As a Grove of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), we celebrate the summer solstice as one of our High Days. ADF is a Pagan church based on ancient Indo-European traditions, so we honor more pantheons than Celtic. For this Summer Solstice we will honor the Greek pantheon.
Astronomically, the summer solstice occurs when our Northern Hemisphere is most greatly inclined towards the Sun. That occurs this year on June 21 at 5:07am, EDT. To the observer, the sun appears to stop coming up further in the South, coming up in the same place for a few days, before beginning to rise more Northerly every day. Solstice is from the Latin sol– meaning “the sun” and sistere meaning “to make stand.” As Druids in Indiana, we celebrate this time as the height of growth, a strong time of year to forge ahead with plans.
But for the ancient Greeks, there was a different feel to this time of year. It made sense for people living in the Mediterranean to begin a new year at this time. We have a calendar that starts the new year during the winter when there is little agricultural activity; in the Mediterranean there is little agricultural activity in the summer because of intense heat and drought.
The Athenians used a lunisolar calendar, so the new year began on the new moon after the summer solstice and their day began when the sun went down. For them, it was a “new moon” when the first sliver could be seen. While every polis (city-state) like Athens had their own calendar(s), there was also a Pan-Hellenic calendar based on the four-year cycle of the Olympic Games. Matching up with our Julian calendar, the 1st of Hekatombaion and New Year’s Day is July 13/14, 2018 and marks the beginning of the 2nd year of the 699th Olympiad. To see how Athens’ calendar matches up to ours, go here. To see how this is just an educated guess, and how hard it is to match our calendar to theirs, go here.
To bring blessings and favor for the new year, on the last day of the outgoing year there was a sacrifice by the outgoing government/religious officials to Zeus Soter (the Savior) and Athena Soteira (the Savior). We don’t know much about this ritual, perhaps because it was not a city-wide festival or because it was so common and mundane that no one felt a need to write about it. It can be surmised that cattle were sacrificed, as this was common for any deity. Cattle were sacrificed to Zeus at the Olympic Games at Olympia and at the Hekatombaia, the festival for which the month is named. A hecatomb is 100 cattle. Oxen in particular were sacrificed in Athens for the Buphonia in the preceding month of Skirophorion. The joint cult of Zeus Soter and Athena Soteira was common in the Greek world. There is a temple to Athena Soteira in Tegea. There is a temple to Athena & Zeus in Piraeus.
For the Black Bear Grove Summer Solstice Ritual on June 30, we are pausing to honor the strength of the sun, standing still as the sun does before continuing rolling on the wheel of the year. We will make offerings to Zeus Soter and Athena Soteira to ask for blessings in the coming year. We combine the strength of a growing time with the inner reflection of a fallow time, melding the ways of our Greek ancestors with our current location and culture to create a new relationship with our Gods and provide fellowship for all like-minded people. We hope you join us.