Wednesday, 6/20/2007 Summer Solstice We think of the Summer Solstice as the beginning of summer, in our current astronomical calendar. All ancient cultures recognized the four sun points, i.e. the solstices and the equinoxes. They were easy to determine, as the Sun was usually the first object worshiped and the one most easily observed. To the British Celts, however, this was midsummer, as the air had warmed months earlier and the first of the annual hay harvests was ready. After this day, other plants would be harvested as well: herbs for medicine, berries for dyes and condiments, and barley and oats as supplemental foods. With speed and coordination, a second crop could be sown for the fall harvest. The summer solstice was the longest day of the year, precession and atmospheric lensing notwithstanding. Until this event the days grew longer; after this event the days grew shorter. It was the "high noon" of the Celtic year. As usual, the Celts celebrated with forms of fire. They lit bonfires, carried torches, and rolled wheels of fire down the hillsides. If the wheel of fire made it to the river, a bumper crop of wine was expected. Many of the May Day ceremonies were repeated, and in Scandinavia a form of Burning Man was observed. The Christian church incorporated this day into its calendar as St. John's day. Shakespeare commemorated the festival in his play, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." This fantasy included lots of Dionysian debauchery in the deep woods, and featured a donkey who spent the night in bed with a fairy queen. The play included three or four themes intertwined, with characters in town confused with those in the woods, and characters in life confused with those in dreams. Under the cover of a masked ball, all reality was unraveled, only to be restored with the next day's sunrise. Last year I was in the Southern Hemisphere in June, so I saw three winter solstices in a row. It has been a long wait, and it is good to finally see the beginning of summer once again.