As the sun reaches its zenith, Midsummer celebrations abound across the globe. People celebrate the balance of the dark and light while paying homage to sun deities in a variety of different ways. Litha is the Midsummer Sabbat as the wheel of the year turns. There are many customs, traditions, and folklore surrounding Litha.
Deep in our ancient roots lies our tie as humans to the sun. Long before we had gathered into tribes, the people of the earth hailed the power of the sun. Its power to grow life sustaining crops, meant people depend upon it to sustain their life as well. It is no wonder the sun became the center of many myths and developed its own magnificent deities throughout multiple cultures, including Wicca.
In North America, various Native American tribes hailed the sun as a great Spirit. Sun dances were performed by warriors to honor the sun as well as bring about visions. It was the most important ritual for almost all of the plains Indians and many other nomadic groups. The community came together during the Sun dance and asked for healing while making sacrifices and offerings.
During June each year right before the summer solstice, the Romans honored the goddess Vesta who was sacred to women and the hearth. Fires were lit and tended in her honor throughout the week in her temples.
But the Romans weren’t the only ones to keep a fire going during the summer solstice. In England, villagers and farmers often built large bonfires during this time to keep out the evil spirits. People would wander from one fire to another lighting their torches. It became tradition to leap over the fires for good luck in the coming year while dancing the night away. Another traditional belief on Midsummer’s Eve was to stay up all night sitting in the middle of a sacred stone circle. During the night, it was believed a person could see the Fae scattering about, but should be careful not to attract too much attention as the Fae may harass onlookers.
Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun and ruler of the heavens, brought light to the people by driving his chariot across the skies. While in the ancient Incan emprire, Inti was worshipped as a sun god, but he was more like a cluster of solar aspects with various parts of his identity aligned with different stages of the sun. In parts of South America, people set paper boats full of flowers on fire during Litha. They sail down the river carrying various requests and blessings to the gods.
In Ireland, people carried a stone in their hand as they circles around the Litha bonfire. Blessings would be requested and the pebble was thrown into the fire as an offering on the third turn around the bonfire.
During Litha, Celtic neopagan traditions tell the story of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. At Litha, the Oak King reigns supreme while in autumn, the Holly King once again takes power. This endless battle spins the wheel of the year as summer and winter eternally come and go. Depending upon the pagan tradition, various aspects from different cultures are used to celebrate Litha.
Some practitioners wait for the Litha fire to burn out and become cool in order to use the ashes to make protective amulets. These amulets can be carried in a small pouch for protection throughout the year. Others use the ashes from the fire and mix it with clay to then form a talisman which can be carried or strung into a necklace. A talismans made with the ashes of a Litha fire has been known to protect against misfortunes. And still the ashes can be sown into a garden to ensure a bountiful harvest and strong growing season throughout the summer.
During Litha, astrologically the sun is enter Cancer. While Midsummer is generally thought of as a time of fire magic, the move into Cancer adds the element of water to the Sabbat. Magic using sacred streams or bodies of water can be very powerful which is why in some pagan traditions build upon the ancient practice of South Americans to float paper boats down a moving body of water. Writing worries or issues onto the boats and dropping them into a body of water to sail away has been a traditional practice of many modern pagans.
Sunwheels are another ancient practice that some people have adapted to modern pagan practice. In early European cultures, people would light a wheel, or a very large ball of straw, on fire and then roll it down a hill into a river or body of water. The burned remnants were then displayed in a local temple as a sign of a fruitful planting season. For those who worship the Norse gods, a sunwheel is often simply lit on fire and incorporated into the Litha bonfire. Varieties of this practice can be accomplished in modern urban practice, but always be very, very careful no matter where you are with rolling anything that is on fire up or down a hill!
A less fiery way, but still traditional way to celebrate Litha is by going wildcrafting. Picking naturally growing plants and herbs to incorporate into your magickal practice can be done at this time. It is even better if you can align your harvesting with a full moon for greater magickal potency. And if you don’t have access to the wild, going to pick out herb from a local store to plant in your home garden can be just as rewarding. It is more about connecting to the earth and her vegetation, rather than actually being in the wild.
Since paganism focuses a lot of its practice on the cycles of the moon, sometimes the power and magick of the Sun can be overlooked. While the moon is a beautiful part of pagan practice, there are many other astral bodies available for reverence. And with the sun being present each day coupled with the ability to turn on and off light whenever needed, we sometimes forget about the role and importance of the sun.
This article is from our most recent issue of Wicca Magazine.
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