Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice also called “Litha”

The Sun at Sumer Solstice is reaching a point of fullness or the mid-point of the Solar Cycle. The Summer Solstice marks the longest day and the shortest night of the year and the turning point where the days slowly begin to shorten and the nights slowly begin to lengthen.

Definition: The solstice occurs twice in each circuit of the earth around the sun. A circuit of the sun is a year, so there are two solstices a year, winter and summer. The winter solstice is in late December and the summer solstice in late June in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemispheres, the solstices are reversed. The word solstice is formed from two Latin words; one for sun sol and one for stand sistere. The summer solstice is when the sun appears to be at its greatest and the day is at its longest. The winter solstice is when there is the least amount of sun. The other two seasons, fall and spring, are marked by the equinoxes when day and night are roughly equal.

History & Origin

At Litha, the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Many ancient cultures marked this date as significant, and the concept of sun worship is one nearly as old as mankind itself. In societies that were primarily agricultural, and depended on the sun for life and sustenance, it is no surprise that the sun became deified. While many people today might take the day to grill out, go to the beach, or work on their tans, for our ancestors the summer solstice was a time of great spiritual import.

The Egyptian peoples honored Ra, the sun god. For people in ancient Egypt, the sun was a source of life. It was power and energy, light and warmth. It was what made the crops grow each season, so it is no surprise that the cult of Ra had immense power and was widespread. Ra was the ruler of the heavens. He was the god of the sun, the bringer of light, and patron to the pharaohs. According to legend, the sun travels the skies as Ra drives his chariot through the heavens. Although he originally was associated only with the midday sun, as time went by, Ra became connected to the sun’s presence all day long.

The Greeks honored Helios, who was similar to Ra in his many aspects. Homer describes Helios as “giving light both to gods and men.” The cult of Helios celebrated each year with an impressive ritual that involved a giant chariot pulled by horses off the end of a cliff and into the sea.

In Native American cultures, such as the Iroquois and Plains peoples, the sun was recognized as a life-giving force. Many Plains tribes still perform a Sun Dance each year, which is seen as a renewal of the bond man has with life, earth, and the growing season. In MesoAmerican cultures, the sun was associated with kingship, and many rulers claimed divine rights by way of their direct descendance from the sun.

An Ancient Solar Celebration:

Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way, shape or form. On this date – usually around June 21 or 22 – the sun reaches its zenith in the sky. It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems to just hang there without moving – in fact, the word “solstice” is from the Latin word solstitium, which literally translates to “sun stands still.” The travels of the sun were marked and recorded. Stone circles such as Stonehenge were oriented to highlight the rising of the sun on the day of the summer solstice.

Traveling the Heavens:                                                          

Although few primary sources are available detailing the practices of the ancient Celts, some information can be found in the chronicles kept by early Christian monks. Some of these writings, combined with surviving folklore, indicate that Midsummer was celebrated with hilltop bonfires and that it was a time to honor the space between earth and the heavens.

Fire and Water:

In addition to the polarity between land and sky, Litha is a time to find a balance between fire and water. According to Ceisiwr Serith, in his book The Pagan Family, European traditions celebrated this time of year by setting large wheels on fire and then rolling them down a hill into a body of water. He suggests that this may be because this is when the sun is at its strongest yet also the day at which it begins to weaken. Another possibility is that the water mitigates the heat of the sun, and subordinating the sun wheel to water may prevent drought.

Saxon Traditions:

When they arrived in the British Isles, the Saxon invaders brought with them the tradition of calling the month of June Aerra Litha. They marked Midsummer with huge bonfires that celebrated the power of the sun over darkness. For people in Scandinavian countries and in the farther reaches of the Northern hemisphere, Midsummer was very important. The nearly endless hours of light in June are a happy contrast to the constant darkness found six months later in the middle of winter.

Roman Festivals :

The Romans, who had a festival for anything and everything, celebrated this time as sacred to Juno, the wife of Jupiter and goddess of women and childbirth. She is also called Juno Luna and blesses women with the privilege of menstruation. The month of June was named for her, and because Juno was the patroness of marriage, her month remains an ever-popular time for weddings. This time of year was also sacred to Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The matrons of Rome entered her temple on Midsummer and made offerings of salted meal for eight days, in hopes that she would confer her blessings upon their homes.

Midsummer for Modern Pagans:

Litha has often been a source of contention among modern Pagan and Wiccan groups, because there’s always been a question about whether or not Midsummer was truly celebrated by the ancients. While there’s scholarly evidence to indicate that it was indeed observed, there were suggestions made by Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, that the solar festivals (the solstices and equinoxes) were actually added later and imported from the Middle East. Regardless of the origins, many modern Wiccans and Pagans do choose to celebrate Litha every year in June.

In some traditions, Litha is a time at which there is a battle between light and dark. The Oak King is seen as the ruler of the year between winter solstice and summer solstice, and the Holly King from summer to winter. At each solstice they battle for power, and while the Oak King may be in charge of things at the beginning of June, by the end of Midsummer he is defeated by the Holly King.

This is a time of year of brightness and warmth. Crops are growing in their fields with the heat of the sun, but may require water to keep them alive. The power of the sun at Midsummer is at its most potent, and the earth is fertile with the bounty of growing life.

For contemporary individuals this is a day of inner power and brightness. Find yourself a quiet spot and meditate on the darkness and the light both in the world and in your personal life. Celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year with fire and water, night and day, and other symbols of the triumph of light over darkness.

Litha is a great time to celebrate outdoors if you have children. Take them swimming or just turn on the sprinkler to run through, and then have a bonfire or barbeque at the end of the day. Let them stay up late to say goodnight to the sun, and celebrate nightfall with sparklers, storytelling, and music. This is also an ideal Sabbat to do some love magic or celebrate a handfasting, since June is the month of marriages and family.

A Prayer to the Sun

The sun is high above us shining down upon the land and sea, making things grow and bloom. Great and powerful sun, we honor you this day and thank you for your gifts. Ra, Helios, Sol Invictus, Aten, Svarog, you are known by many names. You are the light over the crops, the heat that warms the earth, the hope that springs eternal, the bringer of life. We welcome you, and we honor you this day, celebrating your light, as we begin our journey once more into the darkness.

A Prayer for the Beach

O mother ocean, welcome me in your arms, bathe me in your waves, and keep me safe so that I may return to land once more. Your tides move with the pull of the moon, as do my own cycles. I am drawn to you, and honor you under the sun’s fiery gaze.

Prayer for the Garden

Small plants, leaves and buds, growing in the soil. O fiery sun, may your rays of light and warmth bless us with abundance, and allow these plants to blossom with life

This information was courtesy of Pagan Wiccan on About.com Patti Wigington