Celebrating the seasons and the natural cycles of the Earth is a beautiful way to live mindfully and strengthen our relationship with the natural world (and therefore, with ourselves). The summer solstice is coming up, and it’s a perfect time to dive in to this practice. The solstice has been observed since the dawn of time. “Sol” means sun, and “Stitium” means to stop, and because people saw the sun moving slower in the sky, it appeared to be still. Ancient Egyptians used it to help predict when the Nile would flood. Vikings used the day to meet and resolve formal disputes. The ancient Greeks used this day as the start of their new year on some of their calendars, and it began the one month countdown to their Olympic games. In ancient Rome, this day was called Vestalia—a festival celebrating the hearth and blessings. The Sioux tribe of North America held celebrations including a sun dance around a tree. Ancient Chinese people associated the day with “yin”—the Earth and feminine forces. Neolithic humans used it as a marker for their crop growing.
Litha, or Midsummer, is a pagan holiday of the summer solstice originating in Northern Europe. Neopagans, Wiccans, Witches, and nature appreciators still celebrate it. It’s one of eight sabbats during the year, and it’s among the most loved. If you want to join in on the fun and get in touch with this time of the year (and human history), here are a few ideas:
Have a bonfire.
Traditionally, Celts would light bonfires on the eve of Litha on hilltops and in sacred places to honor the fullness of the sun. People would generally use Oak (a correspondence, as this day honors the Oak King) for firewood and sprinkle in aromatic herbs. They would then leap through the fire for good luck, use the burning herbs to bless animals, and take torches in the direction of the sun around their homes and crops for a good harvest in the autumn. Coals and ashes from the fires were also put in the fields for the same reason.
For a modern rendition of this, have a bonfire and sprinkle in kitchen herbs (or fresh herbs if you have them). Think about different things that they symbolize to you. For example, Rosemary can represent good luck for you, or lavender can represent peace. As you toss them in, meditate on those symbolic meanings and make wishes for them to come into your life. Dance around the fire, wearing color that remind you of the sun and even gold eco-friendly glitter on your face. Wear a dandelion crown, drink sun tea, eat warm-colored foods, and write love poems to the sun. After, gather the ashes from the fire to sprinkle in your garden or onto your houseplants, whispering encouragements to them as you do so.
Honor the Oak tree.
Litha is said to be a battle between light (the Oak King) and Dark (the Holly King). In the end, the Oak King is triumphant but the light gets shorter and shorter until Yule—the day for the Holly King. Because of this, Oak trees are honored on Litha.
Take a walk where there are lots of Oaks, really taking the time to admire them and notice their colors, textures, and the way the light filters through them. Even hug them if you are that kind of person. If you want other ways to honor this tree, consider gathering Oak leaves and making sun prints with them, or go out the night before and gather the leaves to make into garland to decorate for Litha. Other options include doing a painting of an Oak tree, writing a letter to a local Oak tree on leaves and bringing it to them, and wearing green.
Think about the darkness and light in your life.
Since Litha results from this story of dark versus light, another great way to observe the holiday is to make this idea more personal. Spend some time on Litha meditating on what brings you darkness and what brings you light right now. Think about ways that you can increase those things that bring you light, and how you can get in touch with the joyful parts of yourself. This can involve practicing self care, journaling, doing yoga, or taking a walk and thinking about that balance. Stargazing is another great way to literally see light and dark and think about what that means inside you.
Another spin on this concept of light and dark is to think about the darker parts of yourself and learn to love them. For example, as women we are taught that we need to be agreeable all of the time, which is seen as light. If you’re someone who is strong-willed or who stands up for themselves really well, think about that and embrace it. Make a list of those parts of yourself that others may see as fitting into that category and spend the day learning to admire them better. Embrace your darkness and your light.
Decorate your doorway.
The Celtic word for Oak is “Duir,” which means doorway, which is another reason the Oak is symbolic of Litha. Litha is the doorway to the second, waning half of the year.
