Litha: Celebrating the Wiccan Summer Solstice

by JoHarrington

The height of summer - the longest day - is a time of great celebration, but it also means that the dark days are coming again.

The long, lazy days of summer drift on. We're out and about, enjoying nature at the height of its energy.

Our fields are full of crops. Our skies are blue. Our forests are green and teeming with wildlife. If the sun gets a little too hot, then we rest in the shade and enjoy a lovely, cool drink.

Nothing can go wrong here. It's holiday time. But those mindful of such things are looking to the horizon. There's danger coming; so let's take the powerful energy of now and ward that peril right away.

What is the Wiccan Midsummer?

An introduction to one of the Eight Sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.

As a solar directed festival, the date of Midsummer changes each year. It generally falls between June 20th and 24th, in the Northern Hemisphere.

In 2013, the Summer Solstice will occur on June 21st at 5.04 UTC.  It will be the longest day in the entire year.

From now on, the days will become gradually eroded by the night. Minutes of daylight taken each day until we reach the other end of the scale in December.  Yule, or Midwinter, is the polar opposite in the solar calendar. It experiences the shortest day in the year.

Summer Solstice is therefore the very height of summer. Exposed to the most sunlight, this is when all of nature appears at its fullest bloom. All of the trees are in leaf; hedgerows are bountiful; crops are growing beautifully in the fields.

This sounds like a good time for a party to me!  But there's that lurking darkness beyond.

Winter is on the horizon, even as we celebrate the heat of summer.  It's only downhill from now, from the light back into the darkness.  Therefore Midsummer will always also be a time of blessing and protection, in order to survive the months ahead.

Do you celebrate the Summer Solstice?

Summer Solstice Festivals Around the World

Wikipedia has a list of the solstice celebrations, which take place around the time of Midsummer.
Midsummer day simply refers to the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, but more often refers to specific European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice, or that take place on a day between June 21 and June 24, and...

Summer Solstice at Avebury 2010

Enjoy the Litha scenes in one of Britain's most ancient locations for Pagan worship.

Books about Midsummer

Delve into these pages all about the Summer Solstice. Learn the traditions and revel in the sunlight!

Midsummer as a Time of Great Protection

In many, many ways, the festival at Summer Solstice was insurance, as people looked to the darkening future.

Until the 16th century, Summer Solstice meant just one thing in Britain and most of Europe - fires!  It was a tradition which could be traced back with confidence over eight and a half centuries.  More tentatively, there's an argument that these fires had been lit every Midsummer for fifteen hundred years.

Unfortunately, they had picked up some Catholic influences over the 13th-16th centuries, which was the excuse that the Protestants of the Reformation used to stamp them out.

However, the Midsummer Fires died out slowly.  As late as the early 20th century some isolated rural areas still lit them.  Then Cornish nationalists picked up the tradition, reviving it as part of regaining their heritage. 

The baton got passed to the Pagans, who started to become more public with their Summer Solstice Fires in the second half of the 20th century.  In short, they were never really extinguished completely and they are enjoying a resurgence now. (For the full story, may I recommend Ronald Hutton's The Stations of the Sun.)

But what did the fires all mean?  In a superficial sense, they were an excuse for a great party. Around the bonfires and wake fires, feasts were shared and feuds were forgotten. It was a great show of communities pulling together and relaxing in a spirit of goodwill.

In a deeper sense, it was all about protection and blessing. Basking in the sun - in all that heat and daylight - people were healthier than they may have been in the cold of winter. Food was more plentiful. This was as strong as they would be all year (a situation which has been altered for modern Western communities, with the advent of electric light, heaters and 24 hour supermarkets).

But humanity isn't the only species to benefit from nature's bounty in this way.  Insects were also amassing and they can carry disease. Also the crops were about to become more vulnerable, as worsening weather had the potential to destroy them on the eve of harvest.

What people needed from Midsummer onwards was a great deal of luck and divine intervention. The fires undoubtedly honored the sun above, at the zenith of its strength. 

As torches were carried around fields, burning branches wafted over and under cattle, and individuals leapt over the wake fires, it was all with the same purpose in mind. They were seeking some of the sun's protection and blessing for the dark times ahead.

Even the feeling of goodwill could play into this.  If you have made a friend of your avowed enemy at the Midsummer fires, then you won't have to watch your back with them in winter. If you've been generous with your neighbors during the party, then your kindness may be repaid when the earth freezes or illness plagues your family.

Summer Solstice Pendant

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How Witches Celebrate Summer Solstice

Dancing, feasting, partying, goodwill to all and a vigil for the dawn on the shortest night.

Let's face it, it's a party to end all parties.

Wiccans are out there under the open skies dancing around fires and enjoying themselves. All of the medieval traditions are maintained here, in this most celebratory of Sabbats.

There is also a vigil to keep. Wiccans will stay up all night (not that it's a long time, given that this is the longest day, hence the shortest night), in order to cheer the dawn.

