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MythBlast | The Transcendent Summer Solstice

BY Leigh Melander June 20, 2017

It is high summer in the Catskill mountains of New York where I live: green, lush, blooming, sparking with life. It’s an enchanted time. Every morning I walk my dogs in our meadows and life is bursting forth. We see and hear birds, from warblers, killdeer, and yellowthroats announcing their presence like characters in a Seuss story: ‘we are here!;’ to the wild turkeys that beat the air like drums as they thrash into flight, startled  by the dogs. And we stumble upon a host of treasures: a fawn, still spotted as she curls in the high grass, red efts looking oddly tropical against the forest floor, and wild roses and black cap raspberries indecorously in bloom.
It is a time of year that seems to simultaneously stand still and rush by far too quickly. It is the solstice. We tend to think of the solstice as a day, but it is actually, formally, a moment in time. This year, in 2017, that moment happens at 12:24 AM – ironically enough, in the middle of the night.
But it’s that moment – that standing still – that has caught my imagination today. Solstice is a word with Latin roots – solstitium, from sol – sun – and stitium – to stop.  For a moment, the sun appears to stop on each Solstice, and in this most solar of days, opens up a moment into the eternal.
When time no longer moves, it no longer exists. Suddenly, in that moment outside time, the infinite unfolds, both in our fleeting understanding of the immanence of the universe and in ourselves. Of course, its mystery confounds us, except for glimpses, caught in a breath, or out of the corner of our eyes. It is so vast, we can only catch the slightest trail of it. This brush with the infinite, at its heart, one of the central virtues and points of ritual, of myth – to help us find those breaths, those glances, into what lies beyond our understanding.
In Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor, Campbell writes:

The sun is our second symbol of rebirth … When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die; that is the insight rendered in term of the solar mystery, the solar light.
(p 89, Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2001)

What better time to imagine into that solar mystery and our own transcendence than on the day of the solstice?


We’re so pleased to be able to offer Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor as an eBook for the first time. It’s some of Campbell’s most accessible and luminous work on the functions of myth and metaphor.

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