21 June, 2012

Midsummer's Dancing Light

Can it be here already? This is Midsummer, the Summer Solstice or Litha, sometimes called Alban Hefin, Sun Blessing, Gathering Day, Feill-Sheathain, Vestalia or St. John's Day. The word Litha is Anglo-Saxon and hails from the Venerable Bede's De temporum ratione which called June and July se Ærra Liþa (early summer month) and se Æfterra Liþa (later summer month).  Whatever we choose to call it, this is the longest day of the year north of the equator - it's the day on which the Sun is at its zenith and seems to stand still for a brief intense shining interval before starting down the long slope to russet autumn, and beyond to winter. South of the equator, this is the Midwinter Solstice (or Yule), and out southern kin are headed for summer.

It hardly seems as though summer has arrived, and here are we are at the peak of the year. It's all downhill from now on, at least for the next six months or so. After today, sunlight hours will wane until Yule (the Winter Solstice), some time around December 21, and then days will begin to lengthen again. Of course, longer nights go along on the cosmic ride during the last half of the year - the Old Wild Mother strews glorious moonrises by generous handfuls as the year wanes, spectacular star spangled tapestries of night growing longer with the passage of every twenty-four hour interval. How does one go about celebrating Litha, this bright moment demarcating the lighter and darker halves of the year, delineating the ebb and flow of the seasons? Rites and customs abound, but above all else, one celebrates with fire, and so my notion of midsummer night as a vast cauldron of brightly burning stars is truly appropriate.

The eight festive spokes on the Wheel of the Year are all associated with fire, but the summer solstice more than any other observance. In earlier times, all Europe was alight on the eve of Midsummer, and our forebears gathered around ritual bonfires in celebration of a grand and golden occasion. The flowers of this day are golden too, and the ancients always included the yellow blossoms of St. John's Wort in the festive circlets which adorned their brows.

According to Marian Green, festivities also included morris dancing, ballads, storytelling, pageantry, feasting and torch lit processions after dark. It was believed that prosperity and protection could be ensured by jumping over the Midsummer fires, and those who could make such leaps probably did so. Charred embers from the communal Litha fire were charms against injury and bad weather at harvest time, and they were placed around fields and orchards to protect crops and ensure an abundant harvest. Other customs included placing embers on the family hearth for protection and decorating thresholds with birch, fennel, St. John's Wort and white lilies. Happy Midsummer, Litha or Summer Solstice to all! May old Helios light up your day from sunrise to sunset and Lady Moon fill your night with the finest radiant silver.

1 comment:

liliannattel said...

What a perfect picture for the occasion!