Solstice Ceremonies Usher in Summer

Wire Services
June 21, 2002
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 Day—a celebration of native cultural achievements—coincides 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 Christianity—look at the winter solstice and Christmas," said Wessell.

In addition to welcoming summer, there is a scientific reason for all the excitement surrounding this day.

Ralph Mistlberger, a professor of psychology at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, said there is anecdotal evidence that people, especially those in the north, sleep less and are highly energized during longer days.

"The day signifies the goddess being at her fullest and her ripest," which could explain why June has been the traditional month for marriages, said Wessell.

One of the popular spots to celebrate the summer solstice is at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, where people gather to watch the sunset on the horizon. In 1986 the British government allowed solstice goers to view the sunset from six kilometers away. In 1999, James said, Britain decided to allow groups into Stonehenge for one hour at a time.

Thousands Gather at Stonehenge

This year, thousands of New Age people, aging hippies, mystics and those merely wishing to escape the crucial England World Cup game against Brazil gathered at Stonehenge in a peaceful celebration of the summer solstice.

The dawn, although hidden by thick cloud, was greeted with a cacophony of gongs, drums, whistles and whoops. The revelers came from all over, travelers, druids, hare-krishnas, who all celebrated the solstice in their own manner amid a cloud of smoke and incense haze.

A few brought St. George flags with them, standing on the stones to cheer on England against Brazil.

The Kings Drums group banged out a rhythm in their torchlit parade akin to a Brazilian samba.

The site, whose origins are lost in four thousand years of history and legend, is open to the crowds, after being closed for years, but carefully monitored.

Clashes between crowds and the police in the past culminating in the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985 led to a six-kilometer exclusion zone being set up around the stones.

Police and conservation authorities said there had been only 11 arrests made mainly for drunkenness and drug offences among the estimated 22,000 revellers by Friday morning.

The crowds began gathering late on Thursday and were later allowed to congregate near the stones themselves. Glass bottles and fireworks were banned, as was climbing on the stones.

Police said some people had flouted the rules including a number who climbed on top of the stones, and a few were ejected from the site.

Jeremy Wickham, who supervised the police operation said the atmosphere had been good. "There have been the odd bits and pieces, most of them drink or drug related, but I think we have learnt our lesson about how to do things over the years."

Traditional British witch John Rothwell, 39—who is also a computer technician—and Texan witch Melizande Veritas said the atmosphere had been good.

"It's such a cool place to be. People have been doing this since Year Dot, even though we have no written records of why," Rothwell said.

Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press and Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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