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The Magic of Midsummer: Origins of Litha and Ways to Celebrate

Updated on May 27, 2015
kittythedreamer profile image

Kitty has extensively studied the history, traditions, and celebration of ancient and modern holidays.

Midsummer is a time to spend outdoors!
Midsummer is a time to spend outdoors! | Source
Visit your favorite tree on the Summer Solstice...
Visit your favorite tree on the Summer Solstice... | Source
Gaze at the clouds on Midsummer...what message do they have for you?
Gaze at the clouds on Midsummer...what message do they have for you? | Source
Visit a flower garden.
Visit a flower garden. | Source
Enjoy nature at the beginning of Summer.
Enjoy nature at the beginning of Summer. | Source

Midsummer is Here

The warmth radiating from the bonfire caresses your sun-kissed face, while the scent of burning cedar and sweet sunflowers gently fills your nose. A whole year has passed and Midsummer is here once more. The surreal and entrancing sound of the drums pulls you into a place of pure magic...a place that calls out to your very soul...a place that stays in your heart and mind and inevitably makes you yearn for the Midsummer Festival year round - through Autumn, Winter, and Spring. The welcoming, warm image of the Sun and joyful memories of faery tales told by the fireside, fills your very being with an aching for Litha once again. Now it is here...

Midsummer is an ancient festival celebrating the beginning of summer (usually on June 21st in the US), which dates back thousands of years. The beginning of summer consists of the longest day and shortest night of the year and is also commonly referred to as the summer solstice (polar opposite to the winter solstice in December). The noble and strong Celtic people celebrated Midsummer, as well as the Nordic people of Europe. Today, Midsummer is still celebrated by many people in the Northern European countries, by people in Great Britain & Ireland, and by Pagans in America.

Many traditions were practiced on the longest day of the year (Midsummer); one of the major traditions being that of the lighting and enjoying a luminous bonfire. Fire is the element of the Sun, obviously signifying the season of Summer...a season of warmth and growth. So it is only necessary to welcome the Sun's triumphant full reign of the sky with a large bonfire. Other ancient ways in which to use the element of fire in celebrating the arrival of Summer and the Sun King was to send a wheel lit on fire down a hill in order to demonstrate the great dance of the Sun.

Ever heard of a maypole? Well, if you have not heard of one, I am sure you have seen one in art or elsewhere. The maypole was and is a phallic symbol, representative of fertility. The ancient peoples would decorate the maypole with beautiful wreaths of summer flowers and proceed to dance merrily around the maypole for hours, sometimes even days! In England, the idea was to have men and women in alternating spots around the maypole and wind blue and red ribbons around the maypole until they reached the bottom of the maypole. This tradition is also seen during May Day or Beltaine. Depending on the country, maypoles are used in both Beltaine and Litha and sometimes both. To me, the idea of intertwining ribbons represents the coming together of male and female, poor and rich, to celebrate the rise of the Holly King and the descent of the Oak King.

The story and symbolism of the Oak King and the Holly King is believed to date back generations, possibly centuries. This is a belief and tradition that many modern day Pagans hold dear to their hearts and the tradition can be seen in their celebrations, specifically during the Midsummer festival and also during Yule. Consequently, the Holly King is said to do battle with the Oak King during Midsummer and wins, taking his place as the reigning King. The Oak King is said to return to wage war against the Holly King during Yule, thereby taking his rightful place as Lord from December 21st through until Midsummer again. Also associated with Midsummer are various Mother Goddesses, as Summer is viewed as the time of the year in which the earth is at its most fertile stage...comparable and equivalent to a woman bearing a child. The earth is ripe...the crop is beginning to yield its full bounty, in preparation for the Harvest in the coming Autumn months. With the Celts, Summer Goddesses included Epona (the horse goddess of fertility), Brigit (the goddess of fire, healing, fertility, poetry, and cattle), and Cerridwen (the goddess of the cauldron, innately representing fertility and child-bearing).

The season of Summer proved to be a part of the year that showed the coming fruition of hard work and also a time of fertility to the ancient Pagans. Many modern day Pagans have come to remember these truths and practice them annually. Even if you are not Pagan, you have the ability and the right to celebrate the coming of the Summer season...

