Bright Blessings, Witches! Today we’re going to delve into the Litha Sabbat’s history. We’ll discuss its origins, how our forebears celebrated the holiday before us, different names, what it celebrates and more. Please note that this post is in reference to celebrations in the Northern Hemisphere occurring on the summer solstice.
WHAT IS LITHA?
One of the eight Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year, Litha marks the longest day and shortest night of the year. This is summer’s highest point and when the sun reaches its pinnacle in the sky. Litha is a festival dedicated to giving thanks for the Sun’s life-giving and regenerative powers.
WHAT DOES LITHA MEAN?
Litha means “gentle” or “navigable”, because in both those months the calm breezes are gentle and they were wont to sail upon the smooth sea. –Bede, On the Reckoning of Time, Chapter 15. Translated by Faith Wallis.SOURCE
Litha also means “light”.
ALSO KNOWN AS
Litha is also known as:
- Summer Solstice
- St. John’s Day
- St. John’s Night
WHAT DOES LITHA CELEBRATE?
Simply put, Litha celebrates the beginning of summer and the power of the Sun. Marking the tipping point where days begin to grow shorter and the nights longer, this Sabbat’s celebrations also hold root in rituals meant to appease evil spirits. These rituals were done to ensure healthy crops and livestock were kept safe from said spirits who were believed to walk freely during the holiday.
WHERE DOES LITHA ORIGINATE?
Litha is a pre-Christian solstice festival embedded in agricultural and supernatural phenomena. It is thought that Neolithic humans began observing Midsummer as the time to plant and harvest crops. The rise of the Nile river in ancient Egypt corresponded to the summer solstice and aided in annual flooding predictions.
Much like other Pagan celebrations, the Catholic Church found it too challenging to completely stamp out the festival when trying to convert Pagans. Instead, they decided to co-opt the traditions by corresponding them to Christian celebrations. We see this done when December 25th was established as Jesus’ birthday, conveniently close to Yule. In the same vein, the Church set St. John the Baptist’s birthday to correspond with Pagan summer celebrations. This is how St. John’s Night and St. John’s Day came to pass.
HOW WAS LITHA ORIGINALLY CELEBRATED?
We see a lot of these activities continued in our modern celebrations.
Litha was welcomed with bonfires by ancient European Pagans, including Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic sects. It was believed that these fires would magnify and heighten the Sun’s power for the remainder of the growing season and in turn, ensure a bountiful fall harvest. These bonfires were typically built on the highest hilltops to mimic the Sun being at its highest peak of the season.
From these fires, celebrants would light giant wheels which would then be rolled down a hill into a body of water. This symbolized the Sun’s ensuing descent back into darkness when the days would shorten and the nights eventually became longer. These bonfires were also jumped through or over for good luck.
Litha was a popular time to get married. Newlyweds would also participate in fire jumping to ensure a happy marriage. And those who were not wed were invited to gaze into the flames in order to divine visions of their future marital partners.
Much like Samhain, it is thought that the veil between the spirit world and the human plane of existence is very thin. Because of this, divination acts and methods were extremely potent.
THE BATTLE BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARK
As Litha is the longest day of the year, some traditions believe this is when the battle between light and dark takes place. It’s during this battle that the Holly King and the Oak King go head-to-head for control. This power struggle occurs every solstice. Representing daylight, the Oak King rules from Yule (the winter solstice) to Litha (the summer solstice). It’s on Litha that the Holly King is triumphant and it’s during his reign that the days get shorter and darker until Yule is upon us once more.
As with most celebrations, great feasts were held in honor of the summer solstice. Mother Nature’s abundant bounties were put to great use. Typical menu items included citrus fruits like lemons, nectarines, and oranges, vegetables such as corn, tomatoes, and yellow squash, as well as honey mead.
Dancing around the bonfires was a highly encouraged Litha activity. Songs and chants sung in tandem with the dancing were directed at the Sun God. This was to make sure the coming harvest would be a successful one. Some traditions used a Summerpole – much like a Maypole – to dance around, with participants sporting flower garlands and crowns in their hair, decorated with orange, yellow, and red buds to represent the Sun.
- As aforementioned, it was believed that evil spirits would roam freely on Litha. To ward these entities off, celebrants would don garlands made from protective flowers and herbs. Chase Devil was one of the most powerful botanicals used for this custom. Today it’s known as St. John’s Wort due its use during St. John’s Day, or Midsummer.
- Spreading the ashes from a Litha bonfire across your garden will bring an abundant harvest.
OTHER SUMMER SOLSTICE CELEBRATIONS
Midsummer was celebrated in many different ways by a myriad of celebrants.
- The Feast of Alban Heriun celebrated the summer solstice by the Druids
- The summer solstice marked the beginning of the New Year for the ancient Greeks. This also signified the one month countdown until the Olympic Games opening.
- The Kronia festival that honored Cronus, the God of Agriculture, was another Greek celebration
- Vestalia was celebrated by ancient Romans, a festival that honored Vesta, the Goddess of the Hearth. During this celebration, married women journeyed to the Temple of Vesta to give offerings to the goddess with hopes of blessings for their loved ones.
- The Romans also celebrated Midsummer in honor of Juno, Goddess of Women and Childbirth and Jupiter’s wife. The month of June comes from her name.
- Midsummer was observed in ancient China and held association with ‘yin’ or the feminine force. Their festivals celebrated femininity, the Earth, and the ‘yin’ force.
- The Vikings set aside the summer solstice to resolve issues and disputes, as well as to discuss any legal matters.
There you have it, Witches! Another day, another Sabbat’s history. Do you celebrate Litha? Are there other festivities that were overlooked in this post? Let me know in the comments! As always, Bright Blessings and Happy Crafting!