Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer, Litha in the Celtic Pagan tradition, and Alban Hefin to the Druids, has been celebrated since the Neolithic period, and is one of the most magical times of the year.
Usually occurring sometime between June 19th and 23rd in the Northern Hemisphere, this longest day–and shortest night–of the year is a time to celebrate nature, anticipate an abundant harvest, and enjoy the light and warmth of the season.
Key themes of Litha are fertility, joy, abundance, life force, power, energy and illumination. The Earth is flowering and fruiting in all Her abundant glory, and the light of the Sun is at its warmest, brightest, and strongest.
At Litha, the Celts celebrate the Sun Goddess and Faery Queen Áine (pronounced awn-yuh). She embodies the qualities of life force energy, warmth, and passion, and she is a protector of the people and their crops. Some say that you can see Áine, in her form as a red mare, running through fields and hills so swiftly that no human could ever catch her.
Litha is also the time when the reign of the Oak King, who rules the waxing half of the year, loses his battle with the Holly King, who takes his throne for the waning half of the year. As symbolized by the Oak tree, whose name in Gaelic is Duir, meaning doorway, at Midsummer we cross the threshold into the dark half of the year. It is now that the days will begin to grow shorter, and the nights longer.
The Feast of the Faeries
One of the three “Spirit Nights” on the Celtic Wheel of the Year (the others being Beltane and Samhain), spirits of all kinds are said to roam about in our world with more ease (and in greater numbers!) at Summer Solstice. This includes the Fae, who love to celebrate, and sometimes make mischief, at this time of year. I suspect Shakespeare was tapping into this ancient knowledge when he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It is said that you have the best chance of seeing Faeries at dusk on Midsummer’s Eve. Go out into your garden or to another place in nature, rub a sprig of wild fern gently over your eyelids, and see if you can spot any Faeries. But be sure to carry an iron nail in your pocket to protect yourself against being carried off to the Otherworld with them!
To foster goodwill at Midsummer and beyond, it’s a good idea to leave the Faeries an offering of fresh berries, cakes, or honeyed cream in your yard or garden.
Litha is a wonderful time to take a break from the everyday, and rest in the moment with gratitude for all that you have.
Traditional ways to celebrate usually include gathering family and friends around a bonfire, singing, dancing, and feasting. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still in effect, celebrating on your own may be the only option, depending upon where you live.
If you can’t have a bonfire or don’t have access to a fire pit, light a candle, or a group of candles, to represent the light of the Sun, and use that as a focal point for your celebrations.
Enjoy a feast of summertime foods, including fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, edible flowers (including Elderflowers, which are at their peak now), honey, and roasted meats if you choose. Use herbs and spices associated with fire and the Sun, such as ginger, cayenne pepper, saffron, and rosemary.
For a quieter celebration, spend some quality time in your garden, go for a long walk or hike through woods, fields, or meadows, or simply bask in the light of the Sun, in gratitude for its life-giving, life-sustaining energy.
Wishing you all the light, warmth, joy, and abundance of Litha, now and for the rest of the year.