The Summer Solstice is known by many names. Midsummer, Midsummer Night, Midsummer Night’s Eve, Gathering Day, Sun Blessing, Gathering Day, Feill-Sheathain. In England, The Day of Cerridwen and Her Cauldron, in Ireland, dedicated to the faery goddess Aine of Knockaine; Day of the Green Man in Northern Europe. Day of Wisewomen.(1)
Occurring on or close to June 21, the Summer Solstice marks the time when the sun is at the highest point before beginning its slide into darkness. Traditionally, Mother Goddesses, the pregnant Goddess – symbol of the forthcoming harvests – and goddesses of love and beauty are honoured. Sun gods and sun goddesses are celebrated at this time, as well as Father Gods.
This latter is particularly significant this year since the summer solstice coincides with Father’s Day, at least in the UK and USA – other countries hold this celebration on other dates (2). Intended to complement Mother’s Day, it is a celebration of male parenthood. While there is some dispute over the origins of the day (3), certainly the day owes much to Sonora Smart Dodd’s campaign which culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing a presidential proclamation in 1966 declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day. (4)
The word Litha has some interesting etymology behind it: “Litha is a modern name for this holiday, possibly based on a Saxon word; Aerra Litha being Saxon for “before Litha”, or June and Aeftera Litha being Saxon for “after Litha”, Litha being the month of July. Its modern use was started by Wiccans but has been adopted by some other Pagan groups as well.” (5)
This is a bittersweet sabbat, since it marks a ‘going away’ of the light. On the other hand, some of the best weather of the year can be expected now – English weather peculiarities aside! Like Yule and the equinoxes, Litha is considered a ‘lesser’ sabbat, being primarily of astronomical significance.
This is considered by some to be the start of Summer, and if you count only two seasons, with Summer starting at this solstice and Winter at the other, then it certainly makes sense. In Wiccan and some other neo-pagan traditions the solstices are seen as the Holly and Oak king battling for supremacy (7), with the Holly King being victorious at the summer solstice and the Oak king winning at Yule.
This day is also known as Midsummer, because if, as many pagans, do, you see summer as officially beginning at Beltane (May 1) and ending on Lughnassahd/Lammas (August 1) this day falls in between the two (6)
This is a time of great power, prime for fertility rites, inspiration and other growth rituals, as well as healing and purification, divination and re-dedicating yourself to your chosen path. It is a good time for handfastings and weddings or for clearing away burdens and establishing a stable base.
Litha celebrations might involve Morris dancing, singing, storytelling, pageantry and feasting, and a bonfire which could provide luck to those brave enough to jump over the flames. Other rituals/celebratory activities include visiting a holy well, burning a cleansing bonfire, recharging your magical tools, leaving out milk/honey for the Fair Folk, and going early berry picking.
Correspondences: Foods and drinks especially suitable for celebrations include lemons, oranges, peppers, strawberries, summer squashes, tomatoes, corn, honey, honey cakes, melted cheese dishes, fresh vegetables, summer fruits, summer squash, pumpernickel bread, ale, mead, fruit juice, carrot juice, red wine, lemon tea.
Trees, Flowers and Herbs: birch, white lilies, roses, St John’s Wort and mugwort, mistletoe, apple, cedar, elder, fir, hawthorn, holly, ivy, lemon, oak, pine, peach, rowan, daisy, iris, honeysuckle, lavender, marigolds, saffron, sunflowers.
Gather vervain and basil to to be used during the winter months.
Traditional colours of Litha: gold, yellow, red, blue, green, orange, white, tan.
The sun; sun wheel, sun dials, seashells; blades; daisy chains; stone circles, feathers, fire, candles, wands, yellow and green gemstones, especially emerald and jade amber, tiger’s eye, frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, chamomile, bee, butterfly, caterpillars, sea creatures, wren, robin, horses and cattle, faeries, dragons, blades, percussion instruments.
The Southern Hemisphere
On the Wheel of the Year Litha lies directly across from Yule, the shortest day of the calendar year, when days begin to lengthen. Yule is probably my favourite holiday for this reason among others. Happy Yule to all those in the Southern Hemisphere.
Sources and further reading:
1 Moon Magick: Myth & Magick, Crafts & Recipes, Rituals & Spells, D. J. Conway, 1995
2 Father’s Day Dates: http://tinyurl.com/qceczue
3 Father’s Day Celebration – History http://www.fathersdaycelebration.com/fathers-day-history.html
4 Father’s Day History http://www.infoplease.com/spot/fathersdayhist.html
5 Litha Information Sheet http://walkingthehedge.net/hedge/litha-info-sheet/
6 The Summer Solstice http://pa-gan-news.tumblr.com/post/24913874638/the-summer-solstice-midsummer-litha
7 The Legned of the Holly King and the Oak King http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/yulethelongestnight/p/Holly_KIng_Yule.htm
All about Litha
The Summer Yule