Cross Quarter (Solstices & Equinoxes) Festivals Welsh Names
Modern researched names & meaning:
Alban Arthan: Light of the Bear
Alban Eilir: Light of Spring
Alban Hefin: Light of Summer
Alban Elfed: Light of Autumn
Traditional names & meaning:
Alban Arthuan: Light of Arthur
Alban Eiler: Light of the Earth
Alban Heruin: Light of the Shore
Alban Elued: Light of the Water
Source: OBOD, The Book of Ritual (2001)
Summer Solstice Traditions
Alban Hefin (Druidry)
The name for the festival of the Summer Solstice in Druidry is Alban Hefin, which means ‘The Light of the Shore’ or ‘The Light of Summer’. When called ‘The Light of the Shore’ this reminds us that the seashore is where the three realms of Earth, Sea and Sky meet, and is respected and revered as a liminal (or ‘between’) place. Many folk rituals at the time of Alban Hefin include both water and fire.
To Learn more:
Deeper into Alban Hefin– OBOD
At Neolithic Sites
The solstices (like the equinoxes) were significant in ancient times, and were marked by stone monuments. In England the megalithic stone complex of Stonehenge was built approximately 5,000 years ago. At the morning of the Summer Solstice the sun is aligned with and rises over the ‘hele stone’. This has become a popular event, attended by modern Druid orders and the public at large.
Callanish Stone Circle
The Callanish Stone Circle is another Neolithic site that is located on the Island of Lewis in the UK. It is part of a 20-site complex built 4,600 to 5,000 years ago, and has alignments to the solstices and equinoxes.
Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar stone circle on Orkney in the UK, was known for centuries by local people as the Temple of the Sun, and is aligned to the midsummer sunrise.
Maya Holtun Complex
Half a world away, the ancient Maya city of Holtun (or Head of Stone) buried in the Guatemalan jungle once had a seven-story-tall pyramid, an astronomical observatory, and other structures. It was designed so that during the solstices the sun can be seen rising in line with the eastern structure.
The Summer Solstice is also called Midsummer, and along with Samhain and Beltane Eve, Midsummer Eve is the second spirit night of the year. This time marks a thinning of the veil between worlds and when the Fae (fairies) are at their most powerful and are out and about; a theme famously used in the plot of Shakespeare’s play A Midsummers Night Dream.
Historically Julius Caesar claimed the Celts in Gaul made a man shaped statue out of wicker and burned live people in it as a sacrifice in his commentary on his war with them; no doubt this story made for good fiction and propaganda. (The ancient Celts- like others of their time- sacrificed humans, but historians of the period do not back Caesar’s claim.)
Regardless, this story has informed romantic ideas about the era- famously in the 1973 musical thriller the Wicker Man where this imagery is used in the film for a fictional Beltane sacrifice. Wicker men are now set ablaze during some Neopagan festivals, commonly at mid-summer and without any living sacrifices inside.
Litha or Midsummer (Pagan)
The summer solstice is also known as Litha or Midsummer in some modern Pagan traditions. For these traditions, this is a time at which there is a battle between light and dark nature gods or ‘kings’, which reflects the yearly waxing and waning sunlight cycle. The Oak King is seen as the ruler of the year during the time of increasing daylight from the winter solstice to summer solstice, and the Holly King during the time of decreasing daylight from summer to winter. At each solstice they battle for power on the days when sunlight changes.
Midsummer/ St John’s Day
The Summer Solstice is also known as Midsummer or St. John’s Day (celebrating his nativity), and is traditionally celebrated by bonfires on this night. Summer fairs are also common throughout Europe. Many celebrations retain aspects of the earlier Pagan beliefs.
Traditional Midsummer bonfires are still lit on high hills in Cornwall, where in some towns chains of dancers spiral though the streets. Midsummer festivals are also celebrated throughout Scotland. In recent years on the Summer Solstice, the public has gone to Stonehenge for Summer Solstice celebrations.
Galicia- Northern Spain
In Galicia St. John’s Day traditions include collecting medicinal plants (like fern, rue, rosemary, St. John’s Wort, Mallows, foxglove, and elder flowers). These can be hung in doorways, or they are dipped in a vessel with water and left outside on St. John’s Eve exposed to the dew overnight until the following morning, when people use the resulting flower water to wash their faces. This is most effective if the water from 7 different springs is used.
In Latvia, the Midsummer/St John’s Day celebrations include bonfires burned all night- with people jumping over them, wearing wreaths of flowers (for women) and oak leaves (for men). In modern times, small oak branches with leaves are attached to the cars in Latvia during the festivity.
Ogham Calendar for June
In the version of the Ogham tree alphabet calendar popularized by Liz & Colin Murray (1988), the eigth lunar ‘month’ of the year is in June. This period ushers in Alban Hefin, when daylight is longest for the year. The Ogham tree associated with this month is the holly, or the Ogham letter Tinne. It can represent protection from the other-worlds, growth, and rebirth.
Holly trees were traditionally known for protection from lightning strikes, and were planted near houses. Similarly to oaks, holly was also associated with thunder gods such as Thor and Taranis. We now know that the spines on the holly leaves can act as miniature lightning conductors, thereby protecting the tree and other nearby objects.
There is a perpetual battle between two aspects of the nature god- the Oak King (the God of the waxing light, or the Divine Child) and the Holly king (the God of the waning light, or the Dark Lord). Each year at the summer solstice, the Holly King wins the battle and rules, until he is defeated by the Oak King at the time of the winter solstice. (Holly is known as the evergreen twin to the oak, and one of its names is ‘Kerm-Oak’.)
Callanais (Callanish) Stone Circle. (n.d.) Retrieved from Mysterious Britain and Ireland website.
Deeper into Alban Hefin. (n.d.). Retrieved from the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids website.
Elder Mother (2014) in Wikipedia.
Freeman, M. (2001). Kindling the Celtic Spirit: Ancient Traditions to Illumine Your Life Through the Seasons, San Francisco: Harper Collins.
Lost City Revealed Under Centuries of Jungle Growth. (April 26, 2011.) Retrieved from the National Geographic website.
Midsummer (2014) in Wikipedia.
Mid-Summer Eve: Second Faerie Festival of the Year. (March 18, 2011.) Retrieved from The Dream Faire website.
Mythology and Folklore of the Holly. (n.d.) Retrieved from the website Trees for Life.
Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids. (2001). Alban Hefin Ceremony of the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. East Sussex: Author.
Stonehenge (2014) in Wikipedia.
Tree Lore: Hazel (n.d.) Retrieved from the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids website.
Tree Lore: Oak (n.d.) Retrieved from the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids website.