In years past I have made the pilgrimage to Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice. This year, I stayed local and I am glad that I did.
Each year, the celebration of Alban Hefin, Litha, Midsummer or the Summer Solstice seems to enter popular culture a little more. This year there was even a Summer Solstice Party in Portland Square in the centre of Sutton-In-Ashfield, featuring local school children singing and family fun and games. A genuine official event put on by the local authorities, though with very little recognition of the solstice itself or any importance it might have.
It seems that this trend is growing year on year. The BBC reported that 10,000 people attended Stonehenge this year, and I can’t help but suspect that many were there for the first time, and know very little about the reasons they were there. They are simply attracted to the event. That was certainly true back in 2015 when I stayed at the Stonehenge camp site and got talking to many of the people staying there in the lead up to the solstice. There were genuinely people attending that really had no idea what the solstice or the stones were all about, and I think that is a good thing. It seems that there is something unknown, unseen that is driving people towards these sorts of events, towards the Pagan community, and they are growing each year.
Silver Hill in Ashfield is a place where I walk with my dog almost every day. It is the default place I go because there are not normally a lot of people there, and it is big enough that I can see far enough to safely let the dog off his lead to have a good run about. So I was rather surprised to learn that a Summer Solstice event was being organised there for sunset.
I was up early enough on the morning of the Solstice to make my way to Silver Hill and climb to the top in time for the sunrise. At 4:30 in the morning there was no one else around but the birds. I sat and watched the sunrise in the North-East, just to the left of the power station visible on the horizon. Although there was cloud overhead, the horizon was clear as the sun began to light the sky pink and orange. I remained until the sun was fully up, and made my way back home.
After a full day of activity, I made my way back to Silver Hill around 7pm. When I arrived I was surprised to see a steady stream of people going both up and down the hill, and began to suspect this local Solstice celebration might have more than the handful of people I was expecting.
It was a quiet event with perhaps 100 people in attendance, and as the sun went down people began to play instruments and drums. Others were dancing too, and the atmosphere began to feel charged with the energy and enthusiasm of the people there.
I did not stop long after the sun went down around 9:30 (it had been a long day!) and I made my way back home again.
The next day I began to think about how good it was to have such a well attended public Pagan event so local, and I also got to thinking about the location and sacred sites.
Of course there were many other gatherings up and down the country (and indeed all over the world). Stonehenge, Avebury, and the Nine Ladies to name but a few. The difference is that these places are all considered “sacred sites”. Silver Hill, as far as I know is not. In fact Silver Hill is an artificial landscape created after the end off the coal mining industry. The small hill at the top with the miner statue is actually the highest man-made point in Nottinghamshire, so it is a perfect place for viewing the solstice even if there are no apparent alignments with other hills, etc.
So what makes a site sacred? I do not know if other people would draw up a list of specific requirements. They might cite such things as solar alignments or the antiquity of the site. For me all of nature is a sacred site, but I also believe a site is what people make of it. If enough people see a place as sacred, treat it as such, and use it for worship then it is a sacred site. Over time the site will even start to acquire energy and a character.
Sacred sites are often sacred to something or someone. This could be a deity for example. In the case of Silver Hill, I think it would be contrived to try and associate a Deity with the location at this point. But that is not to say that there is not appropriate symbology at Silver Hill that could be built on.
The stand out feature at Silver Hill is the statue of a miner. This statue reminds us of how important coal mining was in the local area. Or put another way, this statue reminds us of the importance of coal mining to our recent ancestors of place (and for many ancestors of blood). It reminds us of the dangerous jobs, the dirty conditions and the suffering of our recent ancestors. It also reminds us of the legacy of the coal industry on our towns and countryside.
For these reasons then, I propose that Silver Hill from this point forward be treated as a genuine local sacred site that we as the local pagan community can build upon and work with. A site sacred to the ancestors of place. A site we as the local pagan community can continue to use for celebrations.