All of us are on a journey. Perhaps it is a physical journey, traveling to distant shores or a new home. Perhaps it is an emotional journey, a journey of the heart and of healing. Perhaps it is a journey of self-discovery or self-fulfillment. Perhaps it is a spiritual journey to reconnect with the living earth. At each moment of the wheel of the year, the sun, too, is on a journey–to rise and fall. On the moment of the summer solstice, the sun rises at the apex of his power.
I have found that going on a journey, a physical one, to see the summer solstice sunrise is an extremely powerful initiation into deeper mysteries at the time of the summer solstice–including 3 days before, and 3 days after. My summer solstice ceremony is quite simple–well before dawn, you do a night hike (not using any artificial illumination) to a high point, where you watch the sunrise and be illuminated as it occurs (I’ll share more specifics of the ceremony below).
I see this night hike seeking the illumination of the Solstice Sunrise as the same kind of ceremony as an all-night vigil at the Winter Solstice (which I will talk about near the winter solstice)–in both cases, some of the work is readying yourself to be greeted by the rising sun. It is the journey that matters, for illumination only happens after deep reflection and a long path traveled. This is one path of initiation, the path into deeper mysteries, communion, and wholeness.
The Solstice Sunrise Journey
Choosing the Right Day. In terms of the timing of the whole ceremony, there are a few considerations. First is the consideration of the day of the solstice–which not all people can manage, due to work obligations. I’ve done this anywhere from 3 days before to 3 days after the summer solstice (although I really try to get it “on the mark” if possible). This year, my first of these hikes (I expect to do at least one more) was 3 days before. The other consideration, of course, is whether or not it’s raining. Sometimes a light rain is actually ok (that’s what happened to me on the one I’ll describe below) because the sun rose up, was beautiful, and then skirted into the clouds and the rain came down more. But if it’s an outright downpour, you might want to wait for this particular ceremony (although I will likely still go out; I found bunches of Elderflowers last year at the summer solstice on a rainy morning when the cloud cover prevented me from witnessing any sunrise!)
Location. Location to me is one of the most important considerations for this kind of summer solstice ceremony. I usually scope out the location of my journey potentially months in advance, often finding the “right spot” sometime during my hikes earlier that year or even in the fall of the year before. (Sometimes, the location finds me and I’m at the right place and the right time like it did this year!) For me, the perfect spot as an Appalachian mountain druid is one of high elevation, above the valley, where I can see an amazing panoramic view.
Scoping out your Spot and Hike. Visiting your spot in advance is important for a few reasons: one, as a night hike, you are going to be needing to rely on senses other than sight to get yourself up to the place where you are going. And having memories of something you traveled only a day or two before helps you through the night hike. But second, it is about timing. You need to know how long it takes you to get up to your spot so that you can make sure you don’t miss it. I missed it a few times because I was still hiking rather than sitting and witnessing the rising sun. You need a lot more time than you need, and sunrise happens actually kind of quickly!
The Night Hike. Yes, you can do this, you can do it without a flashlight, and you can do it alone (or with a group). Once your eyes adjust, you will be surprised at how effective they are at seeing in the darkness–we just don’t do it much these days. So turn off the electronics and lights, and use your full senses to get where you are going. This is an important part of the journey. To me, it represents the long journey we need to have in order to reach illumination. It also gives me great insight into myself, how I deal with problems, and so on. You might stumble, you might run into some cobwebs, and you might be fearful of things in the dark–but trust me, this part of the ritual is worth it. If you are traveling with a group, grove, circle, family, etc, I would suggest that you agree to do the walk in silence so that each person can experience their own journey unfolding.
The timing of the night hike is critical. Ideally, you should leave an hour before sunrise, spend 15-25 minutes getting where you are going, and then sit, watching the sunrise unfold fully, over the next 30-45 minutes. Each part of the sunrise is a tapestry of colors, especially on this most magical day. Each sunrise has a unique message for you. The problem I’ve had in the past with this ceremony is that sometimes I don’t wake up early enough to make it happen, and then I’m still hiking and missing the sunrise. Trust me–for this ceremony, the extra 30 minutes of sleep is simply not worth it.
Now, once you get to the top, if you have the time, for added punch, you can do a short ceremony. I like to do the AODA’s sphere of protection before the sunrise, meditate and say the druid’s prayer for peace while the sunrise is rising, and then, as the sun rises higher into the air, do the OBOD’s light body exercise.
Illumination. The forest (or wherever you are) appears differently at the edge spaces between day and night; dusk and dawn are powerful times. This allows you to enter a sacred space and experience some form of illumination, presence, and communion with the spirits of the land. This is very individual, so I’m not going to say more here except listen, observe, and be open to whatever unfolds.
My first Solstice Sunrise journey this year took place the week leading up to the Solstice, and it was certainly unplanned. I had been at a research writing retreat for my research team (this is a yearly thing we do, since we are scattered all over the country) and we had rented a house in a very wooded and secluded area on one of the Appalachian ridges near Berkeley Springs, WV. I had done some walking while at the retreat and had noted the sharp rise of the mountain behind our cabin. One morning, after it was light, I walked up there and spent several hours, and received the clear message that although it was a bit earlier for my solstice walk, indeed I was doing to the solstice walk and journey up to the ridge where I could see the scene unfolding through the trees. That night, I had three powerful dreams, messages that are in line with something I’ve been working toward for many years. The last of which woke me up at 4:30 am (and sunrise was at 5:45 that morning), just 5 minutes shy of when I had set my alarm. I pulled on my clothes and shoes, carried some water from the spring, and began my journey up the mountain. There was no real path, but it was a serious climb, and I had to stop a few times to catch my breath as I continued my ascent. By 5:10, I had reached the spot where there were a few windows through the now-sparse trees, and a perfect spot to see the rising sun. Rocks were everywhere this far up on the ridge, and I found a nice one to sit and observe. After an hour of observation, the energy shifted, my work was done. The rains came, and I went down to join my team for breakfast.
I hope this ceremony and perspective on the summer solstice is useful as you plan your own solstice journey! I’ve published it a few days before the solstice, so you should have some planning time if you want to try it. I’d love to hear your thoughts and also your own ways that you celebrate the summer solstice!