Summer has arrived. The longest day of the year has passed. When summer solstice approaches, the noonday sun rises higher and higher in the sky on each successive day. On the day of the solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount, compared to the day before. In this sense, it “stands still.” “Solstice” is derived from two Latin words: “sol” meaning sun, and “sistere,” to cause to stand still.
This year, the summer solstice sparked particular interest at our house since Kathie and her youth theater peers just finished a performance of Howard Goodall’s The Dreaming which is based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I watched the play as often as I was able. Live theater means I can enjoy the variables from show to show, and it was gratifying to see how the kids’ performances improved.
Several times during the play, a backdrop, which was a fine rendering of a section of “standing stones” formed on a base of chicken wire, was lowered to change the scene. The stage became the grassy plain where Stonehenge sits.
The stones, always surrounded by historic lore of mystery and wonder, set the perfect scene for the tale of young love, the woodlands’ rite of spring and supernatural forces at work. The Dreaming is packed with sophisticated charm and a marvelous musical score that I’m still singing around the house. Unfortunately, the possibilities of the many faceted play were masked by the limitations of the youth production.
The kids studied Shakespeare as part of a workshop in conjunction with the production of the play, but they didn’t look at the rich ancient history that pervades the theme of The Dreaming. Kathie and I looked up Stonehenge online. I’ve always been fascinated by this ancient phenomenon; it’s timely that we considered it just now in mid-June.
“The horseshoe of great trilithons and the horseshoe of 19 bluestones at Stonehenge opened up in the direction of the midsummer sunrise. It was quickly surmised that the monument must have been deliberately oriented and planned so that on midsummer’s morning the sun rose directly over the Heel Stone and the first rays shone into the centre of the monument between the open arms of the horseshoe arrangement.”
It is argued that the summer solstice alignment cannot be accidental. The sun rises in different directions in different geographical latitudes. For the alignment to be correct, it must have been calculated precisely for Stonehenge’s latitude. The alignment, therefore, must have been fundamental to the design and placement of Stonehenge.
The alignment also made it clear that whoever built Stonehenge had precise astronomical knowledge of the path of the sun and, must have known, before construction began, precisely where the sun rose at dawn on midsummer’s morning while standing on the future site of the monument.
The Dreaming’s musical lyrics refer to bonfires and the rising of the sun. I didn’t dance to drums around a blazing summer solstice bonfire, but, since I’m an early riser, I’ll be taking in the rising sun as often as I can. While I’m at it, it won’t hurt for me to pledge to Mother Earth that I’ll do something to improve the environment.