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Hate to break it to you, folks, but summer is over. The season of light and fun is drawing to an end. The days are getting shorter. It’s time to move on. However, it’s never too early to start looking forward to the next time around.
We’re a hell of a lot closer to the shortest day of the year–December 21st, than the summer solstice, which happens on the 21st of June. That’s over nine months away, but if you’re like me, before you even pack away your cut-off shorts to the back of your closet, you’re already dreaming about breaking them out anew.
Although most of us pass the longest and shortest days of the year without much ceremony, solstice holidays are drenched with religious and cultural significance all over the world. One of the most fascinating of the rituals associated with passing from season to season is the Stonehenge Summer Solstice Festival, and the pagan spiritualists who celebrate it.
For those who don’t know, Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument, located in Wiltshire, England. It sports massive rocks, balancing atop each other in uncanny ways. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the site centers around the unexplained construction of the monoliths, and furthermore, their significance to the ancient peoples who built them.
Despite much speculation, the site remains shrouded in mystery. There are plenty of theories as to how and why it was built, though none can be corroborated. The result is an unmistakable wonder of the world, mixed with a whole lot of intrigue.
Once a year, observant pagans gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice. The “umbrella” religion has often been misinterpreted or misrepresented in the media, its practitioners portrayed as godless and strange wackos who worship the devil. In actuality, paganism is an inclusive and broad term used to describe a diverse set of beliefs, most commonly represented as a sense of deep connection with and reverence for the earth.
As described by BBC, “Wiccans, druids, shamans, Sacred Ecologists, Odinists, and heathens all make up parts of the pagan community.”
Of course, one the most sacred holidays for this religion that is so deeply tied to the earth, seasons, and the natural world is the day which marks the turn of the equilibrium, the change of the seasons.
The Stonehenge Festival began as a place for pagans to worship mother earth, but in recent years it’s also become a destination for youngsters aching to experiment with drugs and party hard at a sacred location.
That means that you, me, or just about anybody could go enjoy this festival of light for shits and giggles, alongside serious spiritualists for whom the experience holds special significance.
Spending the longest day of the year drinking and doing party drugs while surrounded by magic earth worshipers and natural beauty sounds pretty killer, right? It’s worth asking, though, whether it works to mix spirituality with getting fucked up.
In a short documentary for Vice News’s feminist channel, Broadly, editor Callie Beusman narrates her experience attending the festival; where she befriended druids and wizards, and herself was granted a ceremonial pagan name and position for the proceedings.
She expressed her concern about whether or not the onslaught of festival goers who were there simply to have a good time would interfere with the quality of the experience for more serious worshipers.
However, she says that when the time came for the sun to rise, even those who seemed unconcerned with the meaning of the moment joined as one. Beusman said, “As the sunrise grew nearer, both the pagans and non-pagans came together to watch the solstice…”
When the sun rose, those in attendance faced the east, and said, together, “All hail the sun.”
Perhaps I won’t make it to Stonehenge next year, but maybe we should all take a moment for sun worship and appreciation before we are thrust cruelly back into the dark days of winter.