Go to the beach, the perfect place to celebrate Midsummer!
Go to the beach, the perfect place to celebrate Midsummer! | Source

Easy Ways to Celebrate Midsummer

Here are some easy ways to celebrate Midsummer discreetly and cheaply:

  • go to the beach and bask in the sun's glory
  • go for a walk in the park or forest and enjoy the shade of the trees and beauty of wildlife
  • plant some flowers or seeds in your yard or garden (specifically flowers that represent the sun - sunflowers, daisies, etc.)
  • climb a tree
  • have a picnic outside
  • have a cook-out
  • go for a swim
  • sun-bathe in your backyard
  • get up early and watch the sun rise
  • watch the sun setting
  • pray/give thanks to the sun, god and goddess
  • plant or start a fairy garden
  • build and decorate a fairy house or door
  • leave offerings for the fae
  • have a bonfire

Revel in the beauty of the flowers.
Revel in the beauty of the flowers. | Source
The fairies are out on Midsummer's Day!
The fairies are out on Midsummer's Day! | Source
Fairy offerings with milk and flowers
Fairy offerings with milk and flowers | Source

More on the Summer Solstice

Taking into consideration our rich historical past, as Americans and various cultures around the world, we have to realize that it is in our blood to celebrate the seasons. Summer is no exception. Even if you do not consider yourself Pagan, or if you were taught that these beliefs were evil, believe it or not...it is in your nature and genes to recognize and celebrate the four seasons of the year. Modern day Pagans know this as the Wheel of the Year, and the Summer solstice is one of the most important sabbats.

Think about what Summer means to you...what images pop into your mind when you think of the word Summer? My mind is flooded with thoughts of basking in the sun, dipping in the pool, going barefoot on the sand, collecting seashells, and picnicking in the shade of a great oak tree. All of these memories and definitions of Summer are representative of what Summer meant to the ancient Pagans. Fruitfulness...happiness...warmth...these are all terms that speak of the full essence of the season of Summer. The earth is filled with life and ready to be harvested.

Some ideas as to how to celebrate, whether out of the closet or in the closet Pagan, you can celebrate without fear of judgement. Tomorrow I have plans to plant a row of sunflowers in my backyard...why? Because I have a deep connection to the sunflower and they are a pure symbol of Summer to me. I see the Sun and the fertility gods and goddesses when I look at the beautiful yellow grin of a sunflower. Not a fan of sunflowers? Plant some other flower or plant that reminds you of your past summers and good memories of the season.

If you keep an altar, definitely place some freshly picked wildflowers on your altar as an offering to the returning Holly King and Summer Goddesses. Also another thing to offer - fruit and vegetables. Preferably they will be fruits or veggies from your own hand-grown garden, but if not...no big deal! The thought is what counts...and the father and mother goddess know and will acknowledge that. Check out the sun wheel made of flowers beautifully constructed by one of our fellow modern day Pagans. This picture instantly brought a smile to my face...and literally to my soul!

If you are going to spend the weekend with family, and perhaps they are not of the Pagan type, celebrate in your own way that is relative to your family's traditions. Set a bonfire up, or do some barbecue-ing! Serve some grilled meat and veggies and also some sort of dessert that is clearly thankful towards the fruits of the summer - watermelon, berries, mango, etc. Go with what is dear to your heart.

Send a card or note to your Pagan or like-minded family and friends in light of the coming Summer season. Remind them of exactly what you remember of them and the summer time. Summer brings back some very sweet memories and recollections for me...building pool forts, riding bikes until my hair was caked in dirt, jumping into ponds by way of hanging vines, thanking god for his Sun, etc. Let these memories of the season fill your mind and heart with their warmth and remind others of this warmth. These are simple and more conservative ways of celebrating Midsummer...other ways could include celebrating with a coven or group, though many of us do not have this privilege due to family standards or time or other personal reasons. I believe that if you know in your heart what you are grateful for, specifically earth and its gifts, you will remain connected and build a ubiquitous union with the earth in all its glory.

On a side note, have you ever cut an apple horizontally? You would be surprised and most likely delighted to find that the symbol of the 5 point star is clearly present, constructed by the position of the seeds enveloped by the apple's meat. To modern day Pagans, this is a clear representative of the pentagram...the five elements - earth, air, fire, water and akasha (spirit).

Watch the sun rise and set on Midsummer...you won't regret it.
Watch the sun rise and set on Midsummer...you won't regret it. | Source

Participate in a poll:

What is your favorite sabbat?

See results

© 2011 Nicole Canfield

Comments

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  • Kristen Howe profile image

    Kristen Howe 

    3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

    My pleasure. With these summerly temps over where I live lately, it feels like summer came early.

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    3 years ago from Summerland

    Kristen - Thank you! Summer is almost here. :)

  • Kristen Howe profile image

    Kristen Howe 

    3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

    I love all of these ideas, Kitty. Voted up for awesome!

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    6 years ago from Summerland

    Ravineyes - I got both...but that's okay, I'll keep 'em! Thanks for the idea. Yes, we have Michael's here. I'll have to check it out this weekend! Blessings to you.

  • Ravineyes profile image

    Ravineyes 

    6 years ago from Buffalo, NY

    Hi Kittythedreamer!

