Today was the Summer Solstice, as widely celebrated by most. It’s only in recent times of course, that we can be anything like as precise. Before the adoption of an agreed calendar time or the ability to measure time and observe the movements of planets and stars so precisely, the solstices were a period of days rather than one day or even one specific time (this year the astronomical summer solstice was 11.07 am today if you were wondering). Specifically it was 3 days – the number of days where the sun appeared to rise and set in exactly the same place.
I like this. Changes in our yearly cycle rarely feel precise to me, and I tend to celebrate them when I feel the change – which is not always in step with the prescribed day. This makes sense to me. We follow our own internal and externally influenced rhythms, just as our natural non-human kin do, and just as the roses and honey suckle do not bloom on a certain date but rather it when happens to be the right time for ‘bloom time’, so we can celebrate the turns of the year when we feel it in our bones, our blood and our waters.
The summer solstice, one of the hinges of the year, had been brewing in me since the beginning of the week – though it took until yestereve for me to recognise it as such. This is because it transpired to be what I have come to call a ‘shadow solstice’ – one that has recognisable links to what are now thought of as the central themes in some spiritual paths of this time, particularly in my own Druid tradition, but shows a shadow side of it, an endarkened side of the same coin.
The summer solstice is a time for celebration, for community. It is a time to harness solar energy through the expression of self, honouring who and what we are, heroes and heroines all. People come together, as can be seen in the beautiful images today of more than 9,000 people gathered at Stonehenge, gatherings at Avebury, with my own Druid kin at Stanton Drew, gatherings wherever people feel drawn to the land. It was different for me this year. I felt a drawing inwards, an introspection, a need to hunker down and be quiet and give an ear to what I was feeling.
It all started with a massage I had received during the week, for a return of a niggly shoulder and back pain – not unusual for a desk based driver like me! Though it wasn’t my conscious intent, as well as some much needed-muscle relief, it turned out to be one of ‘those’ massages – unlocking more than just my poor overworked rhomboids and pectorals. As I went home that night, I felt unreasonably and suddenly angry. Really angry. And then exhausted. My night was followed by disturbed and tumultuous dreams of children crying, no-one listening, despair at being ignored. I reflected how I’d found the recent stories of how refugee children were being treated in America almost overwhelmingly distressing – as any sane human would of course, but it felt strangely personal.
The next morning I began to process these feelings. I had the sense that they were pre-verbal, very old, by the sense that they were very definitely ‘felt’ feelings with strong associations to present events – triggers, if you like – rather than linked to any event I could remember from my life. I have long felt that the reason my generation is so absurdly capable and self-sufficient and independent on the outside, but really a bit squishy and not very secure or resilient on the inside, is to do with the fact that the then-prevailing expert advice to mothers was that the best thing to do with a crying baby was – to leave it crying. Some people still advocate this. I have no blame for the parents, for my parents, in all of this by the way. I fully remember what it feels like to be a new parent, desperate to do the right thing for this little soul that has somehow been entrusted to your care and searching for that knowledge from the experts. We all do the best by our kids that we can, according to what we can offer and our own particular lights.
But what a sense of abandonment and confusion and loss for that poor baby, for whom their parents are their entire world. And how awful the parents must have felt , feeling that they couldn’t tend to their baby no matter how much they longed to. I suspect also that us eldest children bore the brunt of this – certainly I trusted my own instinct much more with my second child rather than book knowledge and responded directly to their needs rather than a bunch of ‘shoulds’.
It’s no wonder that we’re so appallingly helpless at asking for help. We learned in our earliest days that there was no point. The message was clear – you can cry all you like, but the help won’t come. So we give up, turn inwards to our own meagre resources, never learn the beauty of putting your own care into another’s hands.
And so what does all this have to do with me being on Rodborough Common at 4:30 in the morning waiting for sunrise?
