Litha – Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice-the high point of Summer-falls each year between June 20th and June 22nd. The date changes due to differences between the actual astronomical event and our modern calendar. The Oak King and the Holly King, who battled for supremacy at Yule, fight again at Midsummer. This time it is the Oak King who is slain and the Holly King, king of the waning year, now reigns, gaining in power and strength until Yule. The robin, symbol of the Oak King, is seen less and less, and the wren, symbol of the Holly King is more prevalent as Summer winds down.

The Summer Solstice marks several things. It is the longest day of the year and the shortest night, the height of the Sun’s power, the day the Sun King reigns supreme. Because of this, it also marks the beginning of the end of His reign as He will be with us less each day. Even thought the hottest days of Summer lie ahead and today we celebrate the glory of the sun, from this point onwards, we enter the waning year and each day the sun will recede from the sky a little earlier.

According to our modern calendar, Summer begins with the Summer Solstice, but we know better. Summer really begins at Beltaine, May 1st, and the Summer Solstice is Midsummer. Actually, Midsummer is celebrated on June 24th; there would be a festival of several days, beginning with the Summer Solstice and ending on Midsummer Night.

At the Summer Solstice, the Goddess is heavy with pregnancy, just as the earth is pregnant with the coming bounty and the cattle in the fields await calving, but the fertility rites still continue. Just as a human baby can sometimes be miscarried or born diseased, our pagan ancestors knew that the same held true for their animals and crops. The Midsummer rituals focused on nurturing new life, both in the ground and in animal and human wombs. The Solstice (including Midsummer Eve and Day) was the last Sabbat until spring where obvious fertility imagery was used. Several folk magic grimoires advise a woman to squat naked in her garden on Midsummer night if she wishes to conceive.

Others suggest that menstruating women walk through the fields so that the fertility energy might be passed between them. Menstruating women were pressed into service to bleed onto the fields. These customs come from a time when the male role in conception was unknown and most people believed that a woman’s blood was what created life. The menstrual taboos of the patriarchal religions stem directly from this awe of the female power of procreation, a power that made Goddess worship difficult to eradicate.

Though all eight Sabbats are, in some way, fire festivals, the element is most prominent at the Summer Solstice. Fire is the most easily seen and immediately felt element of transformation. It can burn, consume, cook, shed light or purify and, because of its heat, fire is most intimately associated with the hot Midsummer Sun.

Balefires still figure prominently at this time and they would be lit on every hill at midnight on the Solstice and kept going until Midsummer night. Whereas, at Beltaine, it is traditional to use nine kinds of wood for the balefire, it is a custom to throw nine kinds of herbs onto the Midsummer fire (more about that later). People danced around the fires and leapt through them. Blazing herbs from the sacred balefire were carried to the stables to bless the cows and calves. Blazing torches were carried sun-wise around the houses and fields. Coals from the Midsummer fire were scattered on fields to ensure a good harvest.

This is also a traditional time of year for honoring water-perhaps because it plays such a vital role in maintaining life while the sun is blazing overhead. In our ancestors’ time, the therapeutic value of the sun was associated with the healing properties of water. Solar shrines were often set up at healing springs. Water was the mystical entranceway to the Otherworld and offerings would be thrown into wells and lakes as gifts for the God and Goddess. Sacred wells were used for scrying, healing and divination. Wells were honored by “well dressing”-the well would be covered with flowers and tree branches, encircled sun-wise and serenaded with music and dancing. A feast would follow, as thanksgiving for the water and the Earth Mother who provides for all.

The Earth at this time is a place of blossoming beauty. Every garden is filled with flowers or the tiny forms of the fruit and vegetables beginning to grow and ripen. The pregnant Earth Mother grows fuller and lovelier every day. What prompted our ancestors to celebrate this time has not changed in two thousand years. This is a time to give thanks and celebrate for all that you see and smell and feel around you and within you.

Summer Solstice/Midsummer Altars

The Summer Solstice marks the time of year that the waxing sun reaches its peak on the longest day of the year. To symbolize this aspect of the Solstice Ritual, it is appropriate to hang a sun symbol above the altar. This can be almost any natural object that is round in shape and gold or yellow in color. A big sunflower is a good example.

Another example is a solar wheel or disc, and equal-armed cross surrounded by a circle. The circle represents the Wheel of the Year and the points where the arms of the cross intersect the circle represent the Solstices and Equinoxes. If possible, this solar disc should be made of natural materials-wood or vine. It can be tied with gold cord and bunches of gold, yellow, red or orange flowers can be tied at the five points where the arms of the cross and the circle intersect. Yellow, orange or gold ribbon can also be tied to the disc at these same points. Hang the solar disc high above the altar, and if your ritual is performed indoors, take the disc outside the following day and hang it in a tree that shades and protects your home as a talisman to grant the blessings of the God and Goddess in the coming cycle. If you have a solar disc from the previous year, it should be added to the Midsummer fire.

