Celebrating the Solstice in Cedar

Solstice on Vancouver Island seemed like a good idea so I headed down to stay with dear friend Maggie in Cedar, south of Nanaimo. The first few days were typical October Island weather (except that it was now summer …). We took in the Cedar Farmer’s Market in its field outside the Crow and Gate Pub on Yellowpoint. After spending time in the north, I am always amazed at how green and lush everything on the south coast is and how many beautiful colourful flowers there are. So, of course, I had to take pictures of almost every flower I saw:

Since it was a bit of a gloomy Sunday, we decided to do an art, lavender, and labyrinth road trip down the coast. The first stop was the garden and studio of a glass artist whose name escapes me, formerly the Barton and Leier Gallery, a lovely, eccentric collection of sculpture, junk, rusted vehicles, glass, and greenery.

This place would be wonderful as a film backdrop, a scavenger hunt venue, or to play hide and seek in the dusk.

Buddhas gaze out serenly from all corners of the landscape.

The artist was not immediately visible so we just peeked into the shop to see his glass wares, before heading off down the road.

There are several artists and artisans in this neck of the woods and at this moment, I can’t remember their names, but the next studio we visited was full of colourful abstract mandala-like images, as well as painted furniture.

Thinking that the Damali Lavender Farm and Vineyard was “just down the road”, we drove south from Yellowpoint, intending to walk the Damali labyrinth and do a little wine tasting. Damali turned out to be a little further down the road than we thought, south of Duncan near Cowichan Bay, but it was a nice drive on a not-too-busy highway.

Wine-tasting is offered in the wooden house (above) every day in the summer and it was lovely to stroll through all the many varieties of lavender growing here.

I had no idea that lavender came in different varieties, but as you can see the colours and flowers are slightly different from one species to the next.

Although the farm was not huge it took us a bit of time to find the labyrinth. I had thought it would be made of lavender hedges, but it was a smallish Cretan-style labyrinth simply etched in the grass at the edge of the property.

It was so great to spend some time with Janet, also staying with Maggie for a bit; the three of us sampled the Damali wine wares and left with a box full of vintage grape.

A bit peckish after wine-sampling, we headed down into Cowichan Bay (which I’d never been to before) for a snack.

Although very grey and socked in with clouds, the Bay was still beautiful.

The solar piece de resistance was to be the Cedar Keep Labyrinth walk on Tuesday night at 9:24 pm, the exact moment of the solstice, according to the internet-who-knows-all. But, in order for that to happen, we had to clean the path of its organic debris and get rid of the tall weeds impeding the way. Janet took on the task of removing the weeds, while Maggie and I brushed the path free of weeds, pinecones, and other assorted plant material that had wafted down on to it over the months.

Maggie’s labyrinth is a full size Chartres-style path which takes about 15 minutes to walk each way, so there was a fair bit of real estate to clear.

Its centre contains a cement pool, now empty, and a large ceramic pot with plant, next to which is a meditation bench on which to sit while contemplating the universe and its mysteries.

After spending some time clearing away debris, we spent the afternoon, now warm and sunny, painting in preparation for the solstice evening. It was lovely to see good Nanaimo friends Janice, Libby, and Colleen (and get in a round of bridge which I’m missing up here in the north country) who made the treck out to Cedar in the afternoon and I’m sorry to have missed some of you good people on this trip!

I decided to do a couple of small landscapes which I would consign, with good wishes for the coming year, to the solstice bonfire that night.

Janet staked out a shady position under the Japanese maple to execute a watercolour of the flowers in Maggie’s front yard.

We were so happy that it was warm, sunny, and dry finally. The late afternoon had a golden glow as the sun shone through the filtering canopy of the trees onto the cleared path.

As the sun started to set, we gathered supplies for the backyard altar and bonfire; Skye and Sara spent a few moments executing some yoga moves while waiting for the branches to catch fire.

The shed behind me in the picture above, through which the final loop of the labyrinth passes, contains the remnants of my mannequin collection, with random arms and legs and torsos occupying cast-off furniture, a silent chorus of spirits to cheer us on our way. While Maggie, Janet, and I spent some time lighting the labyrinth and mannequin shed with candles, Sara and Skye tended the bonfire.

I consigned one of my small painting to the flames and watched as it slowly crumbled up and dissolved, leaving only some small blue spotted remains behind.

I had brought some of my small coloured LED lights down with me which I hung on the central tree. We enjoyed the warmth of the fire as we waited for the appointed moment and at 9:12 we each set off around the labyrinth, aiming to end up in the middle for a toast at 9:24.

As the sun continued to sink, we toasted the solstice, the new year, and feminine energy.

Solstices happen twice a year – in June and December. The June Solstice happens around June 21 (June 20 in our location), when the sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer.  Solstice comes from the Latin words sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to come to a stop or stand still. On the day of the June Solstice, the sun reaches its northernmost position, as seen from the earth. At that moment, its zenith does not move north or south as during most other days of the year, but it stands still at the Tropic of Cancer. It then reverses its direction and starts moving south again. (https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/facts-about-june-solstice.html)

The solstice is a day of deep historical and cultural significance. Solstice celebrations were a highlight of the pre-Christian calendar, and bonfires, maypole dances and courtship rituals linger on in many countries as holdovers from Europe’s pagan past.

