For my June blog post, I want to talk a bit about the celebration of Litha (lee-tha), also called Midsummer. This pagan holiday occurs during the Summer Solstice. Depending on the year, it happens anywhere between June 20th and June 22nd. Many forego looking for the exact astronomical date and simply celebrate on June 21st.
What is Litha?
Litha is the longest day of the year, with the night being the shortest. This day is a celebration of passion and success. There is also a bittersweet feeling that comes from knowing that Summer will not last forever. Nothing ever does. We must enjoy while we can.
Like Beltane, it is another celebration of love and fertility. Unlike Beltane, fertility is not the main focus. Instead, Litha is about demonstrating love while we still can. That doesn’t mean the fertility theme isn’t present at all – it certainly is! It’s just different now.
It’s important to understand that the mood of Litha is not melancholy or sad. Just like Beltane, it tends to be jovial and flirtatious. Unlike Beltane, it is also mischievous. Pranks, gags, and practical jokes all tend to make an appearance during Litha. This is attributed to the fairy kingdom. The gateway between our world and their world is wide open on this day.
Think of it this way. Beltane is about mating, while Lith is about what comes after mating. In a healthy relationship, the couple is now at a point where they can still laugh and be playful with each other, they also make love from time to time, but there has been a shift that has occurred. That shift results in the couple assuming more responsibility and maturity. Now, there is a focus on finding stability and success together and tackling life with each other’s support. In many ways, Midsummer is a representation of the Divine Union at the height of its power.
The God and Goddess at Midsummer
The Goddess is seen as the Mother Goddess. She is compassionate, nurturing, and giving. In fact, the Mother Goddess provides more than what is often asked for. She deeply loves and goes out of her way to demonstrate her love for her children. Examples include Freya, Flora, and even Mother Mary.
Throughout the entire celebration of Midsummer, the God is seen as the Sun/Son God. By the end of Midsummer, however, he dies. It’s as if the King of the land has decreed a giant party to celebrate the Kingdom’s abundance. Everyone is celebrating and having a good time all day. With extra daylight hours, this goes well into the twilight. People are laughing, having fun, playing jokes on each other, bantering, flirting, and then, right as darkness is descending, someone yells… “The King is dead!”
Altars at Litha
Sunflowers are the traditional altar and home décor for the day. The colors are red and yellow, standard Summer colors. Sometimes a wreath braided with ivy is also placed in the home or on the altar. A few will choose to put on the altar those items they have “outgrown” and wish to fully let go of.
Different Pagans have different traditions, and it is not possible to include every one of them. What follows are three traditions that are especially suited for this celebration.
The Money Tree
Perhaps the simplest and easiest tradition to partake in is that of the money tree. Some pagans will buy a money tree and bring it into the home, placing it in a prominent position. This is to remind them to celebrate the “wealth” of Summer. It also serves as a symbol to mentally and emotionally prepare them for the coming harvest.
Communion with Nature
Another popular activity at Midsummer includes being in nature. This is the tradition taught to me in my own training.
Hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, gardening, boating, and pretty much any other outdoor activity is popular at Midsummer. The reason, of course, is because of the extended hours of daylight.
Twilight is especially important. This is said to be when the fairy folk is most active and where you are most likely to interact with the fairies. It is also the time when it is easiest to communicate with nature spirits of all types. From forest and lake spirits to wind and animal spirits, communicating with these energies comes most naturally in the twilight hours of Midsummer.
A popular activity for some pagans is what is termed redeeming fairy money. Fairy money will be familiar to most people as those coupon books that children give parents or spouses give each other. Each coupon has an action that one has promised to perform. An example would be “clean my room without arguing or complaining,” “let me watch what I want on TV,” or “an extra-long kiss.”
Some go camping or hiking and make it a point to stay up all night to greet the rising sun the following day.
In the hours of darkness right before the sun rises, some will take a nostalgic memory tour – remembering all those happy times which are no more.
There is also the added benefit of visits from the fairy folk – who may bestow blessings on those who have been especially vigilant throughout the day until the next one.
The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man is to Litha as the Maypole is to Beltane. It is perhaps the most popular of the pagan Midsummer traditions.
A wicker man is the image of a person made out of wood, wicker, or any other objects that will burn. On Midsummer, after the sun has set, the wicker man is light on fire. In some cases, the Wicker Man is huge, as tall as the Maypole or a tree. In other cases, it is much smaller and can fit in the palm.
There are a few variations as to the purpose of the Wicker Man and its burning.
In the first variation, it is to offer a sacrifice to the gods/goddesses. The sacrifice was said to appease the gods/goddesses and bring abundance and prosperity.
In this version, an actual living human being is put into a huge Wicker Man. That person is eventually consumed by the flames of the fire. At least, that’s what the writings of Julius César tell us. He claims that the Druids engaged in this practice. Of course, one has to remember history is always written by the winner of wars, and the ancient Druids were eventually eradicated. Thus, they have no way to refute what was said.
Now, old Julius Cesar was nice enough to say that it was usually criminals chosen to be sacrificed. Apparently, it was part of their punishment. However, the fact is that there is a good deal of evidence that suggests that the Druids actually didn’t practice human sacrifices as much as some claimed they did.
In another version, the burning of the Wicker Man is part of an ancient fertility ritual. Here, young men dress up in various costumes and wear masks (typically of horned animals). They then chase young girls who, as with Beltane, wear flowers in the hair. Capturing one means they have symbolically “fertilized” her and thus have helped to create new life. When the festive chase is over, a large Wicker Man is burned while the young men and women dance or run around it.
In the final version of why The Wicker Man is burned, some pagans believe it represents the god Lugh, also known as the Sun God. In this belief, Lugh had passed away. The burning of the Wicker Man is part of the memorial to the god Lugh. It is said that anything that is burned with him will be carried to the Otherworld. As such, notes, artwork, and even spells are tied to the Wicker Man. The smoke, as they burn, is said to carry these intentions to the Otherworld. Artwork and notes are dedicated to relatives who are no longer here. Spells are written hoping that the extra energy from the Otherworld will provide additional support for them to manifest.
I hope the information in this article has helped you to understand Litha a little better. Midsummer is supposed to be fun but turns more bittersweet by the end of the celebration. It should inspire you and remind you that nothing in our physical world is meant to be forever. As such, be playful, love, let yourself be loved, and most of all, make the best of every moment you have available to you. You never know when it won’t be there anymore.