Wiccan Holidays: What is the Summer Solstice?
Litha - The Summer Solstice - Midsummer
About The Summer Solstice
Welcome and bright blessings on this Summer Solstice sabbat!
Today, the Sun is at the zenith of its journey through the cycle of the year, and the Sun Lord is at the height of His power. In the longest of days, all living things bask in the warmth of the Sun’s energy as it streams His blessings down upon the Earth.
Look around you—the trees and plants are full and verdant, the fruit hangs heavy and low on the vines. Butterflies and bees dance from bud to bud. Nature is in all its splendor and Mother Earth is draped in her finest gown.
The night will be brief, but rumor has it that this is one of the most magical nights of the year. In fact, legend holds that on this night the veil between our world and the world of the wee folk is at its thinnest—so don’t be surprised if you catch glimpse of a fairy frolicking in the woods!
In the meantime, relax with us. Pour a cool glass of lemon balm tea and grab some of those ripe, red cherries if you like—they’re as sweet and juicy as they come! Let’s revel in the season and explore this Pagan sabbat together.
The Summer Solstice
Midsummer (English); Litha (Anglo Saxon; NeoPagan); Ukon juhla (Finnish, pre-14th century)
St. John's Day/Feast of St. John (Christian); Kronia (Greek venerating Kronos- regional celebrations); Vestalia (Roman feast honoring Vesta, Hearth Goddess); Chinese celebrations honored the Yin force (femininity, the Earth); Some Native Americans participated in ceremonies, such as the Sun dance;
The eve before and the day of the Summer Solstice, which is circa June 21st every year in the Northern Hemisphere, and circa December 21st in the Southern Hemisphere.
This Year’s Northern Hemisphere Date:
Sunday, June 21, 2015 at 16:39 UTC
Midsummer Night Bonfire
Image by Petritap at Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license.
Oak, Ash & Thorn (excerpt)
Oh do not tell the Priest of our art
For they would call it a sin
But we have been out in the woods all night
A conjurin' Summer in
And we bring you news by word of mouth
Good news for cattle and corn
Now is the Sun come up from the South
With Oak and Ash and Thorn
Sing, Oak and Ash and Thorn good sirs
All on a Midsummer's morn
Surely we sing of no little thing
In Oak and Ash and Thorn
– Rudyard Kipling (1867)
History of the Summer Solstice
Celebrations of the height of summer were fairly popular in many different countries in ancient times—particularly those laying further north (or further south if you were in the Southern Hemisphere). For those cultures in climates with harsh winters, this was most definitely a time to revel in the good weather while you had the chance. There’s not a lot of evidence that the Summer Solstice or Midsummer was specifically seen as a religious holiday among them, though.
You know how in most Western nations we take it easy in the summer? Children are off from school, it’s a season of games (baseball, water sports, etc.), and it’s when families plan picnics and vacations. Historically, this time of year was a time to really relax and enjoy those lazy, hazy days of summer.
This wasn’t that different for our ancient ancestors—particularly those who lived in colder climates. In wintertime, you’re too concerned with survival to enjoy yourself as much. You’re shut in, and nature is shut in its icy prison. In the springtime, you’re relieved but you’re busy with livestock and planting; in the fall, you’re busy with harvesting and winter preparations. The summer offers a lull in activity, and people’s workloads were lightened. The days were longer so you had more time to go enjoy yourself after you got your chores done. It was a good time to travel because you had more light, the nights were mild and nature was flourishing so you could pluck food right off a bush or out of the ground.
Folk Song Version of Kipling's Poem
History of Litha as a Holiday
We get the name "Litha" from the Anglo-Saxon month in which the Summer Solstice fell. For many Northern Pagans it was a time to recognize that it was the turning point that marked the Sun’s decline. From Midsummer on, the days would grow gradually shorter and colder and the year would turn back to the winter season. Bonfires were lit and people kept vigil through the night.
Rituals and offerings were made in some cultures to show gratitude for the warm season, and also in hopes that it would appease the Gods so they would get a mild winter in return. Some reports say Vikings would load up small boats with offerings, set them afloat in the direction of the setting sun, and then light them on fire as a sacrifice. Some ancient Christian historians note giant wicker men being burned in the fields. Some historians believe Midsummer was associated with the sacrificial Gods who would die and be reborn at the Winter Solstice.
