I realize I’m likely going against popular opinion here, but the summer solstice has become my favorite day of summer – simply because it marks the descent back into darkness. A decade ago I would have given you the look if you’d dared to suggest I would ever write that sentence, but that’s what 7+ year in the desert will do for ya! I happened to be in Ohio for the summer solstice this year (June 21st) and thought it’d be interesting to see if there were any local celebrations for the event. It’s a big deal in some areas of Arizona (e.g., Sedona) so I figured it was worth a shot. I was a bit disappointed in the options until I came across the celebration at the Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio.
The Serpent Mound is 1,348 foot prehistoric effigy mound in the shape of a (you guessed it) serpent that appears to be swallowing a round object (argued to be an egg, the sun, the world, etc. depending on who’s talking). Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the site is maintained by the Ohio Historical Society. The dating of the design, the original construction, and the identity of the builders are all debated as hotly as the identification of the round object. One speculation is that the Serpent Mound is a type of astronomical site, with the head corresponding to the summer solstice sunset and the coils of the tail to the winter solstice sunrise. Another is that the figure mimics the stars composing the constellation Draco.
There are many interesting theories surrounding the site, but none have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As we were to learn, one of the majors reasons for this is historical disturbance. As part of the solstice festivities, there were a couple of different guided tour options – one historic, one new age. Seeing as how he’d been a good sport about the whole thing up til this point, I decided to cut my brother a bit of slack and went for the historic tour. It was both fascinating and appalling to hear how much the site was changed through various uses – including farming and archaeology.
Coming from the west where the tribes hold so much power over sacred sites, I was floored to think that this site was largely unprotected and unclaimed for so long. This is especially true given that the one point everyone can agree on is that it is most definitely a sacred site. Luckily, recent archaeological interests at the Serpent Mound have trended more towards preservation and conservative ground investigations. However, the Serpent Mound itself has been largely altered by previous archaeological efforts, so it’s up to old photos and speculation to aid “mound theories.”
I actually found the historical tour to be surprisingly engaging. However, I overheard a bit of the new age tour as the two groups converged at the head of the serpent and I must say, that the other option sounded equally fascinating! There were several people scattered throughout the grounds meditating, praying, etc. and I noticed a few people had left offerings along the mound. If you’re deeply interested in the solstice celebrations, I would say there’s no reason you should be shy about fully indulging if you make it out during these festivities (except any nude fire-dancing maybe).
The Serpent Mound is free to visit, but there is a fee for parking ($8). In addition to the serpent shaped mound, there are also surrounding burial mounds, hiking trails, and a small museum dedicated to the history of the site and surrounding area. We found all of the park employees to be incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, so don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions! For the solstice, there was a faire of sorts with local vendors, historical speakers, and even various workshops for attendees. It’s a 3-day event and the park stays open until sunset for the summer solstice. However, the park has several special events scheduled throughout the year, and I highly recommend you check one of these out if possible. I think they lend a little extra something to an otherwise small – albeit mysterious – park.