Summer is here! We’re exactly halfway through the year, and midway between the two equinoxes.
How the Ancients Celebrated
In the days leading up to the summer solstice, ancient Romans celebrated the Vestalia festival, which paid tribute to Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. Rituals included the sacrifice of an unborn calf removed from its mother’s womb.
Some ancient tribes practiced a ritual in which couples would jump through the flames to predict how high that year’s crops would grow.
Bonfires, thought to represent the sun, are key to most solstice celebrations. But originally the fires were more likely used for human sacrifice. Julius Caesar, especially, liked to burn men in large wooden human-shaped frames on the shortest night of the year.
The Swedish festival was immortalised in the horror film Midsommar (2019) – a fetishized world of cult sacrifices and psychedelic mushrooms. And fire-leaps and flower crowns could be scorned as little more than live re-enactments of the seventies classic The Wicker Man (1973).
Midsummer has long had an important place in literature. The revelries of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream could not, as the name suggests, take place without the transformative, liminal possibilities of Midsummer.
On the shortest night of the year, when the boundaries between the mortal and faerie, the earthly and the occult are at the weakest.
STONEHENGE remains one of Britain’s most mysterious historical sites – however, one irrefutable fact is its gruesome past.
During the celebration, observers watch the sun rise from behind the Heel Stone and fill the heart of Stonehenge with golden beams – but beneath the hallowed ground are a number of unsettling truths, from human sacrifices to skinned corpses and a twin torture site.
Discoveries in 1978 by Richard Atkinson and John G Evans, as well as the 2014 documentary Stonehenge Empire, Jackie McKinley osteoarchaeologist are very interesting.
Several ancient Irish bog bodies have been interpreted as kings who were ritually killed, presumably after serious crop failures or other disasters. Some were deposited in bogs on territorial boundaries (which were seen as liminal places) or near royal inauguration sites, and some were found to have eaten a ceremonial last meal. Some academics suggest there are allusions to kings being sacrificed in Irish mythology, particularly in tales of threefold death.
The Maya held the belief that cenotes, or limestone sinkholes were portals to the underworld and sacrificed human beings and tossed them down the cenote to please the water god Chaac. The most notable example of this is the “Sacred Cenote” at Chichén Itzá.
The Aztecs were particularly noted for practicing human sacrifice on a large scale; an offering to Huitzilopochtli would be made to restore the blood he lost, as the sun was engaged in a daily battle.
Magic was thought to be strongest during the summer solstice. Anything could happen and everything was possible!