Risky Regencies

Summer Solstice

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and England has some unique celebrations that were certainly around in Regency times and may have dated back centuries, and some of them are just plain weird. The most famous modern solstice celebration is that at Stonehenge, where over twenty thousand people gathered this morning at sunrise.

In Cornwall, there are midsummer bonfire festivals.

Chanctonbury Ring in Sussex has the peculiar power to raise the devil if you can persuade someone to run around it seven times anti-clockwise and you can see fairies if you recite A Midsummer Night’s Dream there on midsummer night’s eve (hmm. We should have commissioned Cara and Todd for this one). It has quite a reputation for paranormal events and experiences.

Derbyshire has its own peculiar brand of midsummer celebrations with well-dressing, something that is probably associated with the ancient worship of sacred springs. Villagers create pictures, often very elaborate and detailed, made of flowers and leaves stuck into clay in a wooden frame which are then displayed at the local well. Although the tradition is associated with the solstice, the season lasts from May until September. In one of those particularly odd English marriages of the official and pagan, here the Mayor and Bishop of Derby bless the Derby offering of 1997.

The solstice is also considered to be a powerful time for love divinations and the best time to gather herbs for magical properties (if you want to dream of your future lover, by the way, sleep with some yarrow beneath your pillow).

Do you know of any interesting solstice customs? Have you read or written about one?

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Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

Okay, I read the article on Chanctonbury Ring and have to say I would expect far more than a bowl of soup in exchange for my soul. 🙂

Maybe next year we should all take a trip there and try that Midsummer Night’s Dream thing….

Pam Rosenthal
15 years ago

I’ve always been enchanted by the idea of long white nights, always wanted to be somewhere far north for one, always wanted to write about one.

The closest I’ve ever gotten was my attempt to write about that sort of erotic romantic lunacy in The Slightest Provocation.

Oh really, the bemused reader might ask. Oh, I didn’t get that bit.

Yeah, I know, it didn’t come off — after all the setup I did for the preparing for the midsummer party, the mismatched lovers running around the forest…

Christ you know it ain’t easy, this writing thing.

15 years ago

Janet wrote:

You can see fairies if you recite A Midsummer Night’s Dream there on midsummer night’s eve (hmm. We should have commissioned Cara and Todd for this one).

Hmm. Depends on how much of the play one has to recite…and do we have to recite it from memory??


Janet Mullany
15 years ago

The last time I was in England at the solstice the remains of the sunset were still in the sky at about 11 (the time we got back from the pub) and altho the sunrise must have officially been at about 5, it was light a lot earlier. In fact it never really seemed to get properly dark. That was in the country, too, so there was very little light pollution. It was really quite lovely.

The downside of those long summer evenings, of course, are the horribly short winter days.

15 years ago

There is the old “wash your face in the solstice dawn dew on the oak leaves and retain your youth and beauty” thing.

Obviously, I don’t like to get up early.

The mystical place in England I really want to go to is The Chalice Well in Glastonbury. I have no idea why. It just calls to me.

Elena Greene
15 years ago

Thanks for that link on Chanctonbury, Janet. I’m fascinated by ancient sites. When we lived in England my husband used to say we should have had a bumper sticker that said “We brake for old rocks”. I’m also intrigued by crop circles. Must learn more about them sometime!

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Elena, your husband’s funny!! Given how many Pictish stones we stopped for in Scotland in 2002, my brother started napping through the stops.

During the same trip to NE Scotland and Norway, the sun was shinning in the sky till 2am and rose brightly back up at 3am. Once I stayed all through the night just to see what happened when. It was magical! But by the same token, I would HATE the winters–dark, chilly, wet.

Deb Marlowe
15 years ago

Interesting stuff, Janet! I’ve never been to Stonehenge, but always wanted to go, especially after hearing the descriptions of a few friends.

I’ve read several articles on well dressing. Some of those pieces are amazingly elaborate.

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