The Summer Solstice, Midsummer & Litha
The Summer Solstice
Solstice” is derived from two Latin words: “sol” meaning sun, and “sistere,” to cause to stand still. This is because, as the summer solstice approaches, the noonday sun rises higher and higher in the sky on each successive day. On the day of the solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount, compared to the day before. In this sense, it “stands still.” (In the southern hemisphere, the summer solstice is celebrated in December, also when the night time is at a minimum and the daytime is at a maximum.)
Why does the summer solstice happen?
On this day, typically June 21, the daytime hours are at a maximum in the Northern hemisphere, and night time is at a minimum. It is officially the first day of summer.
The seasons of the year are caused by the 23.5° tilt of the earth’s axis. Because the earth is rotating like a top or gyroscope, the North Pole points in a fixed direction continuously — towards a point in space near the North Star. But the earth is also revolving around the sun. During half of the year, the southern hemisphere is more exposed to the sun than is the northern hemisphere. During the rest of the year, the reverse is true.
At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears high in the sky during summertime, and low during winter. The time of the year when the sun reaches its maximum elevation occurs on the summer solstice — the day with the greatest number of daylight hours. It typically occurs on, or within a day or two of, June 21, the first day of summer. The lowest elevation occurs about Dec 21 and is the winter solstice — the first day of winter, when the night time hours reach their maximum.
The exact dates vary among different cultures, but is primarily held close to the summer solstice. The celebration predates Christianity, and has existed under different names and traditions around the world. Midsummer is traditionally celebrated on either the 23rd or 24th of June.
Although Midsummer Day occurs around the time of the summer solstice, or what we think of as the beginning of summer, to the farmer it is the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvesting, and an occasion for celebration.
According to the old folklore calendar, Summer begins on Beltane (May 1st) and ends on Lughnassadh (August 1st), with the Summer Solstice midway between the two, marking MID-Summer. This makes more logical sense than suggesting that Summer begins on the day when the Sun’s power begins to wane and the days grow shorter.
St John's Day
After Christianity became adopted in Britain, the festival became known as St John’s day and was still celebrated as an important day in the church calendar; the birthday of St John the Baptist. Traditionally St John’s Eve (like the eve of many festivals) was seen as a time when the veil between this world and the next was thin, and when powerful forces were abroad. Vigils were often held during the night and it was said that if you spent a night at a sacred site during Midsummer Eve, you would gain the powers of a bard, on the down side you could also end up utterly mad, dead, or be spirited away by the fairies.
Indeed St Johns Eve was a time when fairies were thought to be abroad and at their most powerful (hence Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream).
St John’s Wort was also traditionally gathered on this day, thought to be imbued with the power of the sun. Other special flowers (vervain, trefoil, rue and roses) were also thought to be most potent at this time, and were traditionally placed under a pillow in the hope of important dreams, especially dreams about future lovers.
Litha (pronounced “LITH-ah”) is one of the Lesser Wiccan Sabbats and is usually celebrated around the time of the summer solstice. In olden times, the Saxons used the name Ærra Liða - translating as Before Litha - for the lunar month that takes place around June, and the name Æfterra Liða (After Litha) for the equivalent of our July.
The saint and historian Bede wrote that Litha means 'gentle' or 'navigable' because the sea breezes were calm and made sailing easier
Some pagans still celebrate the ancient festivals around 11 days later than our calendar; this marks the 11 days, which were lost when the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar in 1751.
Activities for the Summer Solstice:
Rise early on the summer solstice and greet the sun as it begins to brighten the sky.
Create protective amulets out of rue, rowan and basil. Place these herbs in a clean white or gold cloth, and tie the cloth securely.
Make a protective charm for your home or business. Tie a few cinnamon sticks together and position them over the door of your home or office.
Consume foods that honour the power of the sun. Include foods that are yellow and orange. Lemons are particularly good for this purpose and can be consumed in desserts as well as in tea or lemonade.
Leave some food out for the fairy folk that are active at midsummer. Good choices include milk, wine, honey, water and fresh bread.
Although it’s also the feast day of St. John the Baptist, it features pagan traditions such as bonfires, fire walking, and a carnival atmosphere, all of which took place on Midsummer Eve. Certainly, it’s a night of magic and soothsaying as well, for as Washington Irving said, this is a time “when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad.” After Midsummer Day, the days shorten.
In Sweden and Norway at the Solstice, people made wheels of fortune. Some of the wheels were wrapped in straw, set on fire, and rolled down hill. Other wheels were decorated and kept. These were used in two ways: One, the wheel was rolled away from a person to take away misfortunes; two, it was rolled toward a person to bring all kinds of good fortune.
