This year the summer solstice occurs on Tuesday, June 20 in the Northern Hemisphere. (In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the winter solstice and it occurs on June 21.) For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice is the longest day of the year. The word “solstice” means “sun stands still.” It’s when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and seems to stand in the same place before it begins moving toward the winter solstice. We like to think that the primary solar deity is Apollo, but there’s a whole crew of solar gods who are born near the winter solstice and live for a season in great honor, after which they’re sacrificed, spend a season underground, and are reborn.
But before there were solar gods, there were solar goddesses. Patricia Monaghan’s New Book of Goddesses and Heroines (Llewellyn, 1997) lists 58 of them, from Aclla to Xatel-Ekwa, who have been honored all around the world. Monaghan also tells us that Cinderella and Rapunzel may have been goddesses before they became heroines of what the Brothers Grimm called household tales. (Not fairy tales—no fairies in their stories.) Cinderella might have been a goddess of fire, and fire includes the sun. Rapunzel might have been “a sun maiden who would bring spring if she were not held prisoner by the witch of winter” (p. 265). Let’s reimagine Rapunzel in a solstice story…
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel,” the faint voice called, “let down your long hair. I need to see you.” The fiery queen was pale today. She worked hard driving that chariot across the sky every day and seemed wearier than usual. “Rapunzel, pay attention when I call you!”
“Motherrrr! Leave me alone!” Not an unexpected reply. “Go away!” There followed the usual back and forth—that’s how it is with teenagers, right?—until the princess finally did as her mother asked. Then, “Mom, you look awful! What’s going on?”
“I’m tired. I work hard. So what else is new?”
“Well, then, let me out of this blankety-blank tower! Why are you keeping me shut up like this? All the other girls get to go out! They’re having fun! Me? I just sit here and text. I’m bored to death!”
“You’re in here for your own good. You’re so shiny-bright, I have to protect you from sexu—from predators. Of all kinds. There are monsters that make a career of eating the sun every year.”
“Yeah, I know the stories. But it’s not winter. It’s full-on summer! Ma, I gotta get outta here! It’s my turn! It’s time for you to retire.”
And this time, at last, the girl won the argument. The weary sun queen unlocked the door and led her shiny-bright daughter down the steps and to the sun chariot in the parking lot. There were some driving lessons, and then the retiring queen handed the shiny-bright new queen the keys. Rapunzel took off faster than a speeding arrow and was traveling high—
—until she crashed smack into the fat, old sun god’s horse-drawn chariot.
“Watch where you’re going,” he shouted. “You little tramp, you could’ve…” But then he looked again. “What a pretty little thing you are. Come here!” He began to grab at her. “Hold still. Let me admire you. Let me—oh, you’re very, very shiny.” He began to chase her. “I’m tremendously important, you know. I rule the sky. I rule the seasons. Come on, shiny little girl, you’re tremendously pretty. Come here. Come to me. Now!” His fiery hair and fingers were flying in all directions.
Rapunzel was flying in all directions, too. It went on all day like that for the entire month before the longest day of the year. Apollo’s fiery chariot was so close behind Rapunzel’s that their combined brightness made a hotter sun. And he was grabbing at her so much and she twisted and turned so that their combined sun careened across the sky, scorching forests and starting fires, melting polar ice, turning meadows into deserts, and drying up lakes. That month-long chase was catastrophic.
It had to end. And end it did, as Rapunzel finally outran the fat old sun god and came to earth near an ancient forest. She ran through the trees and, lo and behold, there was a cave with a lantern hanging above the entrance. Hearing a voice singing “Let the sunshine in,” Rapunzel went inside.
“Granddaughter! You’ve finally arrived!” It was Old Mother Sun, the eldest of the solar deities, long retired but still keeping up with the news and the blogs. “You are safe here,” she said to Rapunzel, who was in tears because no one had ever spoken so kindly to her. “Your new day is upon you,” said Old Mother Sun. “A newer god will replace Apollo, who will spend the rest of his days going around in ever-diminishing circles until he screws himself into the ground. You, my blessed child, are the Sun and the Bright Light of the New Year. You’re the Shining Symbol of a New Age and a New Generation.”
“Grandmother, teach me what I must know. How to light the way of brave women and good men. How to bless their work and their crops. How to warm (but not scorch) the land. How to speak courteously to the planets as they spin around me.”
“Granddaughter, you don’t realize it yet, but you already know these things. Let us spend this night together in mindfulness meditation and conversation, and when tomorrow comes, you will rise on the longest day of the year.”
And thus it happened. And thus it happens every year as we receive the renewed blessings of the goddess of the sun.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.