LITHA – Feast of the Faery
June 21st marks the Summer Solstice – the first day of Summer. The gardens are blooming, and summer is in full swing. Fire up the barbeque, turn on the sprinkler, and enjoy the celebrations of Midsummer! Also called Litha, this summer solstice Sabbat honors the longest day of the year. Take advantage of the extra hours of daylight and spend as much time as you can outdoors.
“Litha – One legend holds that, at twilight, on Litha Eve, the door to the middle kingdom opens and those who seek it may come and go freely. Another says that one must rub eyelids with fern seed at the stroke of midnight to see the Faerie. Others suggest making offerings of wild thyme to draw them out. Several magickal plants had to be collected on Litha Eve if they were to render full potency. These may have been vervain, St. Joan’s Wort, roses and trefoil. Some covens still make garlands of mugwart, vervain and St. Joan’s Wort to wear during midsummer rites. Also known as Summer Solstice and St. John’s Eve, the Longest day of the year and the shortest night.”
“The midsummer bonfires, lit with Oak, are said to be remnants of Druid rites to ward off evil spirits or sacraments to honor the Sun. Fennel and St. Joan’s Wort were hung on doors, no doubt to discourage the pranks of faery folk.” –Seasons of the Witch by Victoria David Danann
A Little Litha History
“It’s time to celebrate the Midsummer solstice! If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, that means that Litha is approaching you on June 21. It’s a time of long hours of daylight, the magical energy of the sun, and the triumph, however briefly, of light over darkness. For folks below the Equator, it’s the middle of winter, and it’s time to observe Yule, the shortest day of the year. The nights are long and dark, and yet Yule is a time to celebrate the sun as well, because it heralds the moment when the light returns to the earth. No matter how you choose to celebrate it, may you and your loved ones have a happy and blessed Solstice!”
What is Litha?
Litha is the summer solstice celebration for many modern Pagans and Wiccans, and it has a long and interesting history. Originally an agricultural marker, like so many of the Sabbats, Litha is a time that has been honored by many cultures and peoples.
Aerra Litha – The Saxon Pagans and Midsummer
When they arrived in the British Isles, the Saxon invaders brought with them the tradition of calling the month of June Aerra Litha. They marked Midsummer with huge bonfires that celebrated the power of the sun over darkness. For people in Scandinavian countries and in the farther reaches of the Northern hemisphere, Midsummer was very important. The nearly endless hours of light in June are a happy contrast to the constant darkness found six months later in the middle of winter. The period following the solstice was called Aefterra Litha, according to the Venerable Bede’s eighth century writings about the “heathen” Anglo-Saxons.
Prayers for Litha – Summer Solstice Prayers
Midsummer is the time when we celebrate the bounty of the earth and the power of the sun. Our fields are flourishing, fruits are blossoming on the trees, herb bushes are fragrant and full of life. The sun is at its highest point in the sky, and it has bathed the earth in its warmth, heating up the soil so that when autumn rolls around, we’ll have a rich and bountiful harvest. These prayers celebrate the different aspects of midsummer. Feel free to modify them to suit the needs of your tradition.
- A Garden Prayer celebrates the growth of the earth and the crops at Litha.
- A Prayer for the Beach honors the powers of tide, sand and the ocean itself.
- A Fourth of July Prayer is a call to unity and hope for people from all nations.
- Prayer to the Sun celebrates the power and energy of the sun on the longest day of the year.
An Ancient Solar Celebration
Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way, shape or form. On this date – usually around June 21 or 22 – the sun reaches its zenith in the sky. It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems to just hang there without moving – in fact, the word “solstice” is from the Latin word solstitium, which literally translates to “sun stands still.” The travels of the sun were marked and recorded. Stone circles such as Stonehenge were oriented to highlight the rising of the sun on the day of the summer solstice.
Traveling the Heavens
Although few primary sources are available detailing the practices of the ancient Celts, some information can be found in the chronicles kept by early Christian monks. Some of these writings, combined with surviving folklore, indicate that Midsummer was celebrated with hilltop bonfires and that it was a time to honor the space between earth and the heavens.
Fire and Water
In addition to the polarity between land and sky, Litha is a time to find a balance between fire and water. According to Ceisiwr Serith, in his book The Pagan Family, European traditions celebrated this time of year by setting large wheels on fire and then rolling them down a hill into a body of water. He suggests that this may be because this is when the sun is at its strongest yet also the day at which it begins to weaken. Another possibility is that the water mitigates the heat of the sun, and subordinating the sun wheel to water may prevent drought.
