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A SUMMER SOLSTICE

Six thousand years ago a form of religion existed in Britain that was “tuned” to nature, its influence knew few boundaries and it was practised throughout what we now know as England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It predated Christianity and the formation of the territories that we now know as the countries that make up the British Isles by four thousand years. It was a matriarchal society but its “Priests” were for the most part male and they were called “Druids”. The people who practised the religion were the “Celts” a race who were by nature a gentle people until they were threatened. Under threat their nature changed from a peace loving agricultural society to a war like adversary that knew few equals when it came to defending their homelands.

When the Romans came to Britain they found a race of fierce warriors who had no fear of death and perhaps that is why it took them so long to conquer Britain, one of the quotes attributed to Julius Caesar was “I came, I saw, I conquered” perhaps he should have added “Eventually” because it took several attempts before the Romans gained a foothold here.  As the Romans settled to occupation their religious practices became widespread but as with all “New” religions the Romans did not ban the religion they found here but assimilated it into their own, the existing festivals were “Romanised” and practised in a similar way but with Roman names substituting the names used by the Ancient Britons. Many of them still exist today, at Christmas we decorate houses with holly, ivy, and mistletoe, the Druids did the same thing but when the Romans came the practice was incorporated into the “Feast of Saturnalia” in reverence to the god “Saturn” who was worshiped by another name by the Druids, the festival was later incorporated into the Christian idiom and to this day the “Feast of Stephen” held the world over by Christians has its roots in the worship of Saturn the ancient god of agriculture and farmers.

Some festivals however were more difficult to eradicate they just did not fit because they were so deliberately Pagan. One of these was the Summer Solstice
Or Alben Heruin later corrupted to Alban Heflin although Romanised as “Vestalia” and Christianised as “The Feast of Saint John the Baptist” still retains the essential nature of its original purpose, “Gathering Day”. The Summer Solstice is the day of the year when the hours of daylight are at their longest, sometimes referred to as the longest day.
The date of the Summer Solstice is June 21st and in times past it was the tradition that all children born since the last summer Solstice were named on that day, the ancients believed that the sexual union of the earth god and goddess took place in early May and that it was “Unlucky” to compete with the deities so they would delay their marriages until June and to this day more marriages take place in June than any other month of the year. The first full moon of June and often the only full moon of the month occurs at the time of the solstice it is called the “Honey Moon” and tradition dictates that it is the time that honey should be taken from the beehives. To aid love fertility and union the newly married were fed heady drink and sweet dishes for the first month following the marriage and to this day we still call it “The Honeymoon”.

On Salisbury plain in Wiltshire, England there is a place that has been held sacred by Druids for thousands of years, it is near Avebury and we call it Stonehenge where on the 21st June each year a “Gathering” takes place there to watch the sunrise at the outset of the longest day of the year. The day when the noonday sun appears to stand still which is where the name “Solstice” comes from, it is taken from two Latin words, “Sol” which means sun and “Sistere” which means to cause to stand still. It is actually an illusion but to the naked eye of the ancients it did appear to stand still.
This year twenty thousand people attended the gathering, the newborn were named, betrothals took place and some were married as the year began to wane.

By midday the sun, high in the sky was forcing the temperature past 30 degrees centigrade and whilst there were Druids, Celts, Wicans, and members of a curious public in attendance there were also a new breed of nomads in evidence that have come to embrace the mysticism that surrounds the Summer Solstice, The New Age travellers. They like their forbears revere the Solstice, they come to name their children, marry, celebrate and watch the sunrise and perhaps they keep alive an idea that stretches back six thousand years through time when life was much simpler. A time when the world around us governed the way we live before we started to change it.

The summer in England contains an imponderable that has made the country famous, the weather. June is the month when we expect the weather to be good which is probably why we hold a tennis tournament each year at Wimbledon. It began on Monday and as the starlets threw their tantrums and practised their gamesmanship the organisers are sure to be keeping a close eye on their enemy, the weather. It has been known to extend the tournament by days when it rains but whoever risks an attendance at the event always seems to have made some provision for the unexpected shower.
The weather for the tournament up until the end of the previous week seemed set to be cool to say the least, on a typical day the temperatures ranged from only 8 C to the hottest which was Kings Lynn at 22 C but toward Friday the gods decreed that warmth was required and by Sunday which, in the UK was Fathers Day the mercury contained in thermometers was hovering around 32 C and all seemed set for a heat wave but when the temperature here climbs so quickly it can cause thunderstorms and Sunday was one of those times. The meteorologists predicted sporadic thunderstorms for Sunday evening but they had little idea of what was about to take place in North Yorkshire that afternoon.

In Yorkshire just twenty miles to the north of York there is a valley called Rye Dale, to the east and north is Helmsley Moor to the west are the Hambleton Hills
together they form a valley open ended to the south where the small north Yorkshire town of Helmsley has grown up at a crossing of the river Rye which flows along the “Floor” of the valley, it is a “Gateway” town to the North Yorkshire Moors. On Sunday afternoon a thunderstorm began, it lasted less than an hour but in that time it delivered more rain than the area would have had in a month. The storm according to eye-witness accounts was ferocious with constant heavy rain where visibility was less than 20 metres interspersed with hailstorms which began with stones the size of marbles increasing to golf ball size in seconds with thunder and lightning, the forks of lightning coming every five seconds and bolts of energy striking anything that could take it to ground. The deluge of rain and hail running off the Moors and hills on both sides of the normally benign river Rye transformed the usually placid trickle of the river Rye into a raging torrent and made its way south to Helmsley and the restriction of the towns bridge carrying the A170 trunk road near the junction with the lesser B1257 road. The river Rye now carrying a months rain from the “Flash Flood” of an “Expected thunderstorm” on a quiet Sunday afternoon burst its banks and the force of the water with nowhere else to go broke the bridge at Helmsley. The devastation left behind by the events of that afternoon is only comparable to the aftermath of the tragic scenes in Boscastle in Cornwall after the flood there. Homes were destroyed, property swept away and cars removed from roads by the sheer force of water, a TV station was forced off the air and 650 homes were without electricity after a sub station was struck by lightning. Yet fellow residents of Yorkshire living only five miles away had no rain and though they heard distant thunder experienced none of the wrath meted out by the storm, such is the British weather. As might be expected the rescue helicopters were busy plucking nine people from danger but on this day it was Joe Citizen that shone when three men drinking in a nearby pub noticed a Nissan Micra in trouble they decided to take action. Stripped to the waist one man waded into water five foot deep to support the car whilst his two accomplices rescued the occupants of the car, a seventy seven year old man and his wife of seventy-six. As the men walked away from the car it slipped below the water and was carried away by the flood. The men returned to the bar to finish their drink. Priceless!

That was last week, we have our own secret weapon should the rain gods permit the slightest drop of rainfall on the tournament, it is called Cliff Richard and if forced to use it we will. Cliff has been a regular spectator at Wimbledon for many years and in the event that it rains he has been known to put on an impromptu performance of some of his work whilst the tournament waits for the rain to stop.
It is strange that the rain does not seem to last long once he has begun to sing.

JP.


Posted: June 22, 2005 



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