Inspiration: Summer Solstice 21 June 2023
- By Jean Peters-Do
As the longest day of the year approaches, it’s time to embrace the beauty and warmth provided by our incredible sun. The summer solstice brings a day of celebration, reflection, and connection to the natural world like no other.
The SUN in history and science
Our fiery star has been known by many names: Apollo, Surya, Helios. Huītzilōpōchtli, Utu, Mitra and Mithra. Freyr, Kinich Ahau, Marici, Xihe, Ra. SOL. In English we have words with both the roots sun and sol. Like solar. And solstice, the day the sun/sol stands still. Summer solstice is the longest day of the year for the northern hemisphere, and it marks the beginning of the warmest season of the year. Here in Austin the sun will rise at 6:30 and set at 8:36, a full 15 hours. Alaskans will have a 22 hour day, but Antartica is dark 24/7.
All creatures inherently recognize the importance of our life-giving star. The movement of the animals of land, sea, and air follows the seasons set by the sun. Plants follow its movement using their power of phototropism, and seeds germinate according to day length. They convert water, sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar (thank you for that!) which is quite miraculous. Plants provide us with food, shelter, materials for tools and clothing and… everything else. They also create the wonderful odor chemicals we perfumers covet for making perfume.
Humans no doubt have always had a fundamental appreciation and respect for the sun, whatever that looked like. We don’t have a way to know about our earliest ancestors’ knowledge and spiritual attitudes toward the sun; but beginning with the Sumerian civilization about 6,000 years ago, with their mastery of writing, mathematics, and astronomy, we get glimpses of ancient cultures’ mythologies spanning the millennium. What we see is the mixing of mysticism and astronomical sciences together.
Mesopotamian temples were built to Shamash/Utu; here the god resides and rules, and is served by priests, priestesses, and hundreds to thousands of others. Astronomy, geometry, advanced mathematics, architecture, and agriculture developed under Utu’s reliable presence. It is because of his movement that civilization moved forward. Also in Mesoamerica, huge temples with astronomical “hardware” were constructed using mathematics and advanced architectural technique. There is much to be learned still about their fantastically accurate calendars and understanding of astronomy. Inevitably, the priests of these cultures held much power, and the politics that emerge when religion and “divine” knowledge are leveraged in a society is quite different from what we know today.
Present day sun followers are called astronomers who observe the sun in every manner. We too can enjoy solar observations, even in real time from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). We know that the sun affects us in profound ways, not just by shining its thermal, visible, and UV rays down onto the earth but also by solar CMEs, sunspots, solar flares, high-speed solar wind, and solar energetic particles. These events are invisible to us, and are deadly were it not for our precious and very fragile water and gas atmosphere and magnetic fields protecting us. I’m currently re-reading the hard sci-fi novel 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (2012) which challenges my scientific mind to comprehend the true significance and magnitude of the sun; but his vividly imagined descriptions of how our Sol would appear if one were walking on the surface of Mercury are mesmerizing.
Coming back to our time and place, which is an infinitesimal flicker of time in the 4.57 billion years old life of our sol, we seem to have less day-to-day (and metaphysical) interest in the sun than the moon. Perhaps that is because the moon has a more palpable and apparent effect on us, and its motion and various rhythms occur on a scale closer to our own physiologic rhythms. Perhaps it’s because the sun rises and sets every day so predictably that we take it for granted. Or perhaps because the sun’s annual cycle of movement takes place over weeks, which we perceive as seasons, rather than moon phases which are evident day by day. Or perhaps it’s simply because we have lost connection with the profound living world, because of our lifestyles.
The SUN as archetype – the original pattern
Modern mystics and those who follow a contemplative path are in an extraordinary position: it’s like the ultimate buffet of spiritual content here on the www, more than all you can eat. I’ve watched it mushroom since the early 1990’s and unfortunately there are many pseudo-experts writing content. Luckily, scholars and reliable authors are producing high quality reference material, so my advice is, check your sources. Keep in mind that everything you read is going to be a contemporary adaption of one or more spiritual traditions, according to the author’s interests and qualifications, including what I write in this blog post.
If an archetype is an “original pattern,” how is the archetype of the sun expressed in various cultures? Today it has different significance for the scientist, artist, farmer, poet, film maker, and others. Do we relate to it in an archetypal fashion? How do we bring forward historic archetypes into the present?
Mystics of the past probably looked outward at the world and within at their own mind-body continuums, recognizing intrinsic patterns of reality and over time began to understand these patterns. Here are a few examples.
Chinese 5 elements: The study and practice of medical acupuncture were my first experiences thinking about the mind and body in terms of energies, represented by the elements and other symbols. Of the five elements, the element Fire is of the Sun, the season is summer, the emotion is joy. This may seem intuitively obvious. But how did ancient acupuncturists arrive at this?
Researchers speculate that acupuncture may be based on Taoist meditation practices, which in turn likely came from the Vedic practices of India. (See this timeline of the religions of Asia.) The meditator observed the flow of subtle energies in the body, the movement of Qi. From these observations, practitioners presumably mapped out the channels onto the skin’s surface, along with special access points to those channels, the acupuncture points. No doubt it took much trial and error to verify the patterns and get the details right, to point of being able to use that knowledge for healing. The theory is that illness, pain, and mental distress are the result of imbalances in the body’s various energies like yin and yang, and blockages of the energetic pathways. By correctly diagnosing the imbalances and choosing acupuncture points to open and redirect the flow of Qi, needling and moxa can correct those imbalances. In this system, the sun is a symbol of yang energy, and the elements are symbols of qualities.