Variations on the Midsummer celebrations:
People around the world have observed spiritual and religious seasonal days of celebration during the month of June. Most have been religious holy days which are linked in some way to the summer solstice.
Scottish Pecti-Witans celebrate Feill-Sheathain on July 5th.
In the Italian tradition of Aridian Strega, this Sabbat (Strega Witches call them Treguendas rather than Sabbats) is known as Summer Fest – La Festa dell’Estate.
Scandinavians celebrate this holiday at a later date and call it Thing-Tide.
In England, June 21st is “The Day of Cerridwen and Her Cauldron”.
In Ireland, this day is dedicated to the faery goddess Aine of Knockaine.
June 21st is “The Day of the Green Man” in Northern Europe.
In Lithuanian tradition, the dew on Midsummer Day was said to make young girls beautiful and old people look younger. It was also thought that walking barefoot in the dew would keep one’s skin from getting chapped.
It was customary to honour all men named John on this day by fixing wreaths of oak leaves around their doors. This is usually done in secret, and John must guess who did it or catch the person in the act, in which case he must give the person a treat.
Midsummer Celebrations in Ancient Times:
The solstice itself has remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since Neolithic times. The concentration of the observance is not on the day as we reckon it, commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the pre-Christian beginning of the day, which falls on the previous eve. Other names for this time in the Wheel of the Year include:
Alban Heruin (Caledonii or the Druids)
Alban Hefin (Anglo-Saxon Tradition)
Sun Blessing, Gathering Day (Welsh)
Whit Sunday, Whitsuntide (Old English)
Vestalia (Ancient Roman)
Feast of Epona (Ancient Gaulish)
All-Couple’s Day (Greek)
Ancient Celts: Druids, the priestly/professional/diplomatic corps in Celtic countries, celebrated Alban Heruin (“Light of the Shore”). It was midway between the spring Equinox (Alban Eiler; “Light of the Earth”) and the fall Equinox (Alban Elfed; “Light of the Water”). “This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year…” The days following Alban Heruin form the waning part of the year because the days become shorter.
Ancient China: Their summer solstice ceremony celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.
Ancient Egypt: In Ancient Egypt, summer solstice was the most important day of the year. The sun was at its highest and the Nile River was beginning to rise. Special ceremonies were held to honor the Goddess Isis. Egyptians believed that Isis was mourning for her dead husband, Osiris, and that her tears made the Nile rise and well over. Accurately predicting the floods was of such vital importance that the appearance of Sirius, which occurs around the time of the summer solstice, was recognized as the beginning of the Egyptian New Year.
Ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.
Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. “It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing 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.” 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.
Ancient Rome: The festival of Vestalia lasted from June 7 to June 15. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.
Ancient Sweden: A Midsummer tree was set up and decorated in each town. The villagers danced around it. Women and girls would customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual, intended to bring rain for the crops.
Information collected from various sources
Information collected from various sources
A Summer Solstice Ritual
The Summer Solstice, or Midsummer, celebrates the longest day of the year. It falls between June 20 – 22. The Summer Solstice ritual focuses on the god because summer is his time. Celebrate it outdoors if you can, or if indoors, during the day so the sun is a prominent part of your ritual.
Things You’ll Need:
Piece of cloth or cloth pouch
Piece of red string or yarn
Gold or yellow robe, shirt or dress
Yellow or gold candle
Prepare for the Summer Solstice ritual by gathering a piece of cloth or cloth pouch and midsummer herbs. Use any combination of sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, lavender, Saint John’s wort and vervain that appeals to you. Meditate on your pain, troubles, sorrows and illnesses. Tie up the cloth or pouch with a red string or yarn and save it for the ritual.
Think about the qualities of fire because the Summer Solstice ritual is a fire ritual. Contemplate what you need protection from (debt-collectors, a jealous friend, an abusive family member). Write down in what aspects of your life you need strength because the Summer Solstice ritual is a time to gather courage.
Collect flowers for your Summer Solstice ritual that are golden yellow, deep red, white, pink and purple. Whatever you wear, choose a gold or yellow colour to honour the sun. Use a gold or yellow candle to represent the god in ritual.
Cook dishes with midsummer herbs such as basil, sage, thyme and rosemary. Tomato soup or sauce, with its fiery red colour, is suitable for the season. Eat fresh fruit or fruit salad at the close of the ritual for a sweet end to summer.
Set up your altar with your summer flowers, golden candle, pouch of herbs and any other tools you wish to use and cast the circle. At the point most suitable to you during your Summer Solstice ritual, hold the pouch of herbs in both hands. Mentally pour all your troubles, sorrows and pain into it. At the end of the ritual, bury the pouch deep in the ground.
Summer Solstice bath salts, crystals, tea and aroma blends can be purchased from my shop.