The magic of midsummer is difficult to ignore. From Shakespeare’s joyful, giddy take in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to the more sinister “Midsommar” movie, the allure of the longest day of the year remains firmly entrenched in contemporary culture.
Our days are warm and bright, and the first fruits and vegetables from the garden are ripening. For our ancestors, this was a time of bounty after a cold winter and lean spring. Bellies were full, flock were growing, and the long days were laden with work and play. With enough bounty to share, celebrations and feasting were an option once more. Our bones carry the memory of this; June draws us out of our homes for barbecues, street festivals, swimming and other summer joys.
Almost every culture of the world has a midsummer celebration of some sort. On the summer solstice, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and appears to simply hang there without moving. Indeed, the word “solstice” comes to us from the Latin word solstitium, which means “sun stands still.” This year, the summer solstice fell on June 21st.
Pagans celebrate the summer solstice under the name “Litha” or simply as “Midsummer.” One of the consistent themes across the diversity of pagan spiritual practice is the presence of fire at Litha. Bonfires, drumming and dancing are all common. In some traditions, a large wheel is set on fire and rolled down a hill into a body of water. This use of fire at Litha honors the radiance of the sun and the joy we take in its strength. Torches, candles and lanterns are lit from a large central fire and carried around the property to bless and protect it. Spent ashes from the fire are scattered across agricultural fields and orchards to ensure a good harvest.
Like most pagan holidays, Litha is as much a season as it is a specific day. Our year is divided evenly by eight holidays: two on the solstices, two on the equinoxes and four at the points in between. From now until Aug. 1, or Lughnassadh, Litha season reigns.
There are some wonderful options for celebrating Litha in your own life. Invite friends over for a bonfire and cookout; stop by by one of the many wonderful farmers markets in our region and build a feast out of local foods; visit the beach, whether at a lake, ocean or river; or head out to one of our beautiful trails for a walk through the summer forest.
In some pagan traditions, the myth cycle at Litha centers on the transition from the waxing season to the waning season. These natural cycles are embodied in the figures of the Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King rules the waxing season, the time from the winter solstice to the summer solstice, when the days grow longer. The Holly King rules the waning season, the time from the summer solstice to the winter solstice, when the days grow shorter. At the solstices, these two Kings do battle for supremacy, with one ceding to the other as appropriate to the solstice. Adding some oak and holly leaves as decoration to hearth and home can be an easy way to honor this myth cycle.
Night is as magical as day during Litha season. In our region, fireflies flicker in the fields, bats hunt the night sky, and the calls of owls can be heard. Along with these beautiful natural phenomena, folklore tells us that the Good Folk – those commonly called fairies now – can be spotted at dawn, dusk and sometimes night. Leaving an offering of milk, honey or sweet wine can invite blessing from the Good Folk passing through our region. Creating or tending a fairy garden is a fun way to interact with this thread of folklore.
More than anything, Litha season is a time to connect to joy and playfulness. In a world where we are daily informed of new tragedies, challenges and obstacles, it is vitally important to refill our own reserves of happiness. By cultivating gratitude, spending time fully present to midsummer’s blessing, and connecting with our loved ones and communities, we bring some of the sun’s illumination into our own hearts.
Paganism is a diverse belief system, and we source our faith from multiple writings. One piece that comes to mind for me at Litha is Doreen Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess.” I will close with a quote from it:
“I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe.
From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return.
Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices,
for behold – all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. ”
A very blessed Litha season to you. May the warm days bring you joy.
Irene Glasse is president of the Frederick Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, offering events, rituals, classes and workshops to a large, vibrant community, including Frederick’s Pagan Pride Day. She is a pagan religious professional and serves communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region as a minister, teacher, musician and community organizer. Her latest book, “Blackfeather Mystery School: The Magpie Training,” is available at blackfeathermystery.com.