English Saxon Traditions
When they arrived in the British Isles, the Saxon invaders brought with them the tradition of calling the month of June Aerra Litha. They marked Midsummer with huge bonfires that celebrated the power of the sun over darkness. For people in Scandinavian countries and in the farther reaches of the Northern hemisphere, Midsummer was very important. The nearly endless hours of light in June are a happy contrast to the constant darkness found six months later in the middle of winter.
The Romans, who had a festival for anything and everything, celebrated this time as sacred to Juno, the wife of Jupiter and goddess of women and childbirth. She is also called Juno Luna and blesses women with the privilege of menstruation. The month of June was named for her, and because Juno was the patroness of marriage, her month remains an ever-popular time for weddings. This time of year was also sacred to Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The matrons of Rome entered her temple on Midsummer and made offerings of salted meal for eight days, in hopes that she would confer her blessings upon their homes.
Midsummer for Modern Pagans
Litha has often been a source of contention among modern Pagan and Wiccan groups, because there’s always been a question about whether or not Midsummer was truly celebrated by the ancients. While there’s scholarly evidence to indicate that it was indeed observed, there were suggestions made by Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, that the solar festivals (the solstices and equinoxes) were actually added later and imported from the Middle East. Regardless of the origins, many modern Wiccans and Pagans do choose to celebrate Litha every year in June.
In some traditions, Litha is a time at which there is a battle between light and dark. The Oak King is seen as the ruler of the year between winter solstice and summer solstice, and the Holly King from summer to winter. At each solstice they battle for power, and while the Oak King may be in charge of things at the beginning of June, by the end of Midsummer he is defeated by the Holly King.
This is a time of year of brightness and warmth. Crops are growing in their fields with the heat of the sun, but may require water to keep them alive. The power of the sun at Midsummer is at its most potent, and the earth is fertile with the bounty of growing life.
For contemporary Wiccans and Pagans, this is a day of inner power and brightness. Find yourself a quiet spot and meditate on the darkness and the light both in the world and in your personal life. Celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year with fire and water, night and day, and other symbols of the triumph of light over darkness.
Litha is a great time to celebrate outdoors if you have children. Take them swimming or just turn on the sprinkler to run through, and then have a bonfire or barbeque at the end of the day. Let them stay up late to say goodnight to the sun, and celebrate nightfall with sparklers, storytelling, and music. This is also an ideal Sabbat to do some love magic or celebrate a handfasting, since June is the month of marriages and family.
Litha Legends and Lore, Myths and Mysteries
Litha, or Midsummer, is a celebration that has been observed for centuries, in one form or another. It is no surprise, then, that there are plenty of myths and legends associated with this time of year!
In England, rural villagers built a big bonfire on Midsummer’s Eve. This was called “setting the watch,” and it was known that the fire would keep evil spirits out of the town. Some farmers would light a fire on their land, and people would wander about, holding torches and lanterns, from one bonfire to another. If you jumped over a bonfire — presumably without lighting your pants on fire — you were guaranteed to have good luck for the coming year.
After your Litha fire has burned out and the ashes gone cold, use them to make a protective amulet. You can do this by carrying them in a small pouch, or kneading them into some soft clay and forming a talisman. In some traditions of Wicca, it is believed that the Midsummer ashes will protect you from misfortune. You can also sow the ashes from your bonfire into your garden, and your crops will be bountiful for the rest of the summer growing season.
It is believed in parts of England that if you stay up all night on Midsummer’s Eve, sitting in the middle of a stone circle, you will see the Fae. But be careful – carry a bit of rue in your pocket to keep them from harassing you, or turn your jacket inside out to confuse them. If you have to escape the Fae, follow a ley line, and it will lead you to safety.
Residents of some areas of Ireland say that if you have something you wish to happen, you “give it to the pebble.” Carry a stone in your hand as you circle the Litha bonfire, and whisper your request to the stone — “heal my mother” or “help me be more courageous”, for example. After your third turn around the fire, toss the stone into the flames.
Astrologically, the sun is entering Cancer, which is a water sign. Midsummer is not only a time of fire magic, but of water as well. Now is a good time to work magic involving sacred streams and holy wells. If you visit one, be sure to go just before sunrise on Litha, and approach the water from the east, with the rising sun. Circle the well or spring three times, walking deosil, and then make an offering of silver coins or pins.
