Litha, the Summer Solstice

Litha, the Summer Solsctice, is part of an Introductory Course in Wicca for incarcerated Wiccans, their families and friends, and prison Chaplains. It has been written to provide a greater understanding of Wicca as a spiritual practice and religion for those who seek to understand it, either as an incarcerated Wiccan or as someone who cares about incarcerated Wiccans.

In our previous articles, we covered the Wiccan holidays of Yule, Imbolc, Eostre and Beltaine, which make up four of the eight holy days of the Wheel of the Year. Although the specific dates are celebrated as holidays, or more precisely, holy-days, the entire period before the holiday is experienced through the theme or underlying concept of the celebration. As a Wiccan, it is not so much how you perform a ritual or how you celebrate a holiday that matters, as much as how you act and live your life between the holidays.

Although the hottest days of Summer are yet to come, the Summer Solstice marks the height of the Sun’s powers on the longest day of the year. On this day, we gather strength from the Sun before the hours of daylight begin to diminish over the next six months. It is similar to Yule in that Litha is paradoxical–the day that we celebrate as the height of the Sun’s powers is the very day that those powers begin to diminish, to wane. After this day, the hours of darkness will grow longer.

Also known as Midsummer, Vestalia, Whitsuntide and Alban Hefin, Litha is celebrated on June 21st or 22nd, and is associated with the gods Johnis, Mannan, and Puck, and the goddesses Vesta and Xilomen. The Sun/Son is now seen as a middle-aged man, a mighty warrior who has just reached his peak.

Litha is said to have meant “wheel” and may have a link to an old custom of setting a wheel on fire and rolling it down a hill, symbolizing sending the Sun down to warm the fields and thus urge the crops to grow in the coming season. There is a strong association with fire as well–bonfires have been lit and torches carried around hillsides at this time for at least the last seven centuries, and likely earlier, before written records were kept.

Litha is usually celebrated outdoors, and Witches were known to gather at the old sacred sites standing stones, circles, and hillsides to observe the solstice sunrise with others. This means staying awake on the shortest night (Litha-eve) and keeping each other awake with stories and songs and drums. At dawn, the drumming begins anew, this time to encourage the Sun’s exertions to rise early, ride high and shine long and bright on the longest day. The rest of the day is usually spent outside, sharing rituals and food, sleeping, and then getting home.

Next: Lughnasadh, the Harvest Festival