If you’re feeling a little out of sorts this week, it might have something to do with the sun. For those of us in the northern hemisphere this is the week with the longest amount of daylight in the year. It goes by many names and celebrations, depending on your country or creed but one thing that an abundance of daylight brings out in everyone seemingly is a little touch of the wild or pagan.
The summer solstice is when witches convened in droves for meetings back in particularly witchy times. Willow the wisps, those ghostly lights that appear over marshes to draw travellers onto dangerous ground, love midsummer. Frenzied folk dance around maypoles covered in flowers. Fertility levels reach fever pitch. Bonfires and effigies are everywhere.
The more rural you go, the more extreme the effects. I hardly need point you to The Wicker Man for a cultural reference to the crazy goings on that happen in the Scottish Hebrides. Romping naked women, mad aristocrats, animal masks and the odd bit of human sacrifice make for quite a spectacle.
Of course no such nonsense takes place in the safety of the city, where light pollution is now so bad you hardly notice the novelty of sunshine at midnight. Cities by their virtue of being manmade, constructed, unnatural, don’t easily foster a connection with the primeval, pagan urges that arise from being in tune with nature. Cities deaden our natural instincts.
And it’s a crying shame. There’s nothing better than feeling a bit wild at a full moon and a bit frisky at midsummer. Our annual quality of life special issue of Monocle is out this week in which we rank the top 25 cities with the highest quality of life. Proximity to nature is a key ingredient precisely for the reasons mentioned above – an urban population that can swim, stroll and simply see the seasons change in the trees and flowerbeds, is generally a happy one.
Last year I fulfilled a small lifetime ambition of spending midsummer in Finland. I was in Helsinki, which that year we ranked as number one city in our quality of life survey. Though staying in the heart of the small capital, a group of us were taken by boat to one of the islands for a long, large feast of a dinner. A bonfire was lit, a copious amount of alcohol was consumed and everyone shed their clothes and went swimming in the sea in the mysterious daylight at 02.00.
My companions were work acquaintances – a gathering of creative people in some of Finland’s bigger and more successful companies. It was an intimate celebration to have been a part of but one that felt entirely appropriate and natural. One companion told me his favourite thing in the world is to rub himself in the muddy clay at the edge of the lake he lives next to, and then wash it off in the water before lying out to dry on the warm stone. The way he described each sensation in minute detail is something I will remember forever – he gave himself over to nature, natural urges and sensations and for him this was the ultimate happiness. I think we should give in a little more to our natural urges this week. I’m not suggesting we roll around in flowerbeds or burn a wicker effigy in the street. But maybe a solo walk in a park might be enough to reconnect with nature and in turn reconnect with our natural feelings and urges, which are all too often stifled by our urban environments.