Figures dancing and singing around a huge bonfire at midnight, people waiting breathlessly for the sun to set, prayers offered up to the god of fertility. An ancient Druid ritual? More like a gathering of people in an otherwise conservative corner of Toronto.
A dozen or more members of TWIG (Toronto Temple of the Wiccan Grove) were to gather in a quiet forested area in the north part the city and then make their way down to the shores of Lake Ontario to watch the sun rise Friday on the longest day of the year.
"There isn't a time of year when there is more life than the summer solstice," said Richard James, owner of an occult store in Toronto and co-founder of the Wiccan Church of Canada.
Wiccans were also expected to celebrate the solstice in other locations in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Quebec. The Wiccan Web site also mentions Winnipeg, Brandon, Saint John, Corner Brook, St. John's, Dartmouth, Halifax and Yellowknife as having people who are active in "the craft."
But appreciation of the sun-filled day goes beyond pagan worship. Canada's National Aboriginal Daya celebration of native cultural achievementscoincides with the summer solstice and the beginning of summer. June 21 was chosen because of the cultural significance of the longest day of the year and because many Aboriginal groups mark this day as a time to celebrate their heritage.
"It's an important day for aboriginals as it is seen as a time for renewal, sacred ceremonies where we pray for healing medicines, good crops, good harvest it's a very significant day for us," said Jim Compton, also known as The Rising Day in Ojibwa.
Aboriginal celebrations are scheduled across the country and APTN, Canada's aboriginal television network, has full day coverage of the event featuring aboriginal music.
"It's not every day you get a day to celebrate who you are," said Compton, programmer at APTN, who likened the day to Martin Luther King day in the United States.
In aboriginal communities, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, June 21 is considered a holiday and Compton hopes one day all of Canada will treat it as such. He has a vision of having a three-day stretch of celebrations: Aboriginal Day, St.-Jean-Baptiste Day, and then Canada Day.
Dana Wessell, who will be teaching a course on the history of witchcraft at the University of Lethbridge this summer, said many holidays coincide with pagan celebrations.
"When Europe converted to Christianity, many pagan holidays were incorporated into Christianitylook at the winter solstice and Christmas," said Wessell.