The March of Spring has come to an end and we are into the growing season. The gardens and the crops have been planted. We pay homage to the Sun King and ask him to shine benevolently upon us and bestow a bountiful harvest. Today, June 20th, marks the first day of summer. It is the longest day and the shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It is known as the ‘summer solstice’, and has not come this early in 112 years. The sun will now begin its retreat and journey back towards the equator. A solstice happens twice a year, and falls between the two yearly equinoxes- the point where the days and nights are of equal length. For the next few days, the sun will appear to be at a standstill, with daylight seeming no longer, nor shorter. This time is also known as ‘Midsummer‘, or ‘Litha’. The origin of the name Litha is not well known, but it may have come from ancient Saxon tradition. It is directly opposite of ‘Yule’, or winter solstice, which signifies the point where days start to become longer again. Litha is when the Sun God is at his greatest strength. His rays are so powerful that mortals dare not to look at him for fear of being blinded.
Litha is the celebration of the bounty of summer. The soft pastel hues of spring give way to the rich, vibrant colors of deep summer. It has been revered since ancient times. Although Litha, as well as Yule, are considered lesser sabbats on the Pagan Wheel of the Year, it is perhaps the most enthusiastically observed of all holidays.
Litha is traditionally sacred to the Sun King. At the time of his highest power comes the heat of summer, the growth of fruits and grains, and the promise of a good harvest. Sometimes depicted as the Horned God (Pan, Faunus, or Cernunnos ), he is sometimes thought to be of two distinctly different personalities: the Oak King and the Holly King, each ruling half of the year. At the summer solstice, the Holly King slays the Oak King and we begin our decent into darkness and winter, which ends in December when, once again, the Oak King is triumphant. The defeated twin is not truly dead, he merely withdraws for six months, some say to Caer Arianrhod , the ‘Castle of the ever-turning Silver Wheel’, which is also known as the ‘Wheel of the Stars’. This is the e realm of the Goddess Arianrhod where the god must wait and learn before being born again. Arianrhod means “silver wheel” and the castle is the Aurora Borealis. She is the goddess of the astral skies and there she rules as goddess of reincarnation.The two gods are thought to be vying for the attention of the Lady Goddess. Being weakened by the King of Darkness, the Light King, or Great Father, is nurtured by the Earth Mother, who is fertile and carrying the seed of the son/sun. She slowly blossoms, as does the earth. Flowers bloom and fruit ripens, as does the Goddess. We bask in the warmth of Her protection.
This time of year, between the planting and harvesting of the crops, was the traditional month for weddings. The summer solstice has been known as the wedding of heaven and earth. This is because many ancient peoples believed that the “grand [sexual] union” of the Goddess and God occurred in early May at Beltaine . Since it was unlucky to compete with the deities, many couples delayed their weddings until June. June remains a favorite month for marriage today. In some traditions, newlywed couples were fed dishes and fermented mead that contained honey for the first month of their married life to encourage love and fertility. The surviving vestige of this tradition lives on in the name given to the holiday immediately after the ceremony: The Honeymoon.” The only full moon in June is called the ‘Honey Moon‘. Tradition holds that this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives.
Here is a simplified recipe for what the wedding beverage may have tasted like:
Easy Honey Mead
Heat 1 part water with 1 part wildflower honey
until the mixture is smooth
and the honey’s completely incorporated.
Sprinkle some rose petals into the mixture and let it cool.
Strain the mixture (optional).
Mix 2 parts honey water with 1 part grain alcohol and serve chilled over ice.
(Alternatively, mix 1 part honey water with 1 part vodka).
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The night of the summer solstice is traditionally called ‘midsummer’s night’. It is said to be a mystical time when the forces of magic are increased and fairies roam our world. They come out to celebrate this day with all the creatures of the forest. The night was when when the veils are once more thin between the realms of the sprites and elves and the world of mortals. This is the night when many people have strange experiences and strange dreams. As was quoted from Shakespeare:
“Whatever is dreamed on this night, will come to pass”.
An elaborate feast is held with endless goblets of ale, festive music, and merriment. The Sun Festival was a noisy time, with singing, dancing, and drumming lasting the whole night through. Midsummer was thought to be a time of enchantment, when evil spirits were said to appear. To thwart them, Pagans often wore protective garlands of herbs and flowers. One of the most powerful of them was a plant called ‘chase-devil’, which is known today as St. John’s Wort and still used by modern herbalists as a mood stabilizer.With its vivid yellow flowers, St. John’s wort is a symbol of both its namesake and the brilliant solstice sun. Bonfires were representative of the sun, and a tradition on this night. In many cultures, the bonfires were attended by all the villagers. Each person who attended would contribute to its blaze. Besides adding light for the nighttime festivities, the fires where thought to ward off ill-meaning spirits. Groups gathered to light a sacred fire and stayed up all night to welcome the dawn.
In Europe, it was a festival of lovers as well as that of fire. Young unmarried couple would leap together through the flames.It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire’s power, “…maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished.“ In some traditions, lovers would throw flowers to each other across the fire. Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun’s energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest. Both flowers and fire were used to give omens for love and marriage. Roses were used in many festivals and divination rituals, for their fragrance was said to be as sweet as love. Herbs are said to be most potent now and are gathered for medicines and potions. Herbs tacked over the door keep evil spirits away. Herbs placed under the pillow promote pleasant dreams and good fortune. It is a time for divination and healing rituals. Divining rods and wands are traditionally cut at this time.
Litha is a time to celebrate the achievements of hard work and a time to play. It is about healing. It is about joy and comfort. On this longest day of the year, light and life are abundant. Creativity and optimism prevail.
“The Earth is speaking to you, every minute of every day! The answers you seek are in the wind, the
movement of the waves, in the activity in a bee hive or an ant hill, in the intelligence that moves the
stars and planets, in the storms and earthquakes, in the songs of birds, in the howl of a wolf, in the
grace of a deer, in the smile of your child/spouse/parent/friend, in the sensual embrace of your lover,
in the flowing water of a river, in the shape of a cloud, in the cosmic music of the shimmering particles
and waves that make up our universe! Go outside, be in nature and tune in to the teachings of
‘Dancing at Lughnasa’
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