Before science could even explain the natural phenomenon, the summer solstice was commemorated all across the globe. Even now, many Tucsonans and cultures around the world mark the day in honor of the sun and the life it has made possible.
The summer solstice, which occurs roughly around June 21, is the longest day of the year —more than six hours longer than the winter solstice in December.
According to Robert Brown, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory, the summer solstice is an entirely natural and fairly uninteresting phenomena.
“Humans have naturally organized themselves around the seasons because it’s an obvious change in weather and such,” Brown said. “But scientists don’t really pay much attention to where the sun is in the day to day unless there is a scientific need to do that. They just don’t think about it much. I certainly don’t.”
The passing of seasons and the yearly solstices occur due to the 23.5 degree vertical tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis and its elliptical path around the sun.
“[The tilt] is a consequence of the final events of a planet’s formation, when they picked up larger and larger celestial bodies,” Brown said.
According to Brown, planets form in discs of material orbiting the sun, and where those discs are relative to the sun determines their orbital plane. The spin axis is usually, but not always, roughly perpendicular to the orbital plane. There are planets like Uranus whose spin axis is nowhere near perpendicular to the orbital plane.
The Earth’s tilt was simply a happy accident.
The closer the North Pole is angled towards the sun, the more sunlight the Northern Hemisphere receives, bringing longer days and shorter nights. The summer solstice is the day the sun reaches Earth’s northern extreme, allowing for the longest day of the year.
Similarly, the winter solstice occurs six months later when the sun reaches the Earth’s southern extreme, promising the longest night of the year.
“We have the concept of seasons because the sun changes its angle relative to where you’re standing on the planet at the time,” Brown said. “That has an effect on the weather, it has an effect on the amount of sunlight is available and an effect on how plants grow.”
However, since the dawn of man, the summer solstice has held major spiritual and cultural relevance, apropos for celebration.
The sun has been regarded as a harbinger of life and fertility for millenia. Its light feeds the plants and, thus, the animals and civilizations that rely on them.
Ancient astronomers and astrologers, like the Aztecs and the mysterious people who built Stonehenge, constructed giant calendars and temples dedicated to the passing of time based on the sun.
Tucson is famous for the amount of sun it gets, so it comes to no surprise to Katherine Standefer, a writer who teaches creative nonfiction classes at the UA, that there are many people in the city who celebrate it.
“Tucson just has so much sun,” Standefer said. “But I love the sun, almost too much. It’s so energizing.”
Standefer was one of over 20 Tucsonans to spend the longest day of the year at a new metaphysical shop in the downtown Tucson area called the Ninth House.
The Ninth House, a “modern metaphysical shop and gathering space” which opened on April 21, threw a celebration to honor nature and the passing of seasons, marking this year’s summer solstice.
The Ninth House is a quaint shop in the recesses of the Bring’s Building on 236 S. Scott Avenue. Designed for gathering and community interaction, comfortable sofas and pastel-colored floor pillows give the room a sociable and soothing atmosphere.
The shop is decorated with items from the Luna Nocturna collection by artist Adriana Martinez, including the impression of a pregnant stomach painted in Van Gogh-esque acrylic and a minimally painted cow skull.
The shop offers a variety of mystical and spiritual items like crystals, herbs and tarot cards, but it primarily sells creative work and spiritual innovations from independent women.
“There [were] so many people here,” said ex-teacher Melisa Doran Cole, owner of the Ninth House, who was pleasantly surprised at the number of attendants. “And it’s such a variety of people.”
Individuals of all different sorts attended the gathering — a mystical mother and daughter duo, teachers, artists, retirees and toddlers — many dressed in brilliant, sunny yellows and earthy colors in honor of the holiday. While not all shared the same beliefs, everyone shared the same adoration for summer months and the world around them.
It seemed to be agreed upon that whether or not someone celebrated the summer solstice for their own spirituality, for fun or for religious reasons, the primary motivation for celebrating the first day of summer was to form a greater connection to the Earth and life all around.
“I think, especially in a world where climate change is so imminent, it’s important to have respect for the world,” said Angie Brown, a projects and events coordinator at the UA. “It’s one thing to know about climate change; it’s a different thing to experience and appreciate the environment on a spiritual level.”
Doran Cole explained that the Ninth House is a shop for everyone. After years of increasing spiritualism, she expressed the need for something more communal.
“I didn’t want to just have a magic shop,” Doran Cole said. “I wanted this to be a gathering space for people and women, for a community.”
According to Doran Cole, there is no lack of summer solstice traditions, but it varies from culture to culture. Hanging rosemary or lights and throwing bonfires have always been popular methods of commemoration.
“Usually, this kind of thing would be done outside, but we live in Tucson and it’s way too hot to do that here,” Doran Cole said. “Nobody would show up [to the celebration].”
Doran Cole offered snacks and wine and led the group in a few community activities.
Everyone in attendance made spirit bags — herbs and quartz wrapped in squares of decorative, festive cloth, tied with twine and charged with “intention and feeling.” Their purpose was to manifest summer vibes in the darker part of the year.
The herbs all had meaning — white sage for purity and cleansing, rosemary for luck and prosperity, lavender for peacefulness, spearmint for clarity and basil for healing and protection.
Doran Cole led the group in an exercise of visualization to charge their pieces of citrine, a charming yellow-orange quartz fitting for a celebration of the sun, with intent.
In a meditative fashion, she asked everyone to close their eyes, focus on their breath and imagine themselves in a peaceful place, crossing a bridge to all of the feelings and dreams they wish to see made true in the next season.
According to Doran Cole, the spirit bags — like all kinds of spiritualism and “hippy, witchy woo woo” as she jokingly called it — mean different things to everyone else, but their primary purpose is motivation.
“Just because we really want something to happen, doesn’t mean it will,” Doran Cole said. “You have to put in the work too. These bags can help you remember to keep those happy summer feelings and to work hard towards your goals.”
Toward the end of the evening, everyone contributed to the creation of a mandala-like altar. What started as a smattering of tumbled clear quartz and candles on a round table quickly flourished with flowers, lemons, oranges, herbs and more.
Doran Cole guided everyone through one more exercise in visualization, back to the bridge, where she asked everyone to place their spirit bags on the altar and focus on feeding it feelings of positivity and motivation.
“In the coming months, when it’s not so sunny, you can take the summer and what it represents with you,” Doran Cole said in her final send off of the night. “So go. Eat, drink and be merry.”
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