Word of the month

Num­ber 45 – Sol­stice

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The summer sol­stice marks the long­est day of the calendar year and the be­gin­ning of summer in the North­ern Hemi­sphere.

But what does the word sol­stice mean and what does it have to do with Shake­speare?

The term sol­stice is de­rived from the Latin sci­en­tific term sol­sti­tium. Con­tain­ing the Latin sol, mean­ing the sun and sis­tere mean­ing “to make stand”.

Today the term sol­stice is used to de­scribe the ex­act mo­ment when the sun reaches its north­ern­most point ( around June 21) or south­ern­most point ( around De­cem­ber 22) from the earth’s equa­tor.

Summer lasts from the summer sol­stice to the au­tum­nal equinox, one of two times a year when the sun crosses the plane of the earth’s equa­tor, mak­ing night and day ap­prox­i­mately equal length.

Days lengthen from the win­ter sol­stice to the summer sol­stice, after which they be­gin to shorten.

Wil­liam Shake­speare clearly had as­tron­omy on his mind when he chose the ti­tle, A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, a tale of en­chant­ment that takes place on mid­sum­mer’s eve, or, as we com­monly re­fer to it, the summer sol­stice.

Shake­speare is also cred­ited with the first-known ci­ta­tion of the phrase “mid­sum­mer mad­ness,” a line ut­tered by Olivia in Twelfth Night after en­coun­ter­ing a cross-gartered Malvo­lio.

This sea­sonal tran­si­tion was thought to be a time when witches and other su­per­nat­u­ral be­ings caused widespread mis­chief.

Ad­di­tion­ally, some plants were thought to pos­sess mag­i­cal heal­ing pow­ers and bon­fires were thought to ward off ma­li­cious spir­its. Mid­sum­mer’s eve is a na­tional holiday in Swe­den and Fin­land.

Kali Yoga class mem­bers cel­e­brat­ing the summer sol­stice at St Mary’s Pri­ory, Bee­ston Regis.

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