The emphasis is upon the God, for Wiccans at Midsummer.  It would be difficult not to be, considering that the sun is at its zenith and that most certainly is male energy.

The God here is at His most virile, dancing over a highly fertile land.  Everywhere the sun touches, there's a riotous growth of plants. Crops are strong in the fields.

However, that doesn't mean that the Goddess is ignored. She is very much in evidence, meeting the God in order to become impregnated with the hope for the future. She's the keeper of the flame.

But Her face flashes between the Mother and the Crone at Midsummer, as She also has to preside over a divine sacrifice.

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The Death of the Oak King

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown...

In Wicca, the Goddess never dies. She changes aspect between Maiden, Mother and Crone, but always as a single entity.

However, the God is sacrificed and reborn, over and over again.  Midsummer is one of those times when, at the height of His power, the God is slain. His seed is in the Mother's womb, but His divine spirit has to be destroyed.

This is the God as the Oak King, remembered as the 'ivy' in the carol The Holly and the Ivy.  His willing death blesses the Earth, but it's also necessary for the seasons.  As He dies, the death knoll is sounded for the leaves on the trees and the plants all around.

By autumn, they will shrivel and fall to the ground.  Their compost will feed the new growth next year.  More insurance for the future.

Meanwhile, the Mother has walked away pregnant with the son, or twin, of the Oak King. This is the Holly King, who will rule over the dark months, before being sacrificed in turn at Midwinter. He will leave the Goddess pregnant with the Oak King, paving the way for spring; and the cycle of the seasons goes on.

Robert Graves, in The White Goddess, pointed out that this legend was so difficult to budge from the minds of newly Christian communities that some insertions were necessary.  This is why the feast day of St John the Baptist falls during Summer Solstice.  In his sacrifice, he made way for Jesus Christ, who is celebrated at the Christ Mass (Christmas) at Midwinter.

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge Poster

Sunrise at Summer Solstice Celebrations, Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England, Uk

Litha and Me

Oh no! There's no Glastonbury this year!

Summer Solstice is strange for me this year. I usually spend it with friends in perhaps the biggest celebration of all - the Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts.

But Glastonbury isn't on this year. There isn't that great exhaling of an almighty breath, shoulders relaxing, sinking into the here and now.  No softening of the world into an ethereal, truly lovely gathering.

I tend to approach Litha with excitement, because of that festival. Without it, I'm finding myself focusing more on the Goddess's point of view. Looking past the day to the darker months beyond; not without a slight twisting of my stomach muscles.

Yet despite that, the energy prevails.  At Midwinter, I wanted to get out more.  I wanted to write. I wanted to earn my own money through those articles.  Two and a half out of three isn't bad. The latter is going in the right direction, even if it's not yet secured.

My optimism in writing has only grown.  I'm riding this crest as far as the surf will take me. The intermittent journeys out into the world, basking in the sunlight, gives me the boost to keep on going.

I'm enjoying it and, if the results aren't yet as high as can be sustainable, the bottom line is holding.  Even a week away from my computer screen hasn't led to a discernible dip in readership.

It's too early to analyze such things with any hope of a conclusion. Better yet to ride the Solstice energy and keep on going.  I will leap a Midsummer fire though, to keep the blessings true.

What I Actually Did for Midsummer

Glastonbury is the public epicenter of Paganism in Britain. I climbed its mystical Tor for the overnight Midsummer vigil.

More Articles About the Wiccan Wheel of the Year

Lughnasadh occurs exactly half a year after Imbolc. What happened to all of those seeds that you planted then?
Day and night are of equal length, and the harvest moon sees the last crops in. A new phase of repose begins, as the wind carries the winter chill.
Samhain is a time of Otherworldly incursions. It's between the end of the light and the beginning of the darkness; and it's been popularized as Halloween.
Yule is a time for family and friends, feasting, talking, relaxing and sharing. It is also an opportunity for self-reflection and repose.
Updated: 04/16/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 06/22/2012

You're very welcome. Ask away with any questions.

I'm currently in Glastonbury celebrating the Solstice. I've got a very bad cold from hanging around all night, in a storm, on the Tor. :)

BrendaReeves on 06/20/2012

Jo, I find this so interesting. I always wondered what Wicca was all about. Thank you for enlightening me.

JoHarrington on 06/15/2012

*shoves a cushion under your head* *then applies cyber-hugs* {{{hugs}}}}

Kari on 06/15/2012

Oh sorry that's what I meant. It's even the title of the article and mentioned at least ten times and I still mixed up the words for some reason. *headdesks*

JoHarrington on 06/15/2012

Glastonbury has a fallow year every five years or so. It gives the organisers and the land a break.

The equinox isn't the same as Midsummer. That's a Solstice. The equinoxes are in March and September. :)

Kari on 06/14/2012

Oh and why isn't Glastonbury on?

Kari on 06/14/2012

This is interesting. I wish I could celebrate like that. It sounds fun. I never knew that the equinox and midsummer were the same thing until now. The more you know I guess. :)

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