Sunwheels were used to celebrate Midsummer in some early Pagan cultures. A wheel — or sometimes a really big ball of straw — was lit on fire and rolled down a hill into a river. The burned remnants were taken to the local temple and put on display. In Wales, it was believed that if the fire went out before the wheel hit the water, a good crop was guaranteed for the season.
In Egypt, the Midsummer season was associated with the flooding of the Nile River delta. In South America, paper boats are filled with flowers, and then set on fire. They are then sailed down the river, carrying prayers to the gods. In some traditions of modern Paganism, you can get rid of problems by writing them on a piece of paper and dropping them into a moving body of water on Litha.
William Shakespeare associated Midsummer with witchcraft in at least three of his plays. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and The Tempest all contain references to magic on the night of the summer solstice.
Litha Rites & Rituals
Litha is a great time to celebrate the sun, and tap into that powerful solar energy. Plan your rituals ahead of time, whether they’re for a group or a solitary. You can use one or more of these, and take time to honor the sun at Midsummer.
Litha Craft Projects
Take advantage of the gifts of nature, and create some fun projects to use around your home or on your altar. The sun is at its fullest strength at Litha, so get out there and use it to your creative advantage!
- Midsummer Fire Incense
- Create an Elemental Garden
- Make a Set of Ogham Staves
- The Magic Staff
- Stone Circle Sundial
- Lavender Dream Pillow
- Litha Blessing Besom
Deities of Litha, Gods and Goddesses
The summer solstice has long been a time when cultures celebrated the lengthening year. It is on this day, sometimes called Litha, that there is more daylight than any other time; a direct counterpoint to the darkness of Yule. No matter where you live, or what you call it, chances are you can connect to a culture that honored a sun deity around this time of year. Here are just a few of the gods and goddesses from around the world that are connected with the summer solstice.
Amaterasu (Shinto): This solar goddess is the sister of the moon deity and the storm god of Japan, and is known as the goddess “from which all light comes”. She is much loved by her worshippers, and treats them with warmth and compassion. Every year in July, she is celebrated in the streets of Japan.
Aten (Egypt): This god was at one point an aspect of Ra, but rather than being depicted as an anthropomorphic being (like most of the other ancient Egyptian gods), Aten was represented by the disc of the sun, with rays of light emanating outward.
Apollo (Greek): The son of Zeus by Leto, Apollo was a multi-faceted god. In addition to being the god of the sun, he also presided over music, medicine and healing. He was at one point identified with Helios. As worship of him spread throughout the Roman empire into the British Isles, he took on many of the aspects of the Celtic deities, and was seen as a god of the sun and of healing.
Hestia (Greek): This goddess watched over domesticity and the family. She was given the first offering at any sacrifice made in the home. On a public level, the local town hall served as a shrine for her — any time a new settlement was formed, a flame from the public hearth was taken to the new village from the old one.
Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with another sun god, Ra.
Huitzilopochtli (Aztec): This warrior god of the ancient Aztecs was a sun god and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He battled with Nanahuatzin, an earlier solar god. Huitzilopochtli fought against darkness, and required his worshippers to make regular sacrifices to ensure the sun’s survival over the next fifty-two years, which is a significant number in Mesoamerican myths.
Juno (Roman): She is also called Juno Luna and blesses women with the privilege of menstruation. The month of June was named for her, and because Juno was the patroness of marriage, her month remains an ever-popular time for weddings and handfasting.
Lugh (Celtic): Similar to the Roman god Mercury, Lugh was known as a god of both skill and the distribution of talent. He is sometimes associated with midsummer because of his role as a harvest god, and during the summer solstice the crops are flourishing, waiting to be plucked from the ground at Lughnasadh.
Sulis Minerva (Celtic, Roman): When the Romans occupied the British Isles, they took the aspects of the Celtic sun goddess, Sulis, and blended her with their own goddess of wisdom, Minerva. The resulting combination was Sulis Minerva, who watched over the hot springs and sacred waters in the town of Bath.
Sunna or Sol (Germanic): Little is known about this Norse goddess of the sun, but she appears in the poetic eddas as the sister of the moon god.
