Midsummer has traditionally been a fun and lighthearted holiday for me–until the sun goes down. When I lived in Pittsburgh, a group of my friends and I would try to get our shit together long enough to go camping on the solstice weekend, and generally spend a few days out in the woods getting drunk and having adventures, which would get particularly real and serious after dark. If you know your lore this makes perfect sense to you, I’m sure–but I’ll tell you all some stories about that later.
This year I was alone. It seemed like an opportune time to incorporate a new practice into my personal tradition, and I had been feeling a nudge to honor Manannan mac Lir since we moved to this part of town, steps from the sea. I know that my family has been blessed since we started living near this bay; my partner regularly fishes its waters, and I enjoy spending my free time on its shore, reading or taking photos when the weather is nice enough for me to stand prolonged exposure. Honoring that blessing, and the Lord of the Waters, seemed to follow naturally this year. On the Isle of Man, each year on the summer solstice (traditionally observed on June 25) people would gather together rushes and sweet grasses to offer to the Son of the Sea as a way of paying rent to their benevolent landlord, who is said to swath the whole island in mist whenever danger approaches, and bless its fishermen with good catches. Many modern pagans (particularly Celtic Reconstructionists) honor Manannan not only as a god of the sea but also as a god of travelers, a god of boundaries and ways.
I’ll admit that I felt ambivalent about harvesting rushes on the side of Commencement Bay–this particular waterway takes enough of a beating from shipping operations, fishing boats, and ferries, it doesn’t need me plucking up the few native plants that still grow from its muddy bottom. I went to the grocery store and bought a bouquet of yellow and orange flowers and a bottle of unfiltered apple juice to offer. It was just before sunset when I went to stand on a pier overlooking the bay. The waterfront was crowded (because we had summertime weather in Washington, which is sort of like having a spontaneous statewide holiday), but I chose a lonesome spot and stood breathing in the sea air and centering myself. My words were simple, spoken from the heart; I prayed that Manannan would know how thankful I was for his blessings, that he would accept my simple offerings, that we would continue to know his blessings. I’m usually the sort who writes down a full ritual before something like this, planning each thing I would say, choosing each word carefully–but this simple offering, of words and heartfelt thanks and flowers, seemed like it was enough. I tossed the flowers into the bay with a laugh, and watched them float away from the pier with the tide.
Next year, if I’m surrounded by friends and family, I likely will put together a more complete ritual for all of us to share together. But this experience, so quiet and understated and powerful, was the perfect way to mark the solstice…during the day. After the sun went down, I had other things planned–but that’s another post.