It is traditional to kindle the Midsummer fire with two kinds of wood-oak and fir. Originally, the friction of these two woods lighted the Sabbat fire. This combination can be interpreted as representing the God and the Goddess-the oak being the Sun King and the fir the Moon Goddess, united in the element of fire.

The Midsummer altar is decorated with flowers of yellow, red, white, violet and pink. Black, red and white candles can be used to represent the triple Goddess and a bright yellow or orange one to represent the Sun. The altar is draped with yellow, orange or gold cloth and decorated with sun symbols. The fruits of Summer, herbs and symbols of abundance and love are part of the Solstice altar. A sprig of holly and a sprig of oak to represent the Holly King and the Oak King is a nice touch.

MARRIAGE

As the month of May was considered unlucky for marriage, it being the month of the Divine Marriage only, June was considered the luckiest of months in which to be married. A children’s nursery rhyme from England echoes the beliefs of the Celts and Italians:

Marry in the month of May, most surely you will rue the day.
Marry in June when roses grow and happiness you’ll always know.

The entire lunar month, besides being known as the Mead Moon, was also known as the honeymoon.

The honeymoon is not the only wedding tradition that has a Pagan origin. Most of them do. Today, the white wedding gown is believed by Christians to symbolize the purity and virginity of the bride, but white equates the bride with the Goddess in her Maiden form-the Goddess of love, beauty and playful sensuality.

As a symbol of the vows being spoken, the bride and groom usually exchange wedding rings. Of all the articles of jewelry traditionally believed to have magical power, the most common are necklaces and rings. The ring, being magically charged during the ceremony, has the power to bind true love and is a symbol of the magic circle. The ring is placed on the third finger of the left hand in the belief that a main artery ran from that finger directly to the heart-the organ of love.

The shared wedding cake, tossed rice and flowers are all pieces of fertility magic. A more obscure custom, but still one tied to ancient fertility charms, is the custom of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold on their
wedding night. A threshold today is simply a board nailed to the floor across a doorway, separating one room from another. In old days, the threshold was a retainer placed at the doorway of the threshing floor to keep any of the precious grain from being lost or spilled. It was considered a sacred place. Perhaps, in ancient times, a couple spent their wedding night in this place in order to give the energy of their sex magic.

Most wild herbs are fully mature by Midsummer and this is a traditional time for gathering magical and medicinal plants to dry and store for winter use. In Wales, Midsummer Day is called Gathering Day in honor of this practice.