I mentioned earlier that the summer solstice is now often seen as a time of self-expression. It turns out that the part of me that was clamouring to be expressed was this tiny baby me, the one that wasn’t attended, a little baby Charlotte who cried alone. Not a part that wished to be in the clamorous, celebratory, dancing and chanting and drumming throng, that’s for sure! Though it is easy to drown the quiet plaintive sound of this need in an all-night party and/or ecstatic experience…
As I wandered the 10 minute walk up the hill it was light, and quiet, and I’d forgotten how wonderful it felt to be out at dawn. I’d seen it from afar, as it were – I’m a regular early waker and I often have a nose out of the window, plus have had the odd foray into it on camping trips for an early wild wee! But I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been out with the dawn for such a sustained period of time.
It’s funny how the most ordinary things can seem disproportionately incongruous at that time of day. I saw a ginger and white cat curled up on the path of the flank of the common; the long backs and tufted polls of the summer grazing cattle that were lying down in the long grass, just waking up. Both seemed like fairy tale intrusions, charmed beasts.
I climbed and saw 2 fellow pilgrims sitting by one of the many hawthorns – we wished each other a happy Solstice, and I walked a bit further on to find my own space facing north east, across the Golden Valley and the River Frome towards Thrupp. I could hear the chatters, carks, and tchuks of various corvids – magpie, crow and jackdaw; the bark of a pheasant, the incessant whirr and whistle of the ever-present skylarks and the very distant rumble of train track and motorway.
I found a spot amongst the remains of the cowslips and orchids in the long grasses. The sun was technically up, but being slightly modest and hiding behind a perfectly dramatically placed cloud, There weren’t any other clouds, apart from the very high up mares tails and single solitary white seagull tick against the lightening pearl grey sky.
As the sky lightened and the sun started to throw an exultant exhalation of rays through over and under the cloud, the breeze picked up and the grasses started to dance. Each stem, limned with gold against the green aglow, bent in response like a bow.
I sat and opened my solar plexus to the sun, and allowed it to fill me. I felt a response building, and started to retch, spasm, twist and grimace. I was very glad at that point I was having a solitary solstice! It felt like a purge, a catharsis – a manifestation of a body memory. These kind of reactions are powerful, and I urge you whenever you can, appropriate setting permitting, to give shape to them when you can. I was very sure that this was my needy, insecure baby-self releasing those knots that had bound her for so long – and how perfect it felt to allow this expression, quietly, knowing that I was safe and unseen. At this most solar of times, I felt like a piece of me had returned from the dark side of the moon. I gradually stilled, quietened, at ease.
And so as a result of this hard work I learned two things. Firstly, that the sun not only has warming qualities, but that it has drawing qualities, like a poultice. I am looking forward to researching this in relation to herbs that are associated with the sun, and exploring this theme further in ritual
Secondly, and this is more of a re-membering – the huge capacity of the land to hold us, like a mother with a baby, something so big and present and always-and-ever-there. There is nothing that we can throw at her that she cannot take. She holds us all. This is not the first time that she has held me when voicing hurt to another human has felt too much to bear, and I have needed the vastness of aeons and geology and history to hold my pain and sorrow. For those of us that are working on allowing our fellow humans to hold us it is a way of learning trust from a huge and powerful ally.
I leave the hill chilled but satisfied ,and arrive home at 6 in time for breakfast and to ready for my commute into Bristol for the working day.
This evening as I write this I feel very tired but at peace, like an important Work has been done, and able to fully look forward to and embrace my very social celebrations this weekend at the wonderful Feed Bristol on Saturday and with my Druid brothers and sisters on Sunday. I will finish with my words that came to me on Solstice Eve as I contemplated my Work of this time, an unexpected healing work.
Summer Solstice Eve, 20 June 2018
As the sun illuminates the sky, let it illuminate our shadows
Bring them forth, so they can be seen
Bring them forth, so they may be warmed
Bring them forth, so they no longer hide
Bring them forth, from dark to light.