Celebrating the Solstice: Fiery Fetes of Summer

This summer let us honor our debt to the sun by making friends with it once again. We can collect this cosmic resource and utilize it as fuel to power our lives.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Though summer is the season of long, light, hot days, each day actually gets shorter, losing about two minutes of sunlight every 24 hours. Light is not lost lightly. Light equals life for most living things. The grim prospects of life in the dark prod one to take action. To join the solar cheering section and enlist in the service of the sun. The stars need stirring, the atmosphere a charge. This is the task at hand if all is not to be lost.

Ask not what the ailing sun can do for you, but what you can do for the sun. Sympathetic magic is called for to fan the floundering flames of El Sol. It is the tradition of the people of the Taos Pueblo to race up the mountain to welcome the rising solstice sun. To meet it halfway, as it were. For them, it is a form of reciprocation. A returning, in much gratitude, of some life-giving energy back to its original source. An allegorical passing of the life force torch.

In pagan Europe and North Africa people sent burning wooden hoops and wheels woven of straw rolling down steep hills to illustrate the retreat of the sun, spinning, turning, traveling away. These wheels descend from a much older solar symbol, the chariot. The Norse Eddas tell of the Goddess Sol, Sul, Sulis driving the chariot of the sun. Ancient Buddhist texts speak of the Sun Chariot as the Great Vehicle, or the Chariot of Fire.

The ancient Greeks pictured the sun carried across the daytime sky in a golden chariot. On the Summer Solstice, the priests of the Sun and Poseidon, along with the priestess of Athena processed in front of the Acropolis with gift offerings of fruit and libations of honeycombs. Wine was not served because it would make the Sun tipsy and he had to drive.

The actual lighting of bonfires is, by far, the most prevalent -- practically universal -- practice for celebrations around the time of the solstice. What more fitting offering could be made in the aid of the failing mother of all light? It is the ultimate act of flattery by imitation. A primal sacrament of obiscience to the first flame of the firmament. A symbolic feeding of restorative fresh strength to the sun. And at the same time, certainly, the light and heat of the fire serve to soothe and affirm that, though departing, the sun will surely return.

In ancient Egypt, the Summer Solstice was celebrated by the Burning of the Lamps at Sais in honor of Isis, Queen of Heaven. In Rome, the day was dedicated to Vesta, also known as Hestia in Greece. The Vestal Virgins, Her oracular priestesses, were the guardians of the public hearth and altar. On this day the perpetual fire representing the mystical heart of the empire, was extinguished, rekindled and blessed.

People across the European continent as well as the New World colonies built great bonfires on the solstice. They danced around them the whole night long in a joyful, spirited vigil. They danced in great circles, winding to assist the sun on its celestial course. They lept through the flames and drove their animals through them to be empowered and purified by the heat, the smoke. They waved torches in the air, passed them over crop and stock, and sent them out to sea. Blessings, all, of the sun's supreme power.

The age-old worshipful awe of nature, the respect, the reverence, has all but disappeared in contemporary western society. We have tampered with the perfectly functioning divine order of Nature, trying to fix what wasn't broken. The universal scenario has shifted, and the world will never be the same. We have turned the heat up too high and the fires burn out of control. The deserts are spreading. The icebergs are melting. The oceans are sullied. The atmosphere is shrinking. The crops are scorched and fertile soil is washed away. The hot air dries out the foliage and sears our lungs. Mother Earth is on a slow burn and Mother Nature's patience is fried. The sun -- the bringer of light and life, the center of our once-adoring orbit -- has now become something to stay out of.

This summer let us honor our debt to the sun by making friends with it once again. We can show our respect for the gift of its power by putting it to good use. We can collect this cosmic resource and utilize it as fuel to power our lives. We can plant arbors for shade and trees to prevent erosion. We can conserve, reuse and recycle. And most important of all, we can be the emissaries of the sun, spreading warmth and light and energy wherever we go, whatever we do.

Here are two chances to mark the Summer Solstice this year. What better way to celebrate the longest day of the year than to drum the sun up in the morning and then back down again
again at night?

Please join me for my 35th Annual (two part) Soulstice Ceremony.

Please wear red, yellow, gold, sunny summer colors and bring kids, dogs, drums and lots and lots of spirit.

The event will be held on both sides of the East River, which we will surround with loving prayers and blessings. The river will carry our best intentions for healing the waters of the Gulf out into the ocean where there is great need for our loving concern and care.

The event is family friendly and free. And, as always, it is rain or shine.

Monday, June 21 8:00 p.m.
Sunset Soulstice Ceremony with Mama Donna Henes and Friends

Drum the sun down as it sets on the river.

Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, Queens
For info: 718-956-1819