In Canada Aboriginal Day coincides with the summer solstice. It was selected in 1996 after the Assembly of First Nations called for a day to unite and celebrate native cultures. The date had meaning because aboriginal societies traditionally marked the summer solstice one way or another. The Seminole of Oklahoma and New Mexico’s Zuni perform corn dances — for rain and the bounty of maize, bean and squash crops. Similarly, Mohawks do Wainodayo, a dance for ripe strawberries, a fruit believed to renew the spirit. The Dakota hold annual sun dances in North Dakota around the summer solstice, which has been a long tradition of many First Nations from the central North American plains region. (CBC website)

While we did not do a corn dance or courtship ritual, we feasted on fruit, bread, chicken, and bread next to the crackling fire.

We finished off the evening with a marshmallow roast over the fire. Good times!

To read my post on the building of Maggie’s labyrinth, click here.  To read about my solstice installation while an artist-in-residence in Ibrahimpasa, Turkey, click here. To see photos of that installation, click here.To read about our Solstice Nevruz labyrinth walk in 2014 at Barb’s place, click here.

To see more photos, click here.

Summer Solstice Celebration for Litha

As the wheel of time turns again we found ourselves at Summer Solstice. Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way. On this date, Jun 21 this year, the sun reaches its zenith in the sky.

It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems just to hang there without moving (“solstice” is from the Latin word solstitium, which means “sun stands still”). The travels of the sun were marked and recorded by almost every civilisation.

Lots of folks joined us for an evening of celebration in Barb’s fabulous back yard. We made a communal altar celebrating Litha, the Solar goddess, created painted and collaged solar symbols to toss in the fire pit, enjoyed video projections and music celebrating fire and water, sipped beverages and nibbled tasty goodies.

Thanks to Ty who set up the sound and projection system in Barb’s back yard, I was able to screen my videos Fire Ceremony II: Metamorphosis and Fragile.

Litha celebrates abundance, fertility, virility, the beauty and bounty of Nature. Early societies celebrated Litha with Fire rituals. In the Aegean islands on the night before the Summer Solstice, hoops were set ablaze, and the villagers would guide the Sun’s return by jumping though rings of fire. Early European traditions celebrated this time of year by setting large wheels on fire and then rolling them down a hill into a body of water. Early Saxons in Britain marked Midsummer with huge bonfires that celebrated the power of the sun over darkness.

Our three-tiered altar was installed in Barb’s garden and dressed in red, topped with a ceramic head of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and craft. Each participant brought offerings to adorn the altar, including incense, candles, sheaves of grain, and other symbolic elements. Ty, Barb, and I planted red flags in the garden and swathed the altar in a Balinese sarong. Around the yard Barb added floating and stationary candles to bird baths and garden ornaments. A large orange sun pinata graced her gigantic magnolia tree. After a feast of tasty food, Randal entertained the assembled crowd with folk songs from his repertoire of guitar favourites.

As the sun grew low in the sky we painted and decorated solar offerings and later, when the sky was dark, and Venus, Jupiter, and Moon hung bright in the night time sky, we formed a procession, made wishes for the coming year, and offered them up to the Litha fire pit.

Midsummer Symbolism:

Symbols: Circles and discs are the most basic sun symbols; fire to celebrate the power of the sun, sun wheels, god eyes, mother goddess, ripening fruits, sun dials, feathers, and swords, blades. Goddesses Aphrodite, Astarte, Freya, Hathor, Ishtar, Venus and other Goddesses who preside over love, passion and beauty. Other Litha deities include Athena, Artemis, Dana, Kali, Isis, Juno, Apollo, Dagda, Gwydion, Helios, Llew, Oak Holly King, Lugh, Ra, Sol, Zeus, Prometheus, Ares, Mother Earth, Father Sun, the fey, fairy folk and Thor.

Tools: drums, rattles, bonfire, mirrors for reflecting the sun or bonfire, Earth circles of stone energy.

Colors: white, red, maize yellow or golden yellow, oranges, fiery reds and golds, green, blue and tan.

Stones: all green gemstones, especially emerald and jade. Tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli, ruby, diamonds, amethyst, malachite, golden topaz, opal, quartz crystal, azurite-malachite, lapis lazuli.

Animals: Robins, wrens, all Summer birds, horses and cattle. Mythical creatures include satyrs, faeries, firebirds, dragons, thunderbirds and manticores.

Herbs: chamomile, cinquefoil, elder, fennel, hemp, larkspur, lavender, male fern, mugwort, pine, roses, Saint John’s Wort, honesty, wild thyme, wisteria, oak, mistletoe, frankincense, lemon, sandalwood, heliotrope, copal, saffron, galangal, laurel, ylangylang, Basil, Betony, Dogwood, Oak, Rue, vervain, trefoil and verbena.

Incense: frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, lemon, pine, jasmine, rose, lotus, or wysteria.

Foods: fresh vegetables of all kinds and fresh fruits such as lemons and oranges, pumpernickel bread as well as Summer squash and any yellow or orange colored foods. Flaming foods are also appropriate, barbecued anything, (barbecues represent the bonfires….) but especially chicken or pork. Midsummer is also the time for making mead, since honey is now plentiful. Traditional drinks are ale, mead, sweet wines, fresh fruit juice of any kind and herb teas.

Element: fire

See more photos here.