Summer Solstice 2012 & Litha

June 20th marks the summer solstice and the beginning of summer. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the day that has the longest hours of daylight. Conversely, it also marks the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, with its seasons running opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. The word “solstice” derived from the Latin words sol(sun), sistere (to stand still) and, or stitium (to stop).

During this astronomical event, which happens twice a year, the angle between the Earth’s equator and the Sun’s ray appears to stop or stand still. Many people believe that the different seasons are due to the Earth’s changing distance from the sun. But science has proved the seasons are caused by the 23-degree tilt of the Earth’s axis. During summer the Earth is tilted toward the sun, thus,receiving more direct or concentrated sun rays. In the winter it is tilted away receiving indirect rays, resulting in shorter days and colder weather.Cultures from around the world have been celebrating summer solstice since our earliest days. It was the time between planting and harvesting crops, a time of warmth, and a time when living was easier.

Of the modern religions, it is the Pagan & Wiccan societies that celebrate this day with the most passion. This holiday is most commonly known as “Litha” (the ancient Germanic name for Summer) and it is believed to be the time when the Sun God is at his strongest. During Litha the web between worlds is said to be very thin; making this a time of powerful magic.  The most favored incantations at this time are those spells for love, healing, protection and prosperity. On this day the powerful energies of the sun have had extra time to infuse the planets herbs with sacred powers thus making this one of the best times to pick St. John’s Wort, yarrow, wormwood, mistletoe  and mullein. When picking herbs remember to be mindful and ask the plants permission.

Legends states the ancient race of forest elves, fairies and sprites come out in great numbers to participate in the glorious celebration of Litha, thus making this a stupendous time to commune with them.  It is customary to leave them offerings of herbs and food at dusk.

Litha fires are believed to possess tremendous powers as well. In ancient times courting couples would jump over the coals, hand-in-hand three times to ensure prosperity, children and happiness.  Ember and ash from the fires were sprinkled around farms, crops, orchards and grain fields for protection and to ensure a bountiful harvest.  It was also believed that keeping a fire lit until midnight would induce lucid dreaming, enhance luck and divination.

Traditional Litha festivals include: signing, dancing, storytelling, village bonfires and torch-lit parades.  Also common were feasts made from the bounty of the land and the wearing of garlands and flower crowns which were made specifically to include the yellow blossom of St. John’s Wort.

Litha is a reminder for all to remember balance and it encourages us to enjoy the warmth and healing energies of the sun.  It is a celebration of the fertility of live and the fertility of all earthly creatures.