Litha: The Summer Solstice
Today, 21st June is midsummer’s day or the Summer Solstice, one of the eight sabbats in the Pagan calendar. It is the longest day, and the shortest night. After this day the wheel slower turns, and light gradually gives over to dark. In the time of rural communities, and living off the land, the seasons were of vital importance. Communities lived in accordance with the rotation of the seasons, a time to sow, a time to reap the harvest. The seasons of fertility were balanced by the wintry periods when the land slept and became barren.
Solstice comes from the Latin word solstitum. Its literal meaning is ‘sun stands still.’ As the longest day of the year this is an extreme event in the sun’s calenear, where the sun hangs in the sky for the longest period of the year.
Litha celebrates the day when the Pagan Sun God is at his zenith, the highest point of his virility. The fertility and abundance of the earth’s bounty heralds a time of rejoicing and celebration. Yet it is also the pivotal moment when the sun’s power, having reached its highest point, has nowhere else to go, except in decline. Following this day, the sun’s power will slowly begin to diminish and darkness will start to descend. So it is a turn of the wheel from fullest light to a gradual return to dark that is celebrated.
In the past, when it still meant something important, bonfires of oak wood were lit on top of hills. The positioning on high represented the space between the earth and the heavens. Alternatively the fires, representing, and honouring, the sun, could be lit close to holy wells or sacred sites. People would often jump over or run through the fire for good luck. There would be dancing round the oak fire, throwing aromatic herbs into the flames. Other early traditions included setting fire to large wheels and rolling them down a hill into a large body of water.
According to Pagan lore it is the Oak King who rules over the waxing of the year, that is from the Winter Solstice (Yule) to Litha. His light and warmth stands for strength, courage and endurance. The Celtic name for oak is ‘Duir’ which means ‘doorway.’ In this sense, the Oak King represents crossing the threshold into the second part of the year, and the waning of…