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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Ruben Gomez "smudges" Alexius Gallegos with burning sage during a pagan Sunstave Celebration on a ranch in Heber City on Saturday night.

HEBER CITY — No one knows how long ago it began, but throughout history numerous pagan civilizations have celebrated the longest day of the year with rituals and festivities.

Saturday was no exception. The Church of the Sacred Circle upheld the historic traditions of their pagan forefathers by hosting their own Sunstave Celebration, inviting all open-minded individuals to attend.

The festivities were held on a private ranch owned by Tara Harris, who was co-hosting the event in Heber City. The purpose of the summer solstice celebration depends on the individual's intent.

"Each person that comes to a ritual gets something different out of it," said Ed Slomka, co-host of the event.

However, "In the pagan community it's all about the fire and the element of transformation that it holds," Harris explained.

Harris chose to celebrate the solstice by creating a fire circle that represented the sun's power and how everything else revolves around it. She told participants that everyone was to bring and leave something at the fire, whether it be by voice, music, movement or service.

To begin the ceremony, participants were asked to be "smudged," cleansed by smoke, and to create a circle around the fire ring. Participants held hands and announced their names. Once everyone was holding hands around the circle, Harris announced, "Together we are one."

Then the ritual began with a fire dancing troupe exhibiting their talents and setting the mood for the rest of the night. When the last act was complete, the final dancer lit the fire in the center of the ring.

Drumming, chanting, singing and dancing around the fire followed. Participants were encouraged to do whatever felt good and to feel the transformation beginning in their lives.

Harris explained that the fire is a process that symbolically changes everything undesired in your life from lead to gold. "It's all about the burn, baby!" she exclaimed.

Organizers noted that this ceremony is one of the few that is open to the public and is child-friendly. Slomka explained, "We've had children told they were evil by their teachers" because their parents were pagan. "We want children to be able to come and understand what is going on," Slomka continued. Of the approximately 40 participants, about eight were youths under age 16.

Participants spent well into the night dancing and singing around the fire. Many were dressed in costumes with fairy wings or belly dancer accessories. Each made three wishes or desires for themselves, their friends or family, and for the world, which were written down on strips of fabric and tied to the outskirts of the circle, with hope of being granted.

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