Litha: The Summer Solstice

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Beltane Fire Society

“Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship, till in the sacramental act so burned by thee, that to this hour I bear the scar … Thou canst blind; but I can then grope. Thou canst consume; but I can then be ashes. … Light though thou be, thou leapest out of darkness; but I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping out of thee! … There burn the flames! Oh, thou magnanimous! now do I glory in my genealogy. But thou art but my fiery father … Leap! leap up, and lick the sky! I leap with thee; I burn with thee …”

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Litha is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and the apogee of the light. The summer solstice usually falls on June 21st or 22nd in the northern hemisphere. The date is called “Mid­summer” by some Neo-Pagans, though it is actually the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere.

The date corresponds roughly to the Christian Feast of St. John, also called “Johnmas,” on June 24th. The Neo-Pagan Oak King and Holly King have been compared to the Christian fig­ures of John the Baptist and Jesus, because John the Baptist was executed shortly after Jesus’ ascendancy (marked by his bap­tism). Jesus’ birth is celebrated at the winter solstice, and St. John’s is celebrated at the summer solstice.

In the Neo-Pagan tradition, the summer solstice mirrors the winter solstice as the time when the Oak King comes to the cli­max of his power, which is both the time of his greatest strength and the beginning of his decline. Like Yule, Litha is an ambiva­lent time. The Sun is at its zenith, and the fires that are lit to cele­brate it cast shadows that will lengthen in the following months.

Mythologically, at Litha, the Goddess and her Consort, the Oak King, consummate their union. Their consummation be­comes a conflagration that will consume the Oak King. The fire casts a shadow across the land, foreshadowing the decline of the Oak King. Though the God of Light still reigns, the Dark God escapes his imprisonment and the Oak King begins his decline. In another version, the Dark Child is born at this time.

Updated 2019

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