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Litha - Summer Solstice Print E-mail
Mynie Geldenhuys   
Tuesday, 13 December 2005

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In addition to the four great festivals of the Pagan year, there are four lesser holidays: the two solstices, and the two equinoxes. In folklore, these are referred to as the four 'quarter-days' of the year. Litha, which is celebrated on the 21st December, is one of the 'low' holidays.

It is widely accepted that all Pagans live their lives by the seasonal changes that take place in their location; as such we do not celebrate as the Northern Hemisphere does, but as Nature teaches us. The Wheel of the Year for a Pagan follows the chart below, depending on whether you find yourself in the Southern or Northern Hemisphere. Always keep in mind that the festivals are based on the seasons and are agricultural in focus.

It is unknown exactly where the word 'Litha' comes from as ancients, as far as we can tell, simply referred to this time as 'Midsummer'. The name 'Litha' for the holiday is a modern usage, possibly based on a Saxon word that means the opposite of Yule. On this day, the noon of the year, light and life are abundant. This is the longest day of the year, and the shortest night.

Technically, a solstice is an astronomical point and, due to the procession of the equinox, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn in South Africa.

It must be remembered that the Celts reckoned their days from sundown to sundown, so the festivities actually begin on the previous sundown. This was Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Eve. Our modern calendars are quite misguided in suggesting that 'summer begins' on the solstice. The summer solstice marks mid-summer. This makes more logical sense as we look to nature.

For the Pagan, Witch and Wiccan, as the flowers of spring herald the festival of Beltane, so the flowers of the summer bring us into the full appreciation of Midsummer. We celebrate the mystery of life and give thanks for the abundance we can see all around us. It is a time of promise of the harvest to come - lambs are born but not ready for the slaughter, wheat is growing tall but has not yet matured. Much can turn a year of plenty into a year of privation even at this point in the cycle. There are nature spirits to be encouraged to take care of the growing things and there are offerings to be made to Gaia, the earth mother, to ensure an abundant harvest. Protection of the largess of the land is to be applied whenever possible. Though still in the throes of plenty, the year begins its waning journey to winter at this point.

Many customs are associated with this night's celebration. Shades of these old customs are still practiced today in England and in South Africa. Contrasted with Yule when we look inward in meditative silence, Midsummer sets us to a time when our focus is turned outward, joyfully experiencing the delights of the body and the world. We delight in the first fruits of the season and revel in the company of others, dancing with abandon in a blissful celebration of the season.

It is ancient custom to light large bonfires after sundown, which served the double purpose of providing light to the revelers and warding off bad influences. This is known as 'setting the watch'. People often jump through the fires for personal good luck. As this is a time when the Sidhe (faeries) are believed to come through the 'veil' and join man in joyful celebration. Pagans often dress as Fairies, Elves, Gnomes to confuse them into thinking we are Fey ourselves. Inevitably this brings out the child in people and fun and laughter mark this celebration as a very happy time for all.

Other customs surrounding Midsummer's Eve are many and varied. At the very least, most young folk plan to stay up throughout the whole of this shortest night of the year. Other customs include decking the house (especially over the front door) with birch, fennel, St. John's Wort, Orin, and white lilies.

Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: Rue, Roses, St. John's Wort, Vervain and Trefoil. Indeed, Midsummer's Eve in Spain is called the 'Night of the Verbena (Vervain)'. Young maidens, in the hopes of divining a future lover, especially honored St. John's Wort, although it was also said that if you step on a St. John's Wort blossom on Midsummer's Night at midnight, the Fey would take you away and leave a changeling in your place, so you must wear shoes! All revelers placed St. John's Wort in the breast pocket to ward of bane magick from 'sorcerers' and such as it was believed that this was a very powerful night for them.

Colours for Litha are Silver for the Mature Goddess and Gold for the Mature God. Often though, purple, silver and white are used to denote the Mysteries in witchcraft. Flowers are often blue and mauve and purple with soft pinks. Foods are fruits, fruitcakes, pies etc.

The two chief icons of the holiday are the spear (symbol of the Male Divine the sun in his glory) and the summer cauldron (symbol of the Female Divine the earth in her bounty). And one occasionally hears the alternative consecration formula, 'As the spear is to the male, so the cauldron is to the female...' With these mythic associations, it is no wonder that Midsummer is such a joyous and magickal occasion!

Altogether, Midsummer is a favourite holiday for many Pagans, Witches and Wiccans in that it is so hospitable to outdoor celebrations, the warm summer night seems to invite it.

Rev. Mynie Geldenhuys, Temple of Athena SA, www.pagan-home.net HPS and Elder, Hecate's Loom Coven SA National Secretary Pagan Federation of South Africa, www.pfsa.org.za

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