Wednesday, June 21, 2017
For the Romans, the solstice was the occasion for another unique exception to everyday life: on the first day of the festival of Vestalia, married women could, for one day only, enter the temples of the vestal virgins. There, they would be allowed to make offerings to Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home.
Many Native American tribes celebrated the longest day of the year with a Sun Dance, while the Mayas and Aztecs used the day as a marker by which to build many of their central structures, so that the buildings would align perfectly with the shadows of the two solstices, summer and winter. In many European pagan traditions, the solstice was called Litha, a day to balance the elements of fire and water, while for the druids, it was, simply, midsummer, a night and day with properties like no other. According to tradition, certain plants—St. John’s wort, roses, rue, verbena, and the like—acquired properties on the year’s shortest night that they wouldn’t have if picked at any other time. And on this evening, if you were very lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of faeries, who favored midsummer to reveal themselves to the common folk.