Embrace this theme by decorating your front door or all of your house’s doors with summer plants, warm-colored ribbons, leaf wreaths, or anything else you can think of. You could even wash your door at the end of the night with sun tea that you can make in the day, which brings me to the next idea…
Make sun tea.
This is a great way to celebrate the sun. Take a bowl of water, and place things in it that remind you of the sun. I like to put in dandelions, daisies, sunflowers, citrine, and lemon slices. Place it outside or somewhere that the sun can hit it, and let it sit from dawn until sunset. When the sun has set take some of the tea to wash your front door, drink with agave, or water your plants with. Save the rest in a bottle and label it, so that you can take baths with it or drink it as a tea. It keeps you connected to the solar feelings of this holiday. If you’re into witchcraft, this is a great thing to have on hand.
Light as many candles as you can—consider lighting one every hour from the time the sun rises to the time it sets. Think about things you want in your life, as this holiday is traditionally one of abundance, so as you light each one think about one thing you want to come into your life. Consider using warm-colored candles or making your own with wax that you whisper wishes into and foraged flowers.
If you are a witch or want to try out witchcraft, this is a great day to try out some fire witchcraft! Just be sure to be careful and intentional about it.
Since this day is about abundance, baking bread is a very traditional way to celebrate. Consider putting in herbs, so that when it bakes it’s a mini version of the fire ceremonies of old. When it’s done, drizzle it with vegan honey or agave (even better if you let them sit in the sun, so they can soak up sunshine). Eat it in sunlight.
Dress for the holiday.
Wear warm colors and green, use perfume or essential oils that smell like herbs, and wear a lot of shiny things. Embody what you think of when you think about Litha.
Forage for flowers and make a flower crown.
This isn’t as traditional for this specific holiday (although Pagans did make protective garlands—do that if you have more time), but if you use warm-colored flowers and oak leaves it can be a new twist on traditional correspondences. It’s also just really fun.
Make Elderflower champagne.
Elderflowers are at their peak on this day, so this is a beautiful way to honor the Earth and be mindful of the seasons. If you want to be able to drink it on Litha, make it 10 days ahead of time. Another option is to just put the flowers in lemonade or your sun tea. Either way, make sure to give thanks to the Elderflowers.
Say an incantation of gratitude to the Earth.
Just like a prayer, this just involves thanking the planet for all it’s given you. Try to be specific, and thank specific plants and animals and elements. Be as intentional as you can, as it will mean more. Consider doing it outside and barefoot, with your palms facing the sun, as this will help you feel the most in touch with this day of sunlight.
If this sounds too out there for you, simply make a list of things you’re grateful for in your life. It will be uplifting, and nod to the theme of abundance associated with Litha.
Gather and hang mistletoe.
Though this is known more for its ties to Yule (and Christmas), this plant is really potent when it grows on Oak trees and Pagans really value them during this time of year. If they grow near you, go out and gather some at dawn and hang them around your house.
Make a Litha altar.
You don’t have to be a witch to do this. Think of it as a table centerpiece, made with more intention. Use sunflowers and the other correspondences and colors listed to make a pretty spread that expresses the feeling of Litha. This can be a centerpiece for your dining table, or it can be on its own table. You can write gratitude lists and put them there, light your candles there, or just meditate in front of it. It’s there for decorate and to direct your thoughts towards.
Learn about the sun.
If you’re nerdy, this may be more your speed. Watch a documentary about the sun and how it works, read about how civilizations honored it, and look up some facts about it. This can be a day for learning if you’re less comfortable with Earthy or spiritual things.
Watch the sunrise and sunset.
This is a centering way to focus on the sun. Think about happy memories you have on sunny days and what the sun brings to you, and have that in mind as you watch these. Toast during both the rise and set with a drink of choice (maybe orange juice or lemonade in the morning and your champagne at night), and make a wish for abundance of some form in your life.
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn