The longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, is a day that scientists, astronomers, and meteorologists all observe with interest. But reverence for this day – the day that the Earth’s axial tilt is closest to the sun – came long before our modern scientific understanding of it.
My ancestors came from Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, and to the ancient Celts the cycle of the seasons was sacred. On the Summer Solstice, my ancestors would have celebrated Litha, a pagan holiday. And today, I do, too.
My great-grandparents on both sides of my family moved to America looking for work during the late 1800s. My father’s family came from Northern Ireland and my mother’s from Scotland. I grew up in Alabama in the heart of the Bible Belt, so as one might guess, I had a traditional Southern Christian upbringing. However, my family still partook in many practices that have their roots in the ways of our Celtic ancestors. We hung dried lavender and rosemary above our entrances for good luck, we always left a Jack O’ Lantern out at Samhain – a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season – and we put up mistletoe and a tree during the winter season.
My mother encouraged me to explore the diverse faiths of the world and I felt drawn to something that, to me, felt older, and more connected to the earth and universe. As I grew up I also wanted to know more about my cultural heritage, so I started researching where my family came from. I found that there was a point in history where most of Europe was polytheistic and worshiped the divinity of the natural world. Immediately, I began to study this and found exactly what I had spent my childhood looking for. I “officially” converted to paganism when I was 14 years old.
Everything about life during the time of my Celtic ancestors revolved around nature. Because of this, the Celts (and today’s Celtic pagans) have eight main holidays per year that follow the seasonal calendar, called Sabbats: the Winter Solstice, Imbolc (beginning of spring), Vernal Equinox, Beltane (May Day festival), Summer Solstice (Litha), Lughnasadh (beginning of harvest), Autumnal Equinox, and Samhain.
Litha was a day when farmers would ask the goddesses and gods for blessings on their cattle and crops. At Litha, the Horned God and Mother Nature are at their peak. Mother Nature is heavily pregnant waiting to give birth in winter. The goddess represents the earth; her womb is the fertile soil in which the seed is planted and grows, and her pregnancy is the ripened crops that bring life to the people. Here the Horned God represents male sexuality and the seed that is planted. As the Sun, he nurtures the crops while they grow. Any deities of the sun, harvest, animals, fertility, and the earth are worshiped at this time.
This year, Litha is on June 21, the official first day of summer. Because the Ancient Celts did not have an exact calendar, they would estimate the few days when the Sabbats would occur and then celebrate over those several days. Many still choose to celebrate this way.
For me, I usually practice as a solitary pagan, but there have been times when my friends celebrated with me. A few years ago, I was home for the summer and spending time with friends from high school. I had a bonfire at my place and my friends came over to celebrate with me. Even though none of them are pagan, we made flower headbands, we cooked over the fire, and we danced to pagan folk music; when the time came for me to invoke the gods, perform my ritual, and dance, my friends joined in. It made me feel so happy to see them enjoy something so important to me.
The goddess I worship during the Summer Solstice is Rhiannon, who represents inspiration, fertility, and happiness. To me Rhiannon is the essence of womanhood and the role of being a mother. Because I find so much strength in being a woman, I choose to worship her to remind myself of the power I hold within. It is common for believers to pick one or two gods/goddesses to worship during the holidays; usually their choice pertains to what the worshiper is asking for. So, if one person wanted to ask for good health, they would pray to a deity that resided over healing and medicine.
During this time, it is also believed that the Fae folk (fairies, elves, sprites, etc.) come out and play amongst the humans. They are known for pulling pranks on humans just like they did in William Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Fae love music, sweets, drink, and dancing and people often leave out food and offerings for them. I usually leave out berries and mini muffins in my flower garden. I also hang up wind chimes, bells, and anything sparkly to attract them into my garden.
What I have learned is there is no right or wrong way to be pagan or celebrate Litha. Spirituality can be expressed in the simplest of ways, like every time I leave some fruit in the garden so the fairies will help my flowers grow, or when I make an extra plate at Samhain for my uncle who passed away. Every time I receive a new tattoo when I complete a milestone in my life (just like my ancestors would have done) I reclaim that part of my heritage that was lost through the years. (It is believed the Celts would tattoo themselves from the neck down.) I run my fingers over the ink on my body and I can feel the blood of my ancestors flowing through my veins. I imagine how the tattoos would have looked on my ancestors, and it makes me feel close to them.
When I raise up a cup of wine as an offering to the Sun God this solstice, I will invoke the power of my ancestors within me, I will hear their voices in the wind blowing around me and see their spirits in the flames of the fire. I am Celtic, I am pagan, I am a witch, but most importantly I am me.
Join a Litha Celebration
If you want to observe Litha this year, it is easy to find a celebration that you can participate in as a pagan or non-pagan. Just look up local pagan covens in your state online to find the closest one to you. Most covens are open and welcome guests as long as you are mannerly. Be sure to ask them if there are any customs that they would like you to observe. For example, most people bring a food dish to share (store bought is fine), so ask if you should bring one.
If the coven begins a ritual and you are not comfortable participating in it, they will most likely have no problem with you sitting that one out, just be sure to be respectfully quiet while the ritual is performed and do not walk through the ritual area.
It is common for pagans to listen to music and dance; I encourage anyone who attends a celebration to partake in the dancing as it is an instrumental part of religious observance and it is believed to bring about magic upon the earth.
How to Prepare a Litha Ritual on Your Own
If you want to perform a Litha ritual on your own, here’s how you can do that.
Supplies: You will need a yellow or orange altar cloth, two candles (one gold for the Sun God and one green for Mother Nature), any summertime herbs, fresh flowers, and a cup of water from a natural source.
Set up your altar with your supplies however you see fit for summertime, then invoke the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) and the Sun God and Mother Nature. After this is done then perform your Litha ritual; you can find a ritual in any spell book, pagan website, or you can write your own. I prefer to write my own. Also, when I perform my ritual I like to listen to music, my favorite song for this occasion is “Litha” by Lisa Thiel.
Here is a common Litha prayer to the Sun God that you could use in your ritual.
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.
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.