Sunday, June 8, 2008

Celebrating Litha (Summer Solstice)

From the book, "Midsummer: Magical Celebrations of the Summer Solstice" by Anna Franklin.

Midsummer--A Natural Time of Celebration

Every culture has, at some point in its history, marked the time of Midsummer and held it to be enchanted.

The Celts, the Norse, and the Slaves believed that there were three "spirit nights" in the year when magic abounded and the Otherworld was near. The first was Halloween, the second was May Eve, and the third was Midsummer Eve. On this night, of all nights, fairies are most active. As the solstice sun rises on its day of greatest power, it draws up with it the power of herbs, standing stones, and crystals. In the shimmering heat-haze on the horizon, its magical energies are almost visible.

The Cold, darks days of winter and blight are far way, and the time of light and warmth, summer and growth, is here. We naturally feel more joyful and want to spend more time in the open air. The crops are planted and growing nicely, and the young animals have been born.

Midsummer is a natural time of celebration.

Midsummer Customs

The Bonfire

Midsummer fires once blazed all across Europe and North Africa. As far east as Siberia, the Buryat tribe jumped over fires to purify and protect themselves. Such ritual fires had the power to protect the revelers from evil spirits, bad fairies, and wicked witches. They also warded off the powers of bane, blight, dark, death, and winter. At one time no self respecting village would be without its Midsummer fire, while in towns and cities the mayor and corporation actually paid for its construction, and the jollities accompanying it were often very elaborate.

The Midsummer fire had particular characteristics. It was constructed in a round shape on a sacred spot near a holy well, on a hilltop, or on a border of some kind. Such liminal sites were sacred to the Celts, who counted any boundary a magical place between places, giving entrance to and from the Otherworld. The fire was lit at sunset on Midsummer Eve, either with needfire kindled by the friction of two pieces of oak, or with a twig of gorse, itself a plant sacred to the sun.

In parts of England it was the convention on St. John's Eve to light large bonfires after sundown to ward off evil spirits. This was known as "setting the watch". A Tudor poem declared:

When midsummer comes, with havens and bromes they do bonefires make,
And swiftly, then, the nimble young men runne leaping over the same.
The women and maydens together do couple their handes.
With bagpipes sounde, they daunce a rounde; no malice among them stands.

Divination at Midsummer

Midsummer is a time for magic and divination, when the Sidhe and the spirits are abroad. Young girls would use the magic of the season to divine their future husbands. According to one charm, a girl should circle three times around the church as midnight strikes, saying:

Hemp seed I sow,
Hemp seed I hoe,
Hoping that my true love will come after me and mow.

Looking over her shoulder, she should see a vision of her lover following her with a scythe. Placing nodules from the root of mugwort under her pillow would enable her to dream of her lover instead. Other less pleasant secrets could also be learned: If you stand in the churchyard on this night, a vision of all those who will die this year will pass before your eyes.

The Midsummer Tree

You might think that the erection of the maypole is a tradition associated exclusively with May Day (Beltane), but you would be wrong. The raising of the Midsummer tree is an authentic Midsummer custom found in many areas, including Wales, England, and Sweden.

The custom was called "raising the birch" in south Wales, and "the summer branch" in the north, and the dancing around it "the dance of the birch". It was decorated with ribbons, flowers and even pictures. A weathercock with gilded feathers surmounted it. The cry of the cock at sunrise indicates the end of the darkness and the start of the day. Celtic festivals were held from dusk till cock crow of the next morning.

Sometimes one village would try to steal another village's pole, and it was considered very ill fated and a disgrace to one in this fashion. The bereft village was not allowed to raise another until they had succeeded in stealing one from elsewhere, and the poles were guarded all night by groups of youths and men.


An image many people associate with Midsummer is that of modern druids practicing their rites at Stonehenge. It is not known whether the ancient druids used this Neolithic temple of the sun, but its power remains intact today, even when surrounded by fences and tourists.

Stonehenge has been describes as an astronomical observatory. It is oriented to the sun at the Summer Solstice, which rises above the heel stone. Some say this should be "heal stone", as the circle was associated with healing at Midsummer.

The Wand

The most propitious time in the year to make a magic wand is at Midsummer. The wand is the tool that joins the physical and spiritual realms and transmits energy from one to the other. The wand relates to the element of fire, creativity, life energy, and the spirit. It focuses and directs the magical will to make it manifest in the world. It is the magical tool connected with the season of summer, noonday, and the direction of the south.

You should cut your own wand from living wood. This is the subject of misunderstanding. Some say that the wood must be taken in such a way as to capture the dryad of the tree, but this is a kind of shorthand for something much more profound. Every plant has its own spirit, which embodies its character, its magical vibration, its lessons and its complex connection within the Web of Life.

You should go out before dawn on Midsummer Day and seek your chosen tree as the sun rises. the wood should be virgin--that is, one year's growth only--and the wand should be cut from the tree at a single stroke. It should measure from elbow to fingertip. If you wish, you can smooth and polish the wand with glasspaper, but do not varnish it.

Consecrating the Wand

The wand is consecrated with incense of bay, cedar, frankincense, hazel and pine, with the following words:

God and Goddess, deign to bless this wand, which I would consecrate and set aside.
Let it obtain the necessary virtues for acts of beauty and love in the names of the Lord and Lady.

Pass it through the elements in the following manner: Push the tip into the earth, through a candle flame, into the dish of water, and through the air in the sign of the pentacle, and then say:

God and Goddess, I call upon you to bless this instrument, which I have prepared in your honor.

Hold it high in the air and say:

Let blessing be.

Midsummer Spells

Sweetheart's Blossom Spell

Take a lily bulb and plant it in a clean pot that has never been used before. While you plant it, repeat the name of the one you love, and then say:

As this root grows
And as this blossom blows,
May his (her) heart be
Turned unto me.

Midsummer Candle Spell

For a general well-being and prosperity spell, take a yellow or gold candle and anoint it with marigold oil, saying:

In honor of the Lord and Lady on this Eve of St. John, grant me fruitfulness and profit of my planting and my work. In the name of the Lady and her Lord. So mote it be.

Burning away Negativity

Throw into the fire all things that represent things that have negative associations for you. You might take the opportunity to give up smoking, for example, by throwing a pack of cigarettes into the flames. Old magical tools and books that are no longer needed or that are broken can be disposed of in the Midsummer fire.

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