A crowd of some 6,000 druids, pagans and new age revelers gathered at Stonehenge in southwest England to celebrate the sunrise on June 21, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, officially marking the onset of summer.
Stonehenge, the world’s most famous prehistoric monument, is a configuration of stones thought to have been built some 5,000 years ago during the late Neolithic period.
The sun rose in a clear sky at 4:49 that morning—the first time since 2019 that visitors were permitted to congregate at the ancient monument since the COVID-19 pandemic. The sunrise of the 2020 and 2021 summer solstices was streamed online.
As daylight broke over the horizon in an annual occurrence where one of Earth’s poles tilts most closely toward the cresting sun, crowds of people flung their arms in the air and cheered in a traditional pagan celebration of the victory of light over darkness at the high point of the year after which the days become shorter and the nights longer.
Police described the ambiance as “convivial,” as people connected with nature in a tradition older than Christianity. Some of the celebrants engaged in time-honored pagan midsummer rituals and pleasures such as dancing, singing, lighting bonfires and feasting under the open sky.
Pagans traditionally celebrate fertility and light as shown by a Wiccan blessing for summer that weaves the two elements together:
“As the sun spirals its longest dance
As nature shows bounty and fertility
Let all things live with loving intent
And to fulfill their truest destiny.”
Midsummer celebrations have an air of mysticism and magic that evoke deities such as Odin, the Norse god of war, poetry, wisdom and learning. Tradition has it that celebrants can encounter ghosts, creating a dream-like world echoing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the world of fairies is never far away.
English Heritage, a British charity specializing in bringing “history to life” and maintaining Stonehenge among some 400 historic sites, said 170,000 people worldwide watched the solstice online.
“We’re so delighted to have been able to welcome people back this year and also to livestream the occasion to thousands of people right around the world,” said Nichola Tasker, English Heritage’s director of Stonehenge.
Sun-worshipping Neolithic people built Stonehenge, and the precise reason behind the imposing structure remains a mystery. What’s undisputed is that several gigantic stones arranged in a circle are aligned so that the sun rises behind the Heel Stone at summer solstice, channeling sunrays into the center of the formation.
“It is likely that people gathered at Stonehenge at both midsummer and midwinter solstices to conduct rituals and ceremonies relating to the changing seasons, the sun and the sky,” says English Heritage. “It must have been important to align their monument with the movements of the sun but we may never know the exact reasons why.”
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