    I guess my post didn't go through . . .so if I've doubled this I'm sorry.

    I buy mine at Michael's or Joanne Fabrics. I don't think that they are bird houses, I guess just craft houses. They are found in the unfinished wood section.

    I try to buy many of them when they are on sale so when the kids get board they can always decorate a house. I want to take some to the Faery Trail at Lilydale. I also buy lots of glitter, shiny stones and other fun things, imagination rules all the time with them!

    Have fun with them, and glad I could help. Thanks for your ideas too!

    Blessings,

    Ravineyes...

  • Ravineyes profile image

    Ravineyes 

    6 years ago from Buffalo, NY

    Hi Kitty! Do you have a Michaels Crafts? That's where I get them, sometimes at Joanne Fabrics too. They are usually found in the unpainted wood/do it yourself area and run anywhere from $1.00 for the tiny ones, up to $5-10 for the bigger ones. I try to stock up when I have coupons or when they are on sale because come mid summer when the kids are getting bored...I can whip out some new houses and they spend hours decorating them. This year we would like to make a few for the Faery Trail at Lilydale.

    As for whether they are birdhouses, I don't believe so, I think they are just decorative house.

    Blessings...

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    6 years ago from Summerland

    Ravineyes - That sounds lovely! I often look for the wooden houses online but always come across ones that are way too expensive. Where in the craft stores do you find them? Are they bird houses or just little houses? Thanks for the idea! Blessings.

  • Ravineyes profile image

    Ravineyes 

    6 years ago from Buffalo, NY

    Because this is holiday is often associated with Faeries, I often go to the local craft store and buy a bunch of the wooden houses. My kids and I then sit around outside and paint and decorate them for the Faeries, we make sure that they have enough houses for each element and then place them in the newly blooming gardens for offerings. This is one of my favorite holidays, up in New York, it isn't always warm enough to celebrate outside, until now.

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    7 years ago from Summerland

    Yes, sunflowers are gorgeous..and not weeds! :)

  • breathing profile image

    Sajib 

    7 years ago from Bangladesh

    Sunflower is my one of the favorite flower that you have add with this hub...great and good writing.thanks.

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    7 years ago from Summerland

    Hi, Fay! That's awesome...where in California? You're probably right about the parents choosing a different dance. :) Thanks for voting and commenting!

  • profile image

    Fay Paxton 

    7 years ago

    Very nice article. When I was a kid growing up in California, we used to have a Maypole dance every year. It was always wonderful fun. I have a sneaking suspicion if parents had known their history, we would have had to do some other dance.:) up/useful

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    7 years ago from Summerland

    Hello again, Stephanie, my friend! Yes, the solstices invoke a sort of welcoming of the seasons within all of us...most of us unknowingly! I'm flattered by your compliments and I'm glad I've showed you some insights. Blessings to you and your family.

  • Stephanie Henkel profile image

    Stephanie Henkel 

    7 years ago from USA

    I love the idea of celebrating the Summer Solstice, and the Winter Solstice, too. I don't call myself a Pagan, but it seems right to celebrate the special beauty of each season. Your idea of planting special flowers is wonderful— my grandmother would have loved it! Thanks for the insights into Pagan celebrations.

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    7 years ago from Summerland

    Oh, awesome! I can't wait to see them...do let me know! :)

  • profile image

    Muldanianman 

    7 years ago

    Yes, I shall be going and will upload some pictures of the event on here.

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    7 years ago from Summerland

    I would love to see pictures of that festival! Are you going? Also, the Maypole town sounds fascinating! Too bad the original maypole is no longer there!

  • profile image

    Muldanianman 

    7 years ago

    A very intesting hub. My neighbourhood of Castle Vale will be having a solstice event this year, probably the first in this area for hundreds of years. There will be morris dancing and other ancient traditions. In Birmingham, there is a suburb called Maypole, where a maypole stood for hundreds of years, but now only the name remains. It is good that there is some increasing interest in these traditions, before they disappear completely. A local pub, near my home, which was built in 1300, had its own maypole well into the 20th century, when it was removed for the building of a block of flats. I wonder how many of those living there realise its history.

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Nicole Canfield 

    7 years ago from Summerland

    Will Starr - I can guarantee those little old ladies had no idea! :) But that seems to happen a lot in our society now, we have traditions dating back thousands of years that seem to have gotten passed down to us throughout the ages...and many of them are not Christian but in fact Pagan (pre-Christian) traditions. Quite intriguing to me. Have a Happy Memorials' Day!

  • WillStarr profile image

    WillStarr 

    7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    When I was a kid in Iowa, many years ago, on May Day, we had a Maypole event. I wonder if the little old ladies knew it was a pagan, fertility rite?

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