HERBS OF THE MIDSUMMER FIRE

  1. Elderflower – Black elder can be used as an insecticide in the garden or to repel insects from the face and body. An infusion of the fresh leaf is made for this purpose. The berries help coughs, colic, diarrhea, sore throats, asthma and flu. The flowers are infused for fevers, bronchial and lung problems and eruptive skin diseases such as measles. Magical uses include using the flowers in wish-fulfillment spells (Midsummer is an excellent time for these) and using the leaves, berries and flowers in blessings. Stand or sleep under and elder on Midsummer Eve and you could see the King of the Fairies and his retinue pass by!
  2. Lavender – The oil has so many beneficial uses-far too many to mention here-including the treatment of intestinal gas, migraines and dizziness. It is one of the best antiseptics and is added to salves for this purpose. Steep lavender blossoms in white wine for two weeks and strain to make a natural antidepressant beverage. Lavender oil is added to footbaths, eases toothaches and sprains and is used as a rub for hysteria and palsy. It is used as an ingredient in love spells and its scent is said to attract men! Lavender in the home brings peace, joy and healing.
  3. Meadowsweet – Traditional herbalists simmered the flowers in wine to treat fevers and to cure depression. The fresh flower tops, taken in tea, promote sweating. It is a classic treatment for diarrhea, especially in children and is a good herb for rheumatic complaints and flu. It can also help with bladder and kidney problems, epilepsy and rabies. The leaf is added to wine to bring a “merry heart” – that is, to cure depression. Magically, it is used in love spells and is strewn about the home to bring serenity and joy. Its scent is said to cheer the heart.
  4. Mistletoe – The only parts used are the twig and leaf. The berries should NOT be used. Mistletoe is rich in phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sulfur. Tumor-inhibiting bacteria have also been found in the plant. Many nervous conditions such as convulsions, hysteria, urinary disorders and heart conditions have benefited from mistletoe. It strengthens the heart and has been used as a heart tonic in cases of typhoid. It is recommended for use after a stroke when hardening of the arteries is suspected. It helps to lower high blood pressure and raise low blood pressure and has been used to ease heavy menstrual flow, heart palpitations, hot flashes and anxiety associated with menopause. Not quite herb, not quite tree, beyond classification and freed from convention, such is the “spirit” of this plant. It is a gateway to something “other”. In Italy, there is an old tale of a radiantly beautiful fairy who appeared to a certain knight with the image of the crescent moon and the Holy Grail at her feet. In her hands she held a sprig of mistletoe. She told the knight that the mistletoe was what kept her eternally young and beautiful. Mistletoe is an excellent all-purpose magical herb. It is carried for protection or placed where needed. Amulets and jewelry can be made of its wood as talismans of protection and to speed healing. Hang it in the bedroom above the bed to bring beautiful dreams and to unlock, through the dreams, the secrets of immortality. Hang it in the home to bring the blessings of the Goddess of love.
    CAUTION!!! Do NOT use the berries for internal consumption.
    THEY ARE POISONOUS!
    CAUTION!!! NEVER hang mistletoe where children or animals might swallow fallen berries or leaves. The leaves can cause convulsions in children and animals and the berries are POISONOUS!
  5. Rowan – The bark can be used in treating diarrhea and as a vaginal douche. It can also be tinctured in alcohol for eight days to treat fevers. The berries are very high in Vitamin C and are useful for sore throats and tonsillitis. The Welsh make an ale from rowan berries. Rowan is primarily an herb of protection and healing. The leaf and berry are used in incense to increase psychic powers.
  6. Rue – An infusion benefits coughs, cramps and colic. The leaves are used in poultices and salves to relieve sciatica, gout and rheumatic pains. Eaten in a salad (one or two leaves ONLY!), it helps clear the eyesight. The fresh juice can be mixed with honey, as a preservative, and applied to the eyes (one drop, two or three times a day) to sharpen vision and relieve strained eyes. Mixed with water, the honey-rue combination can be used as a gargle or the for colds, flu and stomach disorders. Use only one teaspoon of the fresh juice over a period of 24 hours. Rue is a powerful herb of purification. Rue water is sprinkled around a ritual site, or a branch of rue is used to sprinkle salt water. Rue brings protection and clears negativity.
    CAUTION!!! Some people may experience skin irritation when picking the fresh plant.
    CAUTION!!! THIS IS A STRONG HERB! Use in small dosages only as
    indicated. An overdose will lead to severe vomiting!
  7. St. John’s Wort – Used for lung problems, bladder complaints, diarrhea, dysentery, depression, hemorrhages and jaundice. The oil is excellent for massages, as it affects the spine directly. A poultice of St. John’s Wort helps vericose veins, mild burns, inflammations, neuralgia and rheumatism. The Welsh call this plant “Leaf of the Blessed”. It was understood to be the ideal combination of fire and water-the ultimate healing essence. Fire symbolized the fruitful light-filled forces of Summer and water the gathering and settling forces of the dark season. When you give this plant to someone who is sick, you are re-membering the God-putting back the pieces of his body that have been scattered. The mere scent of this plant causes evil spirits to fly away. It is used to keep madness at bay and to keep all evil forces from the home.
  8. Trefoil – There are several plants that, in earlier times, were called trefoil and they were all sacred to the Triple Goddess. Among these were oxalis (a type of sorrel), clover, and the shamrock. It is said that St. Patrick used the shamrock to demonstrate to the Irish people the three in one concept of the Christian Trinity, but, of course, they were already familiar with the idea! It is the clover that is the trefoil of the Midsummer fire. Most clover leaves have three heart-shaped sections, but there is the rare and lucky four-leafed clover that, like the foliage of St. John’s Wort or the seed pods of rue, are the four part radial symbols of the Sun Wheel. The four-leaf clover is collected as a lucky amulet: “One leaf for fame, one leaf for wealth, one leave for love and one leaf for health.”
  9. Vervain – A tea will benefit eczema and other skin eruptions, and is a kidney and liver cleanser. Jaundice, whooping cough and headaches fall under its realm of healing. It is used in poultices for ear infections, rheumatism and wounds. It soothes the nerves and is said to have aphrodisiac properties. It is a powerful lymphatic detoxifier and has a cleansing effect on the female organs. Vervain is a profoundly magical herb. Roman priests and priestesses used it as an altar plant-it was tied in bundles and used to ritually “sweep” and purify the altar. It is used in the bath as a protection from enchantments and to make dreams come true. To dispel fears, light a candle daily and surround it with vervain. Speak aloud a prayer to the Goddess asking release from your fear. Do this as long as necessary. It brings tranquil dreams and is used in the home to attract wealth and to keep plants healthy. Tucked into a child’s cradle, it is said to bring joy and a lively intellect.

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