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Summer Solstice-A Time of Gods, Rituals and Magic
Under the old Julian calendar the summer solstice occurred on June 25th, it’s the day where the sun is at its highest point. It’s the longest day and shortest night and was the time of harvest, fertility, weddings, and prosperity. It was the season ruled by the Summer Gods.
For the Norse, Njord was a Varin (fertility) god of sea, wind, fishing, fire, crop fertility, and prosperity. Norse agriculture was conducted during the summer months, mostly along the fjords and sea inlets. Njord brought favorable harvest and prosperity to those who honored him.
In the Celtic culture, Lugh, also known as Lleu or Llew, was a god of healing, reincarnation, prophecy, revenge, and the Master of all Arts. As a sun god, he was associated with fire, water and grain. In his honor, Lugh is celebrated at the time of Harvest on August 1st with corn, sheaves of wheat, grain, and other symbols of the harvest.
To the Slavic people, summer was ruled by Porevit, or Prove, a Western Slavic god of the woods, a god of male fertility, power and sexual potential, protector of male seamen and by similarity, plant seeds. Porevit was the symbol of the male element in conceiving new life and depicted with having five heads representing five winter months when he guards the earth and seeds developing inside it.
To usher in the solstice, celebrations and rituals were held on Midsummer’s Eve, a time when the veil between our world, the Otherworld and the faire world was at its thinnest, thus letting spirits, beings, magic, and fairies permeate our world.
Midsummer’s Eve was a magical night when herbs and flowers of calendula (marigold), sage, burdock, mistletoe, fennel, parsley, chive, thyme, thorn, lavender, honeysuckle, hyssop, rosemary, nettle, sunflower, mugwort, vervain, St. Johns Wort, meadowsweet, fern, oak, and rowan possessed a potent healing power. Hence, they were gathered and stored or made into amulets. While some such as, nettle, burdock, St. Johns Wart, thorn, and fennel were hung on houses for protection against evil. Under the eve’s Honeymoon, when hives are rich with honey and harvested to make into mead, faeries played and spread their magic across our world giving mischief and inspiration of Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream (fifteenth century).
But the main event on the eve was Litha, or Midsummer, where all across Europe bonfires or balefires were lit at dusk by friction of two sacred woods, fir and oak. These fires were considered to possess great power and were the center of Litha celebrations and rituals. It was believed that the fires helped strengthen the sun and protected from free roaming evil spirits. Cattle and other livestock were paraded between two bonfires to ensure good health and harvest. Herbs of yarrow, vervain, mistletoe, and seven others were thrown into the fire to release their magical protection and the ashes were sprinkled on fields, or on the four corners of houses to bring protection, health and luck.
Celebrations around the fires were of prosperity and fertility. People would feast, dance, sing, and tell stories; women wore braided circlets of clover and flowers, while men wore chaplets of oak leaves and flowers about their heads. Livestock would also be decorated with garlands of foliage, flowers and oak leaves. Courting couples would traditionally join hands and jump over the fire’s embers three times to ensure of a long happy marriage, financial prosperity, and many children, while individuals would jump over the fire for protection and good fortune.
Other traditions occurred on the solstice. Young Slavic women would float flowered garlands down rivers that would tell their fortunes from their movements. Water was the source of fertility and purification, thus people would bath on the eve or solstice in rivers, springs, or lakes. In Norse tradition, young girls would pick nine different flowers and place them under their pillow to dream of their future husbands.
Upon the coming of Christianity, summer solstice was moved from June 25th to June 21st. The solstice celebration of Litha was changed to the Christian holiday of St. John’s Day honoring the birth of Saint John the Baptist. Today this holiday and Midsummer are still celebrated on the solstice throughout Europe and parts of the United States with undertones of ancient Litha and ritual traditions.
Modern solstice celebrations still center on bonfires lit on the eve. Celebrations still consist of singing, dancing, and feasting. In many countries, people jump through the flames for good luck and bathe in rivers on the eve. In Poland, Romania, and Russia, young girls wear wreaths of flowers on their heads and float candled wreaths down rivers. In Norway and Sweden, girls still put flowers under their pillows at night to dream of future husbands. Thus, the power and magic of the summer solstice still lingers.