Heritage of Litha

by Lark

This is the day of the Summer Solstice, the day of Litha, "Light." On Midsummer Day, the sun dances at dawn, stands still in the heavens at noon, and lingers into the night. Light fills the world. This is the Time of Brightness, the Moon of Light. Light fills our dreams and lingers behind our eyelids as we sleep

At dawn on Midsummer Day, look for three rays of light shining over water. They are the Awen of Cerridwen, in Druid tradition the source of magic power and poetic inspiration. Druids celebrate the Summer Solstice as Alban Heruin, "Light of the Shore." The liquid light of Midsummer fills Cerridwen's cauldron of inspiration and rebirth. Look into her cauldron to see yourself in her mirror. Wear vervain, the Druids' Midsummer herb, in your hair for the Midsummer dancing

In the British Isles, Midsummer bonfires were built on hilltops on St. John's Eve, June 23. Straw giants were burned. Families carried torches three times sunwise around standing stones. In 1929, the Old Cornwall Society revived the British custom of lighting a chain of fires in sequence. The first fire overlooks Land's End. As the light from each fire is sighted, the next is lit, until a fiery chain runs 80 miles through Cornwall to the Devon border. A woman called the Lady of the Flowers casts garlands of herbs and flowers into the fire and speaks a Cornish invocation to bless the crops and wither the weeds

This is the time of the faeries. From Midsummer Day until St. Peter's Day, June 29, the faery folk travel abroad making mischief and giving gifts. Robin Goodfellow lights the Midsummer fires in England. In Ireland, Aine, Queen of the Sidhe in Munster, was a Midsummer Goddess. A recent tale says she gave the flowers of meadowsweet their scent to confuse hounds hunting the faery folk. Cuchulain, the Ulster hero, was sometimes worshipped with her as a Green Man

Midsummer is the season to gather and dry herbs and to work magic with them. On Midsummer's Eve, gather St. John's wort, mugwort, plantain, corn marigold, dwarf elder, yarrow, lily, vervain, and orpins to make garlands. At midnight on St. John's Eve, walk seven times sunwise around a church sowing hempseed and say, "Hempseed I sow. Hempseed I mow. Let the one that is my true love come after me and mow." When you've completed the circuits, look over your left shoulder to see your lover

This is the season when dragons wake from dreaming. Snap, the dragon of Norwich, England, was part of the mayor's inaugural parade every St. John's Day until 1835. St. Martha of Tarascon, France, had a reputation as a dragon-tamer. Her domesticated dragon, La Tarasque, paraded through Tarascon on June 28

In San Pedro Manrique, Spain, firewalking on St. John's Eve is the pagan center of a Christian ritual. The firewalkers attribute their success to faith in Mary of la Peña. Three girls called Móndidas, "Pure Ones," carry baskets of bread on their heads to church for Mary's blessing. Horse races and dancing go on all day

Vesta, the Roman Goddess of the hearth fire, was celebrated just before the Solstice. On the seventh of June, her sanctuary was thrown open, and matrons walked barefoot through the streets to offer her mola salsa, salted grain meal mixed by her priestesses. On the fifteenth, her fires were lit, using a burning glass or mirror, and her sanctuary was closed to guard her flame

Athena was honored as a sun Goddess on the solstice. The Greek year began at the first new moon after the solstice with the six-day Panathenaia festival. The birth of Athena, Goddess of Athens, was celebrated on the fifth day. Two girls between seven and eleven years old served as kanephóroi, basket bearers, carrying offerings on their heads to a grotto by the Temple of Aphrodite. Two girls called arrhephóroi made Athena's new peplos or cloak. A ship with the cloak as its sail led a procession to the temple to dress the Goddess in her new clothes

The Kachina home dances begin just before the solstice with Eagle and Spruce ceremonies to ripen the corn. Ix Chel, the Mayan Mother of Stars, a Goddess of childbirth, is honored at the solstice. In Peru, the solstice is Inti Raymi, the Inca feast of the newborn sun and beginning of the southern winter

The fire of the heavens comes to earth at Midsummer, the gift of Prometheus. Titan and trickster and master of all arts, Prometheus created the first humans from clay and water. He invented animal sacrifice, the earliest form of quality control for meat. Hiding the flesh of a bull beneath its entrails and its bones beneath a layer of fat, he offered Zeus his choice. Zeus chose the fat, only to discover bones beneath it. He punished Prometheus by withholding fire from mortals, crying "Let them eat their flesh raw." Prometheus entered Olympus by stealth, lit a torch at the fiery chariot of the sun, and broke off a glowing coal. He hid the coal in a fennel stalk and took it to earth to light fires for mortals. He is the Archangel Michael, a pyromaniac, and the original barbecue chef. His name means "forethought" or "sun wheel." He ruled Sagittarius before Jupiter. He is the teacher of all skills and arts, the flame of a new idea, and the fire of creativity

In Corinth, the Goddess of the Midsummer sun was Golden Aphrodite. She and her consort, Helios, were worshipped on the acropolis at the solstice. The Hours dressed her in golden jewelry until she shone like the sun for her festival. In Crete and Cyprus, she was the Great Goddess, born of the sea, Lady of wild creatures. Sappho of Lesbos invokes her as Kypris, the limb-loosener who catches us all in her net of desire. She is Urania, the Queen of Heaven, grandmother of the Muses and eldest of the Fates. She is Wolfish Aphrodite, whose mask turns her enemies to stone. She is the Queen Bee, the Queen of the Mountains, and the Queen among the Heather. She is Venus in Blue Jeans and the Bearded Lady. She renews her virginity in the sea at Paphos every spring. "And sometimes when the moon is misty through the trees, right now, she says, 'I want to be your girl, your little girl.' And sometimes it's all I can do is bow to her."*

This year the night of the solstice is the night of the full moon. Bendis, the moon Goddess of Thrace, taught witches to draw down the moon. Hares and witches dance at the full moon. Diana leads the wild hunt through the woods by moonlight. By seed and by root, by leaf and by bud, by life and by love, we draw down the moon and begin the summer

* From "Worlds They Fall and Rise" by Mike Heron and Robin Williamson.

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