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Litha also known as midsummer commonly occurs around the same time as the summer solstice. A celebration to mark the height of summer, the longest day of the year and the shortest night. This pagan holidays roots are buried in many different rituals and ceremonies. Some of the most well known folk-lore tells tales of rural english villagers building bonfires to keep evil spirits out of their towns. It is also believed that if you sit in a stone circle on midsummers eve you will see the fae. (Note: The fae can be mischievous and interactions are best avoided unless you know exactly what you are doing.)
In parts of Ireland it was customary to carry a pebble while circling the campfire. While walking the holder would set a wish or request upon the stone before throwing it into the flames of the fire. Sun wheels were another form of celebration in Europe, where a wheel or ball of hay was set on fire before being rolled down a hill into a river or body of water. In Wales it was believed that if the wheel went out before hitting the water a good crop was guaranteed that year. In ancient Egypt midsummer marked the coming of the star Sirius and the nourishing floods of the nile delta.
How to celebrate Litha
As with all festivals and celebrations there are many ways that you can celebrate this time of year. Below you will find some of our favourite ways to celebrate litha and midsummer.
Gather and dry herbs
Many herbs are reaching their peak during midsummer, so this is an ideal time to harvest them. When collecting herbs, remember not to over harvest and to gather them before they flower. Only pick dry herbs for the preservation process. Wet herbs will mould and rot. Once you have taken your cuttings, gently shake them to dislodge any insects hiding in them. Air drying is not only the traditional way of drying herbs, but also the easiest and least expensive way.
To begin, remove all of the leaves from the bottom inch or two of the stem (the cut end), also remove any yellow or diseased leaves. Next bundle around six stems together and tie with string (the herbs will shrink as they dry so you should check your string periodically to see if it needs tightening). Finally, hang the herbs upside down in a warm area or room, ensuring there is plenty of air flow around each bundle.
Make a litha flower crown
To make a simple flower crown you will need your flowers of choice and some string. Popular litha flowers include elderflower, lavender, mistletoe, and roses, but feel free to use whatever flowers call to you.
- Begin by laying three flowers out with the stems all facing the same way and their heads one beneath another, then twine string around their stems.
- Continue adding a flower beneath the flower above and wrap with string until you have created a circle to fit on the crown of your head.
- Once the circle is complete, finish by joining the last stems beneath the first flowers using your string.
Host a drum and dance circle
Invite a group of friends over and host an evening of music and dance. This is an evening of spiritual sharing, using hand drums to produce a rhythmic sound for dance and spiritual guidance. The drum is believed by many to be a sacred tool that can connect us to higher realms. With the mesmerising beat of the drums, this is a place for raising your vibrational energy.
Bonfires and feasts
Bonfires are not only a source of heat but also a celebration of light. Traditionally lit to keep evil spirits away, nowadays, they are often seen as a place of gathering. So why not invite your friends and family to join you around the bonfire for a night of fun and festivities.
Feasting has always been a favourite part of celebrations, so why not combine your bonfire with a cookout. Foods traditionally associated with litha include honey, fresh vegetables and summer fruits such as elderberries and strawberries. Herbs are also popular particularly fennel, lavender and thyme, plus any other food that you can cook on an open flame. And don’t forget mead is usually the drink of choice during litha.
Prepare and decorate a litha altar
Since litha is a celebration of the sun, set up an altar outside. If this is not possible, set your altar by the window that allows the most sunlight in. If you are planning on using an altar cloth choose bright summery greens or yellows, perhaps even a gingham fabric. Once you have the base of your altar ready, you can begin layering it with items that speak to you. Below you will find a printable list of decoration ideas (click on the picture to print).
Remember wherever you set up your altar, and however, you choose to decorate it, have fun. Your altar is personal to you and with the height of summer upon us, it should encourage a happiness and joy.
The oak king
In many Celtic traditions there is a legendary battle between the oak king and the holly king. These two kings are constantly battling for power over the seasons and wheel of the year. During yule the oak king conquers the holly king and reigns until litha. From litha the holly king returns to do battle with the oak king and defeats him. There are variations of this story, some say the battles are performed during the equinoxes, meaning the oak king is at his strongest during litha. Others believe the oak king and the holly king are seen as dual aspects of the horned god, each of these twin aspects rule for half the year.
Whichever legend you choose to believe the oak king has always been the significant entity during litha and midsummer. It makes a nice change to celebrate the god rather than the goddess, so take this theme and run wild with it. Include oak wherever you can in your celebrations. Use it on a bonfire, and throw some herbs into the flames to enhance the heady aromas. Add oak leaves to your crowns and altars, if you take a walk make an oak journey stick. However, you can, do try and incorporate some oak into your festivities, in recognition of the oak king.
For information of celebrations take a look at our blog, where you will find information on how to celebrate at other times of the year such as ostara and samhain. And please remember to tag us @surrender_to_happiness on Instagram with all your litha celebration photographs. We love to see you enjoying these wonderful festivities.