In This Place; At This Time: Summer Solstice 2021

A Solstice in three parts.

As ever, the Solstice felt like a transition period, not merely a day on the calendar, or a micro-measured blink-and-you’ll-miss-it astronomical fixed point. I can always identify the start of such transitions – all of a sudden it is ‘Solstice Time’ – but you never know when it’s going to end, and you can settle down into Solstice-the-season rather than Solstice-the-event.  It started for me on the Solstice itself and carried through to my Druid Grove gathering a few days later. For me today, as the new month begins, the transition ended and I feel satisfied, and calm, and replete, and content. The work for this year is done.

Summer Solstice – The Sunset

My observances began with joining the Sun in its final sunset of the light half of the year.  I drive up to Standish Woods, park up and wander along to Haresfield Beacon. I am quite laden – I have a bunch of grasses and wildflowers to leave as an offering, some beer to toast the sun and libate the ground, a banket to sit on and an oversized umbrella in case the weather turns for the worse.

From Haresfield Beacon you can look across to the Severn and beyond, and it is a joy to witness as ever – even though it is red and muddy, it always transforms into a shining silver ribbon from afar. It is overcast and drizzly, and so the Severn has a gentle glow rather than a shockingly bright shine. I sit myself cross-legged and facing towards the river, which I have chosen as a metaphorical, rather than actual West. The land falls steeply away from me before levelling out into the flat floodplains of the Vale. To my left is a perfect bowl of a valley, carved and curved out of the scarp as if by a giant ice cream scoop, dipped in warm water for an easy passage. I can hear the last sounds of the farm – the odd shout, the bleats of the sheep, and bats do acro – bat – ics around and below me. It is peaceful in this warm gentle drizzle, and I think this is the most still I have been for months. I had forgotten how to just sit, and be.

It seems more customary for the Summer Solstice to greet the rising sun. But for me, it’s a sunset one. Winter Solstice is my time for sunrises, when I want to welcome the sun back to the world, to mark the turn to the light half of the year and the now-lengthening days. But now, at Summer Solstice, I want to put the sun to bed. It has worked hard for us, inching ever higher, shining harder and for longer each day for six long months, and it deserves to take ease. Nothing can blaze at full brilliance for ever; everything needs its time of rest, and the shift towards the sun’s time of rest, of regeneration, of replenishment, starts here. Today, right now, the time of the Oak King ends once more, and the Holly King’s reign begins anew. 

I find I am feeling maternal towards the sun; as if it were a tired child, rubbing its eyes and yawning, I want to tuck it in safely to bed, in a patchwork quilt of clouds and fields. I want to tell it it’s done well, and worked hard, and it is now time for a well-deserved rest.  And so that is exactly what I do. I stand, and raise a beer. I speak directly to the sun, thanking it for all it has done, saying goodbye for now. I pour the beer on the land, serving dual purpose as an honouring libation and a harbinger for the harvest season to come.

I am struck by a pleasing symmetry – how could I have forgotten – I came up here on the Winter Solstice last year with the children and we howled our howls to the grey and cold skies. I have now seen the door swing both ways on the hinge of the year here. 

When ready, I sit back down and weave my grasses and flowers into a simple and messy plait, and I decide to leave it at the trig point behind me.  I am joined by my friend Jon, just in time for the Solstice moment itself – and so of course we miss it, as we say hello and settle down. Truth tell, there’s not much to see, though there’s plenty to feel.  We walk back to the road, and Jon drives me back to my car.  Once home, I scribble a few notes, but mostly I just sit and feel thankful.

Summer Solstice – Druid Celebrations

The following Sunday I attended our Druid Solstice gathering. This ritual was full of personal riches, and much to take forward. I have been going through an extended period of questioning my place in Druidry and my relationship to it, and tonight – our first face to face rite for a very long time – was a joy and an affirmation. It reminded me of everything I love about this group of people of which I have been part for nearly 15 years, and why I continue to hold it as one of the cornerstones of my life; at heart, it is the simple rightness of coming together, 8 times a year, to mark and honour the changing seasons as they pass.

This Solstice, I learned in circle about the Aes Dana, The Wandering Ones. In olden times, there were three groups who had free passage between settlements and were always welcome. Firstly, the Walkers, the Pilgrims – those who felt called to continually wander and travel rather than making their home in one place. They were welcome because they brought news, often from very far off. Secondly, the Makers – the smiths, the potters, the woodworkers. They brought items of beauty and utility, of form and function. And lastly, the Wordsmiths – the bards, singers, musicians and poets as they brought entertainment and novelty.

