It is midyear. Winter is long past. Overhead the sun shines brightly and fills the land with its warmth. The crops have been planted and the growing season is in full swing. Harvest is still a ways off, yet it’s a joyous time of celebration. In other words the Summer Solstice has arrived. It is on this date that the day is longest. The sun reaches its highest point in the sky and declines thereafter. Soon the days will grow shorter until the Winter Solstice when the cycle reverses itself.
Today the Summer Solstice is the official first day of summer. In the Northern Hemisphere it falls in the middle of June and in the Southern, in December. Yet many people refer to the day as Midsummer. The terminology can be confusing. However one must consider that, across much of Europe, the middle of June is more or less the middle of the growing season1. Hence the term “Midsummer” refers to what is literally the middle of summer in that part of the world. Indeed in Sweden Midsummer is a national holiday, one as important as Christmas where it is celebrated with Maypoles, drinking, and dancing2. Given the climate such revelry is understandable.
Different cultures have had different names for what we now call the Summer Solstice. The word solstice itself is derived from two Latin words meaning “sun” and “stands still”. Thus the Summer Solstice is the day in the summer when the sun does not appear to move3. Other names include Vestalia (Rome), Gathering Day (Wales), Feill-Sheathain (Scotland), the Feast of St. John the Baptist and a great many others. However to many modern pagans, this day is known as Litha.
One must wonder where that word comes from. In the appendices to The Return of the King, Tolkien uses it to refer to Midsummer. However he does not appear to have simply made it up. The word Litha appears in an early Medieval treatise, of Anglo-Saxon origin, called The Reckoning of Time where it refers to the months of June and July with the former being “early Litha month” and the other being “later Litha month”4. With Midsummer being in between one can reasonably speculate that the holiday was known as Litha.
Nevertheless Midsummer has been celebrated many ways by many different cultures. One can go so far as to say that every culture has placed some emphasis on it in one way shape or form5. Though a very bold statement, it is not hard to see why that has probably been the case. With winter over, the fields and forests have returned to life. Some herbs could be harvested and the crops were in full growth. Yet even the most primitive people would have noticed the days getting shorter after Midsummer and the coming return of cold weather6.
So Midsummer is really a time of transition the significance of which was not lost on ancient peoples. For the Egyptians, the Summer Solstice marked the beginning of the New Year. Others saw this time of year as the birth of the sun. The Celts, for example, believed in two suns one for the light half of the year, one for the dark. The former reached its peak at Midsummer and declined thereafter. Today this dichotomy lives on in the saga of the Holly King and the Oak King7.
Litha is also a time when the veil between the worlds is thin. Midsummer sits opposite Yule on the wheel of the year and so is also a reflection of it. But whereas the dead are more powerful at the Winter Solstice, the faeries rule Midsummer being still powerful after Beltane8. One can really consider this time of year to be “faery season”. As with the harvest, our ancestors were well aware of Litha’s magickal significance. However many saw Midsummer as a dangerous time when the spirit world was close and evil would gather. This was thus the time to practice various acts of magick to protect oneself9.
Of course Midsummer is most strongly associated with the sun. Such an association makes perfect sense. With the sun about to decline now is the time to celebrate it. In times past this was done by lighting bonfires. Doing so was thought to help the sun in its journey through the sky10. However bonfires also held other significance. In some cultures it was traditional for young people to leap over them. The higher they did so, the bigger the crops would grow. And still others believed that jumping over fire would bring luck to young lovers11.
Which brings up another important aspect of Litha. Midsummer, in times both ancient and modern, has been associated with love and marriage. Partly that may be because this time of year is generally one of fertility and abundance12. One must also consider that, with the crops planted, but not yet ready to harvest, our ancestors may have had a bit more free time right around this time of year with which to plan weddings. But whatever the reason, June remains a favorite month for getting married to this day.
How then should Litha be celebrated? One can gather herbs. Many wild herbs are mature by this time and can thus be picked. Vervain and Lavender are two plants traditionally associated with Midsummer13. This is also a great time of the year to do magick, particularly for protection and empowerment. For example one can create protective amulets14. With the sun at the height of its power Litha is a natural time to harness that energy for the highest good.
When doing rituals, consider incorporating sun and fire symbolism as well as gods and goddesses typically linked with Midsummer. Some of the deities associated with this time of year include Aphrodite, Astarte, Freya, Helios, Ra, Zeus, and Prometheus. One can also perform spells of healing and love15. As with any ritual do what feels most comfortable, keeping in mind the highest good of yourself and those around you.
Regardless of the manner in which you choose to celebrate Litha, it is a time of light and joy. The sun blazes high in the sky and the weather is warm. While the wheel of the year turns yet again, winter is a long way off. There is still plenty of time left to enjoy the abundance of nature.
River Loneruner is an active member of Hecate's Cauldron's Inner Circle and a second year student of the Temple Tradition.
1 B.A. Robinson, “Summer Solstice Celebrations of Christianity, Judaism, Neopaganism, Etc,” May 28, 2000, http://www.religioustolerance.org/summer_solstice.htm.
2 “Midsummer | Sweden.se,” accessed May 11, 2014, http://sweden.se/traditions/midsummer/.
3 B.A. Robinson, “Summer Solstice Celebrations of Christianity, Judaism, Neopaganism, Etc.”
4 “Midsummer - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia,” accessed May 6, 2014, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midsummer.
5 Anna Franklin, Midsummer: History, Lore, and Celebration, 1st ed. (Leicester, UK: Lear Books, 2009).
6 B.A. Robinson, “Summer Solstice Celebrations of Christianity, Judaism, Neopaganism, Etc.”
7 Anna Franklin, Midsummer: History, Lore, and Celebration.
8 BellaDonna Saberhagen, “Midsummer,” Witchvox, June 17, 2012, http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=uspa&c=holidays&id=15103.
9 Anna Franklin, Midsummer: History, Lore, and Celebration.
11 B.A. Robinson, “Summer Solstice Celebrations of Christianity, Judaism, Neopaganism, Etc.”
12 Anna Franklin, Midsummer: History, Lore, and Celebration.
13 Edain McCoy, Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways, 1st ed. (Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 1994), 154.
14 Anna Franklin, Midsummer: History, Lore, and Celebration, 150.
15 Raven and Crone, “Litha, Summer Solstice Rituals, Activities and Lore,” Raven and Crone, accessed May 6, 2014, http://www.ravenandcrone.com/catalog/a8/Litha,-Summer-Solstice-Rituals,-Activities-and-Lore/article_info.html.