On the eve of the longest day of the year, twist together wooden branches into the shape of a man and place a piece of foil-wrapped bread inside it. Throw the man into a fiery pit, remove the toasted bread from the charred remains, distribute among friends and eat.

It‘s the summer solstice Wicker Man ritual, and you won’t be seeing it in Martha Stewart‘s Living.

June 21, a.k.a. Midsummer’s Eve, is the first summer solstice of the new millennium. Witches of the pagan religion Wicca, however, regard Y2K and the Gregorian calendar on which it is based as little more than random human constructs, and choose instead to be governed by solar, lunar and planetary cycles. Summer solstice, when the sun hits the Tropic of Cancer and ascends to its highest point, is the longest day, and shortest night, of the calendar year.

It is also one of the eight major holidays of witchcraft.

According to Reverend Marsha Smith, a spokesperson for the Salem-based Witches League for Public Awareness, to practitioners of Wicca summer solstice is a time of heightened creativity, sensuality and eroticism.

During the solstice, she says, the Wiccan Sun God reaches his highest power. ”Wicker Man“ rituals re-enact the Sun God‘s journey and the cycle of changing seasons. Wiccans believe that during the ritual the Sun God’s spirit enters the bread, and that by eating it humans partake of his immortality.

”Because Wicca comes out of a Northern European experience, where winters are awfully cold, people look forward to summer, when you can strip down and be outside,“ says Smith. It doesn‘t take a witch to know that more sunlight means more exposed flesh, more hours to frolic and more opportunity to contemplate the joys of, well, ah, procreation.

Summer solstice is also an occasion of transformation. ”From winter to summer solstice, the energy builds up. From summer to winter it wanes,“ Smith says. ”Summer solstice is a very passionate period, yet at the same time we acknowledge that it’s also when we start to slow down.“

Along with the ”Wicker Man“ ritual, Reverend Smith also suggests leaping over a bonfire as a ”symbolic passing through the fires of purification.“ And, in a pinch, ”A candle will suffice.“

Join the Wiccans of ReWeaving for their 4th annual Summer Solstice Festival, Saturday, June 17. For location and more information: www.ReWeaving.

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