Litha - The Summer Solstice

by Gordon Ireland

Litha is also known as the summer solstice, Midsummer, All Couples Day, and Saint John's Day. Litha is one of the fire festivals and occurs on the longest day of the year. This is the time of year when the sun reaches its highest apex, at the Tropic of Cancer. It is the day when light overcomes darkness, a day of power. Litha also is one of the "quarter days" or the Lesser Sabbats.

Litha, as a Pagan holiday, has the Sun/God reaching full power, and the Goddess pregnant with child. She holds promise of the bounty of the harvest yet to come. Litha's name, depending which author you read, has its roots in Greco-Roman, (McCoy, page 149) or according to Our Lady of the Prairie Coven, Litha means opposite of Yule. This may possibly have Saxon roots, though that is pure speculation. No others authors that were researched for this article offered any explanation as to the origins of Litha other than it is name for Midsummer.

Midsummer traditionally marks the beginning of summer (i.e. schools out). Actually midsummer marks the actual middle of the Celtic summer, falling between Beltane and Lugnasadh.

Midsummer is known also as a night of magic, made famous by William Shakespeare with his play Midsummer's Nights Dream. As a Quote from Puck can attest to:

Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand;
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover's fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!

(Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 2)

June in Europe and America is historically the busiest month for weddings, hence All Couples Day. This tradition begins because this time of the year was a time of rest for the Ancient Celts, the time between planting and harvesting. June allowed time for the wedding festivals and rest. This is best described in an English child's nursery rhyme.

"…marry in the month of May
most surely you will rue the day.
Marry in June when roses grow
And happiness you'll always know…"

Author Unknown (McCoy, 167)

Saint John's Day celebrates the birth of St. John exactly six months before the birth of Christ as he foretold of Christ's coming. The Celts, as was their way, easily adopted this day and incorporated into their summer solstice festivities just as they did with Beltane/May Day. A poem demonstrates how the Celts and other cultures were able to incorporate the various pagan meanings of Litha with a Christian one.

In praise of St. John--
May he give health to my heart.
St. John comes and St. John goes,
Mother, marry me off soon!

Author Unknown (Henes, page 61)

Litha's celebrations are as varied as the authors who write them are. The times that the ritual should take place are also varied. McCoy suggests that the ritual take place on the eve before June 21. (Pages 163-66) McCoy further states that during the ritual one should jump over or walk in between two purifying fires. (Pages 153-54) Author of Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles and Celebrations, Donna Henes, says that Midsummer is a sun festival and is best done during the daylight hours between sunrise and high noon. (Page 56)
Litha rituals as all ritual should be personal. Several of the authors give basic outlines some for covens, some for the solitary. Most of the authors used for this essay are Wiccan. This particular point of view uses a very pregnant Lady and a Lord at the height of his powers. This ritual, no matter what the tradition or the Gods/Goddesses involved should include either the sun or a fire, or both.

FOODS

Litha's foods vary, depending upon the author and tradition you adhere to. Cunningham suggests fruits, Buckland, cakes and ale, and Starhawk, bread and drink. However, given that this is a day to celebrate the sun, foods should be of yellow (gold), orange or reds.

Baked Tomatoes

Serves 6-8

3 whole fresh tomatoes
1, 12-oz bag of shredded cheddar cheese
Fresh parsley

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.
Slice the tomato 1/2-inch thick, place on tin foil.
Liberal spread cheddar cheese on the tomatoes.
Baked for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and sprinkle parsley over tomatoes.

Summer Squash

Serves 6-8

1 summer squash
1/4 cup of butter
Black pepper

Need one medium size sauce pan, set flame to medium.
Place butter in pan.
Slice squash approximately 1/8-inch thick, layer into pan, sprinkling pepper to taste on each layer.
Stirring occasionally, cook to taste.
Takes 20-30 minutes.

Mom McCoy's Lemon Pie

(Makes one nine inch pie)

1 unbaked pie shell
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon corn meal
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup real lemon juice
1/4 cup grated lemon peal

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Place unbaked pie shell in a deep-dish pie pan.
Mix the sugar, flour, cornstarch and cornmeal, then add eggs, milk, butter, lemon juice, and lemon peel.
Beat until smooth.
Pour mixture into the pie shell and bake for about 40 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Zucchini Casserole

(Serves 6-8)

5 zucchini
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground rosemary
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup fresh mushrooms
1 small chopped tomato
1/2-cup bacon bits
2 cups prepared croutons
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
Place the mixture in a lightly greased 9 X 13 baking pan and bake for 30 minutes.

THE RITUAL

The following is a mixture from the following authors, Shakespeare, Buckland, RavenWolf, Starhawk, Cunningham and McCoy.

Altar should reflect the colors the colors of midsummer and face the east. Bonfire should either be in the middle of circle or to the west.

Time: Sunrise

All enter from the west to face the rising sun. Those playing the parts of the God and Goddess take their position on the east most side of the circle. The Leader takes his/her place in the middle the rest form a half circle, from west to south to north, facing towards the east.

Leader should cast the circle. After Circle is cast leader begins.

LEADER: God of the Sun, we have gathered here to day to honor you, for now is the day of your greatest strength.

ALL SAY: We honor you.

LEADER: Goddess, mother, we gathered here today to honor you, for today is the day you are full of bloom.

ALL SAY: We honor you.

LEADER: Today is the day we mark the end of the Oak King's reign, and the beginning of the Holly King's.

GOD: (Facing the Goddess) Farewell to thee, my love. For my power grows less with passing of the year.

GODDESS: (Facing the God) Farewell to thee, my love. For your son grows strong within my womb.

ALL SAY: We honor you.

LEADER: Lord and lady, come into our hearts, and purify us. Smite the darkness from our souls with your light.

GOD and GODDESS: (To jump hand and hand over the fire) Come join us children in the light. Let our fire purify your souls and make your spirit bright.

LEADER: (Jumps over fire in the waiting arms of the God and Goddess) We thank thee for your love and light.

ALL SAY: We honor you (Jumps over fire)

LEADER: (Closes Circle) We dedicate ourselves to the God and Goddess, Lord and Lady, whose union formed another life. We give ourselves with these ancient vows. Standing firm upon this earth you have blessed.

ALL SAY: We honor you.

All leave towards the west.

References:
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Carr-Gomm, Philip The Elements of the Druid Tradition, Element Books, Rockport, MA 1998
Danaher, Kevin, The Year in Ireland, The Mercier Press, Cork, 1972.
Henes, Donna, Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles & Celebrations, A Pedigree Book. NY, NY 1996
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Matthews, John, The Druid Source Book: Complied and Edited by John Matthews, A Blanford Book, London, England, 1997
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McCoy, Edain, The Sabbats: A New Approach to Living the Old Ways, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN 1998
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