It struck me forcefully that this perfectly encapsulates what I do here at Topoanimus. I walk the land, I make things from the treasures I find, and I write about my experiences of both. I feel as if I have found my patrons in these three Wanderers, and I know that I need to do something here, there is unfinished business.

I also feel wonder-filled as one of our Grove very generously shared some Mandrake seeds from his mother plant (named Circe), of which I have three. I am hoping that at least one of them will thrive.

Summer Solstice 3 – The Long Stone of Minchinhampton.

On Wednesday night I had an excellent evening at Weven, who hosted electronica duo Orbury Common who accompanied the premiere of their film ‘The Sunstone of Orbury Common’ with live analogue synth performance.  The music was excellent, otherworldly and with a pleasingly uncanny edge, and the film was an excellent example of the new English Weird style, harking back strongly to classic 60’s/70’s folk horror and rural experimental film.

There was a disorientating sense of a collapsing of time, or being caught between two mirrors – watching the band on screen pass treasures through a hole in the Stone in the Past, whilst the same people and treasures are Present in the room responding to the images of themselves through their music, in a film that was made Now but looks like it was made in an unspecified Then. Most of all though, was a strong compulsion to visit this Long Stone, the Sun Stone in the film which was the locus for a series of Offerings, serving as a Summoning which climaxed in an Appearing.

On Thursday morning, as I was mulling over these various experiences and thoughts I realised, very suddenly and completely, that I could combine this call of the Stone with my unfinished work with The Wanderers, and with that an entire ritual had  dropped into my mind, as if it had been waiting for just this moment.

I packed Fen and necessary equipment into the car and drove the few miles to the Stone. It was both easy to find, and secluded – just off the road, but away from any footpaths or open spaces. It is placed, or contained, in a small enclosure of dry stone wall and barbed wire fence with a green and white carpet of clover, edged with grasses and cow parsley, heavy umbelliferous heads nodding as if to welcome us in. It is peaceful and joyous here, though the fences strike a discord. Fleetingly, a thought of Native American reservations skips across my mind, and I think that this stone is on the wrong side of these fences. Why is it held and boxed in, standing here as it has for millennia? I am not here today though, to dwell upon enclosure and land ownership. I am here on ritual business, to do magic; I have an intent, and need to maintain focus.

I begin by kneeling quietly some distance from the Stone, to introduce myself, to see what I feel about this Stone and what it may feel about me.

I call aloud upon the spirits of this time, the spirits of this place, and the spirits of the ancestors, to bless my work and honour it by bearing witness.

I call next upon The Wanderers, each one by name and function, and I ask them to grant me a blessing and a boon.

I approach the Stone, and one by one I pass into the hole into the stone: my boots for the blessing of the Walker, with pentagrams drawn on the soles; my notebook and pen for the Wordsmith; and a tuft of Cotswold Lion fleece for the Maker. I ask for their blessing upon my creative work with the land.

I then move deosil to the other side of the Stone, and ask for my boons: for myself, that I am able to have the discipline and focus to match my creativity so that the dance between these qualities will manifest my work in the world; that I continue to be inspired and free to make and write and walk whenever I can. For the land, I ask that I continue to honour and witness it, to continue the tradition of those that love such things; to observe and capture whether in words, pictures or solid form some of the essence of this land as I experience it so that others may be inspired to do their own work in this way.

I ask lastly that the Stone hold all of this on behalf of all – ‘for me and for all who are like me’, as an old prayer to the Virgin goes –  steadfast and solid.

I then take my belongings from the point where they rest in the hole in the stone, neither here nor there, through to the otherside so they arrive back with me, through that liminal portal, now consecrated by The Wanderers as symbolic of all the Boots, all the Notebooks and Pens, all the Things I shall ever wear, have and make.

I sit quietly, and observe how I feel different – happy but quite solemn, as if a pact of some kind has been entered into.  Something has changed within me, and maybe without as well.

I am back in the real world now, and that slightly unreal sense of magic has passed, now. I play with Fen; take some photos; make some sketches; take some notes.  I leave a bunch of grasses, just as I did at Haresfield Beacon trig, and also the little sprig of fleece in thanks. They will weather, or be eaten, or taken for nesting material, or simply rot into the ground and mingle with the leeched minerals of the Stone.

My final act in that place is to pick a piece of the dock, clover and nettle that grow nestled right at the base of the stone and eat them, so I can take those same minerals into myself. A communion through ingestion of sorts.

We stop for a walk on the way back, and I find two feathers from crow and magpie, and some soft fluffy fleece for working with later.  My eyes are full of all I have seen within and without, my heart is full of the Longstone of Minchinhampton, and my mind is full of the Aes Dana.

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