At Litha, the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Many ancient cultures marked this date as significant, and the concept of sun worship is one nearly as old as mankind itself. In societies that were primarily agricultural, and depended on the sun for life and sustenance, it is no surprise that the sun became deified. While many people today might take the day to BBQ, go to the beach, or work on their tans, for our ancestors the summer solstice was a time of great spiritual importance.
The Egyptian peoples honored Ra, the sun god. For people in ancient Egypt, the sun was a source of life. It was power and energy, light and warmth. It was what made the crops grow each season, so it is no surprise that the cult of Ra had immense power and was widespread. Ra was the ruler of the heavens. He was the god of the sun, the bringer of light, and patron to the pharaohs. According to legend, the sun travels the skies as Ra drives his chariot through the heavens. Although he originally was associated only with the midday sun, as time went by, Ra became connected to the sun’s presence all day long.
The Greeks honored Helios, who was similar to Ra in his many aspects. Homer describes Helios as “giving light both to gods and men.” The cult of Helios celebrated each year with an impressive ritual that involved a giant chariot pulled by horses off the end of a cliff and into the sea.
In Native American cultures, such as the Iroquois and Plains peoples, the sun was recognized as a life-giving force. Many Plains tribes still perform a Sun Dance each year, which is seen as a renewal of the bond man has with life, earth, and the growing season. In MesoAmerican cultures, the sun was associated with kingship, and many rulers claimed divine rights by way of their direct descendance from the sun.
As part of the cult of Mithra, early Persian societies celebrated the rising of the sun each day. The legend of Mithra may well have given birth to the Christian resurrection story. Honoring the sun was an integral part of ritual and ceremony in Mithraism, at least as far as scholars have been able to determine. One of the highest ranks one could achieve in a Mithraic temple was that of heliodromus, or sun-carrier.
Sun worship has also been found in Babylonian texts and in a number of Asian religious cults. Today, many Wiccans and Pagans honor the sun at Midsummer, and it continues to shine its fiery energy upon us, bringing light and warmth to the earth.
What Was The Vestia?
The Roman celebration of Vestalia was held each year in June, near the time of Litha, the summer solstice. This festival honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity. She was sacred to women, and alongside June was considered a protector of marriage.
The Vestalia was celebrated from June 7 to June 15, and was a time in which the inner sanctum of the Vestal Temple was opened for all women to visit and make offerings to the goddess. The Vestales, or Vestal Virgins, guarded a sacred flame at the temple, and swore thirty-year vows of chastity. One of the best known Vestales was Rhea Silvia, who broke her vows and conceived twins Romulus and Remus with the god Mars. It was considered a great honor to be chosen as one of the Vestales, and was a privilege reserved for young girls of patrician birth.
The worship of Vesta in celebration was a complex one. Unlike many Roman deities, she was not typically portrayed in statuary – instead, the flame of the hearth represented her at the family altar. Likewise, in a town or village, the perpetual flame stood in the stead of the goddess herself.
For the celebration of Vestalia, the Vestales made a sacred cake, using water carried in consecrated jugs from a holy spring. The water was never permitted to come into contact with the earth between the spring and the cake, which also included sacred salt and ritually prepared brine as ingredients. The hard-baked cakes were then cut into slices and offered to Vesta. During the eight days of the Vestalia, only women were permitted to enter Vesta’s temple for worship. When they arrived, they removed their shoes and made offerings to the goddess. At the end of Vestalia, the Vestales cleaned the temple from top to bottom, sweeping the floors of dust and debris, and carrying it away for disposal in the Tiber river. Ovid tells us that the last day of Vestalia — the Ides of June — became a holiday for people who worked with grain, such as millers and bakers. They took the day off and hung flower garlands and small loaves of bread from their millstones and shop stalls.
Today, if you’d like to honor Vesta during the time of the Vestalia, bake a cake as an offering, decorate your home with flowers, and do a ritual cleansing the week before Litha. You can do a ritual cleansing with a Litha blessing besom.
Vesta, Guardian of Virginity
Like nearly all Roman deities, Vesta had her own holiday as well. The Vestalia was celebrated from June 7 to June 15, and was a time in which the inner sanctum of the Vestal Temple was opened for all women to visit and make offerings to the goddess. The Vestales, or Vestal Virgins, guarded a sacred flame at the temple, and swore thirty-year vows of chastity. One of the best known Vestales was Rhea Silvia, who broke her vows and conceived twins Romulus and Remus with the god Mars.
Excerpts taken from Patti Wigington About.com Guide