The word pagan comes from the Latin paganus, meaning “country dweller”, so it’s not hard to understand why nature is the center of many pagan celebrations. Paganism is not one religion, but a group of religions, all sharing some common features. Most pagan religions share a deep connection with the earth, which is expressed through the eight yearly festivals, or Sabats. It’s important to note that Sabats were not celebrated, or even known in ancient pagan groups. Sabats were introduced by Wicca.
For those pagan groups adhering to the wheel of the year, the Sabats fall on quarter days, the Lesser Sabats, and cross-quarter days, the Greater Sabats. Even if you are not a pagan, chances are you celebrate two of the Sabats, though you probably know them as Halloween, and Easter. The Greater Sabats mark the astronomical middle of summer, autumn, winter, and spring, and celebrate harvest, death (with hope of rebirth), purification, and marriage respectively. The Lesser Sabats, as you might expect, mark the astronomical beginning of summer, autumn, winter, and spring. The vernal and autumnal equinoxes are times of balance and preparation, either for planting or harvesting.
The final two Sabats on the wheel are the summer and winter solstices. The winter solstice occurs between December 19th and 23rd each year, while the summer solstice takes places between June 19th and 23rd. While in the past many pagans celebrated on fixed dates, December 25th, and June 24th, contemporary pagan festivals typically coincide with the astronomical event. Yule and Midsummer are times of transition, rebirth, renewal, fullness, creation and completion. Some groups celebrate the shift of power from the female divine to the male divine, and vice versa.
Although the darkness of Yule may seem depressing to many, pagans rejoice the coming of the Sun King. The longest night, when hope for many ancient pagans may have seemed farthest away, a yule log is lighted with the remains of the previous year’s log and burned throughout the festival to aid the return of the light of the Sun God. Fertility rites are also practiced under mistletoe to bring new life.
At Midsummer the Sun king dies to await his rebirth at Yule, and his rival, the Oak King, takes the reigns. Light and fire are just as important during Midsummer as Yule, with lighted fir-branches used to illuminate the Sun King’s path, and exultant pagans leaping over bonfires for fertility. Midsummer is also a time of freshness, invigoration, intensity, and abundance. For those who believe in fairies, Midsummer is one of the most exciting festivals of the year due to multitude of fairy lore surrounding the celebration. And, if you want to dream of your future partner, Midsummer is the time to do it.
So, whether you observing Midsummer on June 20th or June 24th this year, take time to remember the reason you are celebrating; the joyous transition from the Sun King to the Oak King.