Dedicant Path Week 11 – Second High Day Explanation – Litha

20 06 2013
Sunrise over Stonehenge on the summer solstice...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Summer Solstice, Midsummers Eve, Litha, Alban Heruin – there are many names for this day and it has been celebrated by almost every culture on earth. Although not one of the four great fire festivals, the day was probably celebrated by the Druids and its quite possible that places like Stonehenge were used by them at this time. On the Isle of Man, there is a tradition of “paying rent” to the patron of the island, and Celtic god of the sea, Manannan Mac Lyr on this day, by offering him bundles of reeds, meadow grasses and yellow flowers, along with prayers for aid and protection in fishing. The other deity related to this time is the goddess Aine, the Irish goddess of summer, love, fertility and sovereignty. She is sometimes seen as the wife or daughter of Manannan Mac Lir, and is the queen of fairies because this is traditionally the night when they come out and join in celebrations. Aine is honoured on Midsummers eve with a feast, procession and bonfires. Midsummers eve (later renamed St John’s Eve) was also considered a special time for collecting herbs and they were seen as the most potent and magical at this time. June was also the traditional time of sheep shearing.

Historian Ronald Hutton says that at this time “Midsummer bonfires, with much the same rituals, are recorded all over England, Wales, Ireland, Lowland Scotland and the Northern Isles.” The first record of lighting protective fires on midsummer’s eve is from the 12th century, however in the 4th century pagans celebrated by rolling flaming wheels downhill to a river, a practice that can be traced right up to the 19th century in Dartmoor, Devon. It was a time for divination and the Anglo Saxon Lacunga says its the best time to collect certain plants for healing. In 13th and 14th centuries there are records of people carrying fire around their fields on midsummers eve, people staying up all night around bonfires in the street and youths gathering at wells for songs and games. Hutton says “the dossier seems to be complete enough to speak confidently of a pre-Christian seasonal rituasl of major importance.

The day is important because it is the middle of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the sun is at its most powerful. It is called the Solstice after the latin “sol” meaning sun and “sistere” meaning to stand still. It is the longest day of the year with 15 hours of sunshine. At this time crops have been planted and are growing strongly, meanwhile the earth is alive with blooming flowers, green trees and insects busy collecting pollen and making honey. It’s a time to rest, to have fun and to celebrate before the hard work of the harvest begins. From the solstice onwards, the days begin to shorten again as we move back towards the winter.

The ADF manual explains that the Welsh saw this as another spirit night when the landspirits are very active, while for the Norse this was a time for celebrating community and the sun goddess, Sunna. Neopagans also celebrate this as a time of magic and honouring the sun. For Wiccans, this is when “the powers of nature reach this highest point. The Earth is awash in the fertility of the Goddess and God.”

The day is often celebrated by having a beach bbq and bonfire with friends, watching the sunrise and eating summery foods like salads. It is usually spent outside and is a good time to go camping and hiking or to have a water fight. It is a time to dance, drink, party, to be thankful for the sun and to enjoy its light and warmth.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Cunnigham, Scott. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Minnestota: Llewellyn Publications, 2003