While I was studying 5 elements, I met like-minded folks on an online discussion board called Stream of Consciousness. This is where I first heard about “archetypes.” The group’s diverse members were interested in shamanic drumming, Caroline Myss’ work with intuitive healing, Jung’s archetypes, the work of Thomas Merton, Joseph Campbell, the Hopi, Tibetan Buddhists, and other “Mystery School” traditions. I listened to Homer’s Odyssey in its entirety, as an exercise for reflection. It was a delicious buffet indeed! There was also an interesting group of people in my local community, and I studied Reiki with a sweet woman named Gloria. Reiki was my practical introduction to the chakras, specifically the third eye chakra, which I had first read about in my teens. This chakra is the seat of intuition; perhaps intuition is seeing patterns at some level.
The Chakras were first described in Vedic writings from 6000 years ago, but tantrikas were adept at the practices and passed their knowledge down orally many hundreds of years before scholars starting writing them. Here are the high points: in this system the subtle body and mind are made of the nadis/channels, which connect the chakras and weave through the body, creating a network of energy flow through the entire body. The life force, prana/breath, moves along the nadis and activates the chakras, which are like spinning wheels and are represented as lotus flowers each with a specific number of petals. Every chakra and each petal of that chakra have a specific sacred syllable associated with it. These are chanted in mantra. Chakra theory is a basis for both the Aryuvedic medical system and tantric practices in Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism.
The Sun is associated with the manipura/solar plexus chakra, located just above the navel in the abdomen. It is depicted as a triangle pointing down; the energy flows up from below and opens toward the heart. It is yellow, a lotus with 10 petals, and the seed syllable is RAM. RAM represents fire, vitality, confidence, growth, positivity, and wisdom. Wisdom may seem elusive, but think about gut instinct, something we can easily relate to. Many yoga classes incorporate mantra and chakra work.
In Tibetan Buddhism working with the chakras is advanced practice, but all Vajrayana iconography and literature is dense with layers of symbolism and meaning. The earth, sun, and moon figure prominently in Tibetan cosmology and are shown in most images. Buddhas and deities sit on lotuses which sit in turn on sun and moon discs. The sun is jnana/wisdom and the moon is bodhicitta/compassion. The purpose of the Buddhist path is to overcome ego-clinging and awaken one’s innate wisdom and compassion. An important practice is the recitation of The Aspiration of Samantabhadra on solstices and other occasions; it is a prayer by the primordial buddha Samantabhadra that all beings recognize and understand the nature of their minds and thus awaken to become Buddhas.
So how does the Sun as archetype appear to us now? It is entirely up to you to find that answer through self-inquiry and exploration.
The SUN means life itself
Ancient cultures would be deep in preparations for the coming summer solstice now. It’s intriguing to imagine what life was like at the White Temple and ziggurat of Utu and what the ceremonies entailed. It’s also enjoyable to imagine how people around the world will celebrate this year. In India there will be Dakshinayana festivals. Indigenous Americans will celebrate according to their traditions. What about Stonehenge, Egypt, Mexico and Central America? Many north American communities have festivals to celebrate the occasion; look for something near you if you’re inclined to catch some sunshine. Here in Texas, we practically have year-round sunshine and summer is often unbearable outdoors except at dawn and dusk; this solstice the temperature is expected to hit 103 F or higher. Still, I welcome summer.
My solstice ritual is simple: burn mugwort. The first time I smelled moxa I was hooked. Silver King Artemisia thrives in our rocky ground and intense summer heat, so I have fresh mugwort at hand year-round. It begins to bloom near solstice, when I harvest fresh stems and either burn it on the stem or make a few smudge sticks and do the Sun Salutation facing the sun.
After summer is welcomed on the solstice, there is summer itself! Sunflowers, sunbathing, and ice cream sundaes on Sundays. My list of summer memories includes: picnics, poolside, seaside, sandals, margaritas, suntan lotion, Texas BarBQ, watermelon, cucumbers, lemonade, NO SCHOOL!, long days, sultry nights, crickets, and cicadas. I can’t handle the heat very long, but I take advantage of this by doing some of my best perfume work in summer. Emerald was created last July and August, for example.
My top three summer perfume picks are Topaz, Emerald, and Xesty. Topaz reminds my husband of warm fragrant Saigon; Emerald sings of green grass in its opening notes; Xesty is a sensual rosy citrus perfect for hot summer nights.
What are some of your favorite summer things? What makes you feel alive?
Here’s a spicy solstice gift for you: our family BarBQ sauce recipe, with tangy lemon, bay, and spicy clove. 8 ingredients, about 1 hour.
Sauté ½ medium onion nicely minced in a saucepan with a melted stick of butter. Add a bay leaf to the pan until it’s soft, then add about 2 cups of ketchup and ¼ teaspoon ground cloves. Add about ½ cup water and bring this all to a boil, simmering on low heat until it starts to glisten. Squeeze in the juice of one large lemon, then either toss in the lemon rinds and remove when they are slightly translucent, or you can zest the rind into the pot, less mess. Add a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Cook further until thickened and high gloss. Remove the bay leaf before serving.