My alarm goes off at 4:00am. I’m conveniently camping right along the lakeshore, after having spent the evening watching the sunset on the eve of the summer solstice with members of our grove. My kayak is ready to launch, and I roll out of my sleeping bag and slip it quietly into the still, dark water. The starry heavens are brilliant in their glory, the moon a crescent low in the sky. But just as I begin to paddle, the first light on the horizon is present. The mists rise up from the lake water–the lake is warm like bathwater even though the air itself is much cooler on this summer solstice morning. I paddle through the mist, finding a good spot from which to watch the sunrise. The lake expands around me, the trees dark shadows in the distance. Everything seems to move very slowly, and then, the light rises, faster and the light seems to rush in with each breath I take. The bullfrogs and birds help call up the solstice sun, their voices begin rising in song all around the edges of the lake. The fish start rising up to the surface; one leaps in front of me. The crows begin to caw, the hawks fly in the distance. The world is coming awake, and I have a front-row seat to all of it. The moon disappears behind some clouds that are rolling in, and for a brief moment, tiny drops of rainfall on the still water. Then, the sun emerges from behind the mountain. All the while, I sit, soaking in the moment. Breathing deeply, I am simply happy to be here and to witness.
The solstices and equinoxes are special times that celebrate the passage of the sun and the turning wheel of the year. Over the years, I’ve celebrated them in elaborate ways with large groups and also in simple ways, by myself. One of the most simple rituals that I know, and use often, to celebrate is simply a sunrise observation ritual, as I began to describe in the last paragraph. I’m going to share the details of this ritual today and how you can do it for this summer solstice–or any other seasonal celebration.
There are a few preliminaries that you need to take care of to do a sunrise observation ritual.
Weather: Weather can be tricky. If there are clouds, storms, or it is overcast, you might not be able to see the solstice sunrise that day. However, in the druid tradition, we hold that the energy of the time is actually present three days before and three days after, so anytime in that 7-day window would work of the day itself does not (of course, the day itself is a better choice). If you really want to do it on the day of the solstice, you might have to wait a year or two till the weather is right. This happens, and sometimes, the wait is worth it.
Finding Your Observation Spot: Finding “the spot” where you will observe, from land or sea, is an important part of the ritual. You may already have a spot in mind–it should allow you to see open skies to the east, but also as far around as possible. You’ll also need to make sure you can get to that spot early enough to see the sunrise. Since I live in the Appalachian Mountains, I prefer overlooks and/or lakes–both of these offer a wonderful view. Last year, my grove rented a cabin for the evening on the lake, and so, I had very easy access to do the sunrise ritual.
When to get to the spot. If you look up sunrise times online, you’ll see two numbers, typically “first light” and “sunrise.” First light times can be deceiving; I have found that “first light” actually occurs up to an hour earlier than it indicates. For my sunrise rituals, I plan on being at my spot 1.5 hours before the scheduled sunrise (and staying about 2 hours total). Depending on mountains and other geographic features, the sunrise time may also be off (last year, I actually saw the sun come over the mountains at about 6:10, even though 5:45 was the specified time). If you get there 1.5 hours early, it will be completely dark, but within the first 15 minutes, you will see the sky slowly changing–and seeing that part is worth it.
Comfort. The Sunrise Ritual is a long one–you spend your time in stillness and reverence, observing the world around you. Because the sun takes time to rise, you will want to make sure you are comfortable wherever you are. Bring yourself a chair, a blanket, or get yourself seated in a cozy kayak (like I did) to watch the sunrise. Even if the days are warm, it is likely much cooler at 4 am, so bring appropriate clothes, blankets, etc. If bugs are a problem, bring bug spray, etc. The idea is to be as present as possible to witness this wonder of nature, not be worrying about your cold toes, mosquitoes buzzing in your ear, or uncomfortable seat.
The ritual is as simple as it can be–simply watch and observe the sunrise. Pay attention not only to where the sun will rise but to the whole 360-degree area where you are. Fully engage with all of your senses (which is why the sacred brew is helpful): your sight, your taste (tea), the sounds, your sense of touch (feeling the temperature, the ground you are sitting on, etc), and your ears. There is so much to take in and it changes so quickly. Even if you are scanning another part of the sky or surroundings, when you look again, the light has shifted. Pay attention to the far edges of the sunrise area–sometimes, beautiful colors will appear and then disappear within 5 or so minutes (last year, there was this amazing patch of hot pink for a little while reflecting on some clouds on the edge of the sunrise).
Deepening the Ritual
Here are a few things that can enhance or deepen your ritual experience. None of them are necessary; just being present is enough. But over the years of doing this ritual, I have found a few additions enhances the experience.
A Sacred Brew. I have found that drinking tea or another sacred brew (like elderflower cordial at the summer solstice) is a wonderful way to heighten the power of this ritual. Prepare something sacred, something wonderful. I drank elderflower while watching the sunrise. In the winter, a tea of warming herbs like sassafrass root or ginger would also be welcome. I suggest brewing the tea in the sun the day before the solstice sunrise and take that solar energy within as you watch the sun come in.
A Sacred Space. If you have the time, you can add to this ritual by creating a simple sacred space around you while you observe. While this is not necessary, I feel that it really heightens the experience. I did this in my kayak last year, going through the AODA’s sphere of protection as the light began to come in.
Bringing In the Sun. If you wait till you can physically see the sun, you can also bring in the light and energy of the sun for your own healing. Draw its first golden rays towards you and bring them deep within. Combining this with breathwork is powerful. Offer gratitude for the sun and its light-giving rays.
Music/Singing. The Awen flows strongly at the summer solstice –you might feel compelled to sing or play an instrument. I was once given a “sunrise song” that I play on my panflute sometimes during this ceremony. You might see it this way–roosters, bullfrogs, birds, and many others work each day to raise the sun with their voices. By joining in, you participate in that shared magical practice.
Solstice Activities. Typically, after this ritual, I go off to find some elderflower and brew it up into sacred medicine. This, or any other solstice-appropriate activity is a great way to keep the energy of the ritual with you.
May the blessing of the summer solstice sun be ever with you!