Alban Hefin: The light of the summer
by Deborah Ann Tripoldi
The longest day of the year — and no, it’s not a Monday or Black Friday — falls on Wednesday, June 21.
Summer begins that day at exactly 12:24 a.m. EDT.
The first day of summer for the Northern Hemisphere is known by many names: the summer solstice, Midsummer, Alban Hefin (or “light of the summer”) to the Druids, or Litha to most pagans. It is one of eight sabbats, which mark the turning of the Wheel of the Year. They are seasonal festivals celebrating the cycles of nature.
Montclair resident Craig Sloan, co-owner of Blu Lotus on Church Street, said that wherever he and his partner, Joe Longo, may be on the summer solstice, they make sure to watch the sun set.
Sloan is an eclectic pagan, or as he puts it, “an explorer.” “The roots are all feeding to the same tree,” he said. Longo considers himself spiritual.
Midsummer is one of the two solstices. Directly opposite on the Wheel of the Year is the winter solstice, also known as Yule or Alban Arthan which usually falls on Dec. 21. The Celts and many other cultures celebrate the summer solstice with bonfires.
The word “solstice” means sun stopping: the sun appears to stop and then reverse direction as the days grow shorter or longer, depending on time of year. “When we use to have a large property we held a bonfire on the solstice,” said Sloan.
For those who observe the solstice, traditional colors to mark the holiday are blue, green and yellow. Some items presented on the pagan altar would be strawberries, oranges and tangerines, and flowers such as the sunflower, as well as anything associated with the sun or fire. Altars are usually in homes or created by a group. “I always light a white candle for clarity [on the Summer Solstice],” said Sloan. “I’m a nature lover and pick flowers to place on our altar in the bay window at home for the solstice.” “There are candles, sand and shells in there right now,” added Longo.
It is the most powerful day of the year for Bel, the Celtic God of the sun, who is associated with light, health and healing.
The day is the highest point of energy: “Energy is everything. Whatever the reason is, if we are not feeling it, we won’t force just because a calendar says when it has to be done. We wait until the time feels right,” he said. “Our ancestors went by the seasons changing, not a calendar.”
“In essence we live our lives seasonally,” said Sloan.
Sloan and Longo say they enjoy being outside, at Verona Park or the beach, for the solstice. “We honor the seasonal festivals,” said Longo.
Blu Lotus has a tall ornamental tree that Sloan decorates for each season with lights. It serves as the store’s altar. Currently the tree is lit in blue lights and surrounded by figurines of fairies. Sloan noted that his shop has a lot of fairy statues for Litha. “We have a fairy promotion especially for the solstice. There is a belief that the line between the world of fairy and ours is the thinnest at this time,” he said.
Herbalist Kim Sisco of Montclair, an employee at Blu Lotus, will be in upstate New York for the solstice. “Fifty-five acres of positive land to celebrate with other herbalists during the Green Wisdom Weekend,” she said. “We will gather plants and herbs, make herbal medicine and build a bonfire at the end of the day. We will share and do a releasement to the universe; write it on a piece of birch or paper and toss that to the fire. We sit still and converse with Mother Earth and within ourselves.”
Like Sisco, Longo does a lot of reflecting during this sabbat. “We write down our good and bad, compare them and place under a shell or a crystal and leave it until the next new moon. Then we ... burn the bad ones,” he said.
For Longo it’s about “respecting the earth and taking care of what we have.”
Blu Lotus, 20 Church St., will hold a Healing Circle open to the public on Wednesday, June 21, from 8 to 9 p.m. Judie Hurtado, intuitive, Reiki master and spiritual teacher, will lead the circle, which will involve a “Welcoming the Light” meditation.