between December 20 and December 23 each year in the Southern Hemisphere and between June 20 and June 22 in the Northern Hemisphere in reference to UTC.
Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midsummer to refer to the day on which it occurs. Except in the polar regions (where daylight is continuous for many months), the day on which the summer solstice occurs is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight.
Thank you Wikipedia.
As is usual for the British Summer Solstice, an estimated 14,500 people descended on Stonehenge to see the Sun rise – or not, as the usual British Midsummer weather was, well, the usual British Midsummer weather. Or as one report put it: “The sunrise at 4.52am was welcomed by rain-sodden crowds with a loud cheer and applause despite the sun being blanketed by dark clouds.” Just so.
I’ve never really understood why crowds wishing to celebrate the Solstices always seem to think it’s de rigueur to descend on Stonehenge and similar places. I have to admit that I’ve never visted Stonehenge myself, but various acounts from sources that have – including members of my own family – suggest that it’s actually rather sterile spiritually.
Of course, there’s also the fact that I dont like crowds much either, so the thought of spending the darkest hour before the dawn in the rain-soaked company of 14,500 strangers doesn’t, if I’m honest, really appeal. I guess I lean more towards the hermit-mentality, spiritually speaking, and dont really see the need for an extra layer of bureacracy between me and whatever gods I might choose to believe in…whether its a Church of England vicar or a neo-Druid Priest at Stonehenge.
And of course there’s the fact that many – most ? – of those at Stonehenge probably travelled long distances to be there. Fair enough, if that’s what they want to do, but don’t they have any sacred sites nearer to home ?
And sacred doesn’t have to mean there’s an ancient stone circle there. Myself ? Early this morning I was up and out to my allotment garden, walking 3 miles across town to get there. Just a rectangle of land, one-sixteenth of an acre surrounded by other one-sixteenth of an acre plots by a railway line on the edge of town
But I’ve worked it for two decades, and it’s become a very personal sacred space to me. Being here alone on the Summer Solstice is far more meaningful to me than mingling with the crowds far away in Wiltshire could ever be. But each to their own, I guess.
Here’s the song I sing as I work –
For the record – it was overcast here too. By 08:00 BST the rain had started. By 09:30 I’d given up and gone home. Then a fog came in from the sea. Oh to be in Britain, now that Midsummer’s here…