Many people mistakenly believe that the Druids and Celts celebrated at Stonehenge, but this is highly unlikely (Stonehenge was more likely for Winter Solstice celebrations). Exactly what they may have done at this time of year is unknown, however by the time Christian missionaries got there, they noted various customs and celebrations, most notably bonfires.
With the rise of Christianity, the season became associated with John the Baptist, and celebrations turned from Pagan Gods to Christian saints, but some Summer Solstice customs are believed to have been handed down to us from Pagan times. Considering the Solstice is an astrological event, the seasonal celebrations were not easily forgotten and they were adapted. Old folk festivals usually involve fun and games, feats of strength and feasting. Summer country fairs and beach parties are modern remnants of these ancient traditions that we’ve inherited.
Romanian Midsummer Festival
Litha or Midsummer in Wicca
Originally in traditional Wicca, there were only four sabbats, what we now refer to as the “major sabbats.” These were February Eve (now most commonly called Imbolc), May Eve (Beltane), August Eve (Lughnasadh) and November Eve (Samhain). It was in the 1950s that Gardnarians adopted the solstices and the equinoxes into the Wheel of the Year model, and they are considered the “minor sabbats”.
In context of the Wheel of the Year mythology, Litha is when the Sun Lord is at his strongest point. He and the Goddess held their sacred union at Beltane in May, and now his seed grows in her womb. His strength lends power and energy to the earth and all its inhabitants, but in celebrating the height of his power we also recognize that it's the beginning of his decline.
Some traditions embrace the mythology of the Oak King and the Holly King, the brothers who meet twice per year at the solstices to battle over who will rule for that half of the year. The oak King has ruled since the Winter Solstice. At Midsummer, it is the Holly King who reigns victorious and he rules until the Winter Solstice.
Litha is the season of the year that we celebrate nature, leisure, and the sheer joy of being alive.
Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania
Great Summer Solstice Movie:
Celebrating Litha, the Summer Solstice
You don’t need much decoration for this particular holiday to get you in the mood— just go outdoors. Nature in all its glory and that’s enough to bring you into the spirit of the season. You might want to put out a bowl of fresh fruits or a bouquet of colorful blooms on the altar. We like to hang sun symbols around ours. We have a big yellow-orange altar cloth that reminds of the fiery sun and we use plenty of yellow, gold and red candles.
This is a great time to plan a daytime, outdoor celebration. Go to a big park or nature preserve, or hit the beach. Set out a picnic or fire up the barbecue. Spend some time on a nature walk or basking in the sun in your garden. If you can get away, go on a camping trip—spend the day hiking, fishing, swimming, playing games, and spend the evening around the campfire telling stories, dancing, drumming and singing songs.
The season is associated with the Elements Fire and Water. Customs are found around the world that involves the clash of these Elements at Midsummer celebrations, many of which we’re not quite sure where or when they originated. I’ve mentioned the Viking burning boats, other such customs include rolling burning hoops downhill into a lake and setting candles small boats afloat on the water. You might want to create your own version of some of these traditions. If little ones are along, let them burn sparklers, and have them plunge the spark into a bucket of water just before it sputters and goes out—this can be a fun little symbolic rite.
The fairy folk are supposed to be afoot, and I always like to do something for them. It’s a great time to build a fairy house with the kids and set it out for them in some private little spot in the garden. You might want to hunt for fairy stones circles in natural areas near your home (but be careful not to step into them! Lest the fairies steal you away!) or set out a basket of offerings for them at sunset— some ripe fruit, some shiny coins (use the pretty plastic gold ones at party stores) and they just might grant you a boon.
If you have to spend Litha indoors, celebrate by watching or reading a version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, or any movies about fairies and nature. Make yourself a lovely fruit salad and some sweet iced tea or lemonade. Say a prayer at your altar in praise of your Gods, and light a big pillar candle at sunset and let it be your spark of the sun to help you keep vigil on this magical night.
Don’t forget to plan a work of magic for this night—Because the Summer Solstice is the shortest night of the year and the longest day, it’s a widespread belief among NeoPagans and various magic-practicing folks that it’s one of the most powerful days of the year
Blessed Midsummer to you!
Tell Us About You:
Do you ever celebrate the Summer Solstice
Want More On Pagan Holidays?
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© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright