Friday, 17 May 2013

Litha, Summer Solstice; Wheel of the Year Customs and Traditions

Litha, or the summer solstice is arguably the most well known of all the Pagan festivals on the Wheel of the Year. At Stonehenge it is said that the Heel stone marks the midsummer sunrise as seen from the centre of the stone circle. We know therefore that the Summer Solstice was seen as a time of great significance to our ancestors. The word “solstice” is from the Latin word ‘solstitium’, which literally translates to “sun stands
Wheel of the Year Oshuna DeviantArt
Litha translates as ‘the opposite of Yule’ in Saxon tradition. Litha is the polar opposite of Yule on the Pagan Wheel of the Year, December 21st. While Yule represents the darkest day of the year, Litha represents the day with the most sunlight.

Other names for Litha include: Lithia, Alban Hefin(Gaelic for light of the shore), Sun Blessing, Gathering Day, Feill-Sheathain, Whit Sunday, Whitsuntide, Vestalia(Roman), The Feast of Epona(Ancient Gaulish) Thing-Tide, Sank Hans Aften(Denmak) and St. John's Day. Litha is a celebration of the longest day, a day in which the world is bathed in light and warmth and since time began people have given thanks to the sun. The summer solstice of Litha is one of the four 'quarter days' of the year, also termed 'Lesser Sabbats'. Litha is usually celebrated on June 21st but varies somewhat from the 20th to the 23rd depending upon the Earth's relation to the sun.

Like Beltane, Litha is also a celebration of fertility. The Goddess is heavy with pregnancy from the mating at Beltane. Godesses Ceridwen and Demeter were significantly
Denis Savoie Photography
worshipped at this time of the summer solstice, being both archetypal mother Goddesses.  
The Sun God is celebrated as the Sun is at its peak in the sky and we celebrate His approaching parenthood. This is the time that the God reaches his full maturity but he knows that after the festival he will begin to loose some of that strength.  Fires were traditionally lit on beacons and wheels thrown down the hillsides to seek to delay the moment when his power will start to wane.  Litha sees the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King rules the waxing half of the year from Yule to Midsummer; the Holly King rules the waning half; from Midsummer to Yule.  At this time of Litha  they duel and the Holly King will defeat the Oak King. The Celtic name for Oak is 'Duir' which means 'doorway', we are going through a doorway into the second half of the year, ruled by the Holly King. 

On midsummer’s eve people traditionally stayed up all night to watch the sunset and celebrate the longest day.  Candlelit processions took place on this day, this is the origin of our modern day carnival processions.  The Norse especially loved lengthy processions and would gather together their animals and families and parade with torches through the countryside to the celebration site.

Celebrations involving fire featured quite strongly at Midsummer.  Giant effigies of the
Corn Mother, the Green Man and dragons were carried through the town and later burnt on the Midsummer fires. People believed that the Litha fires possessed amazing power, and that prosperity and protection could be gained by jumping over the Litha bonfire. It was also common for courting couples to join hands and jump over the embers of the Litha fire three times to ensure a long and happy marriage. Some people believed that whispering a wish to a pebble and tossing it into the Litha fire helped to ensure the wish will come true. Blazing gorse or furze was often carried around cattle to prevent disease and misfortune.

Villages were alive with celebrations of this longest day often with Morris dancers, singing and storytelling. Once the Litha bonfires have died down the embers were commonly placed around the fields and orchards to protect the crops and to ensure an abundant harvest. Often people would take an ember from the Litha bonfire home with them for luck and protection of their home. Homes were often decorated with birch, fennel, St. John's Wort, and white lilies to bring luck and protection to the property. Mistletoe was also collected although not bearing berries as yet. Mistletoe was a very sacred and important plant to the Druids.

Midsummer is one of the times when the Fey folk emerge and therefore a perfect time to see them. Sometimes they play pranks on mortals, as made famous in Shakespeare’s pay ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Old tales also recount the tale of the “faerie rade” a procession of Sidhe and other fey folk riding magical steeds across the countryside. Many people believe that Litha is one of the times of the year when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. This makes Litha a prime day for engaging in contact with Faeries. Honouring the Fae folk by leaving offerings of milk, honey, and pastries is a long standing tradition among many people. Some traditions stated that Litha was also the best day to wait inside a Faerie Ring to see if a Faerie would come and bless you.

Many people made protective charms or amulets at midsummer from Rue, Rowan and Basil, tied together with gold or yellow ribbon.  These were held over the Litha fire to imbue them with the strengthening qualities of the fire’s flames.
Litha was and still is celebrated in different ways by different cultures all around the globe.  The Celts would light balefires all over their lands from sunset the night before Midsummer until sunset the next day. In Cornwall up until the mid 18th century the number and appearance of fires seen from any given point was used as a form of divination and used to read the future. In Ireland, this day is dedicated to the faerie goddess Aine of Knockaine. 

In parts of Northern Europe June 21st is "The Day of the Green Man. 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.

Roman culture honored the goddess Juno at Midsummer. Juno is the goddess of childbirth, women and marriage. The month of June is named in her honour, and to this day June is a popular month for weddings. Midsummer was also a sacred time to honor Vespa, the goddess of the hearth. The matriarchs of Roman families would enter her temple and leave offerings for eight days in hopes of bringing luck to ther family.

Litha is known as Sankt Hans Aften (St. John’s Eve) in Denmark and was an official holiday until 1770. Midwives and healers in this country would use this day to pick herbs and plants that would be used to heal others throughout the coming yea

This is a superb time for rising early and gazing at the early morning rays. Watching the sunrise and the sunset is a wonderful way to celebrate this longest day of the year. If you can keep a candle burning all day this is a lovely homage to the power of the sun. Celebrate solar energy by decorating with yellow, gold, orange, and red. The most important thing to do when celebrating Litha is to get outside and enjoy the wonderful sun.

Litha blessings to you, Alison xx

Both of these produce some wonderful work and I would really recommend you checking out some of their other work:
Sources: Fabulous Wheel of the Year the wonderful: http://oshuna.deviantart.com/
Amazing girl in cornfield photograph the very talented http://denissavoie.com/


  1. I enjoyed this post so much, I learn so much when I come here.

  2. thanks hun, hope you have a great weekend xx

  3. Such a beautiful post, with so much information! Thanks Alison ;o) Big Hugs ;o)