21 June 2023 is the time of the Summer Solstice (Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere), the start of Cancer Season and, in many pagan belief systems, it is the festival of Litha. This time is celebrated by various cultures across the globe.
The Solstice is a very powerful time of the year and ideal for observing spiritual practices. For example, ancient civilisations built temples and stone circles that were perfectly aligned to the rising sun on the day of the Solstice.
Looking at the foundations of Litha, its roots lie in ancient societies that depended on an agricultural lifestyle, where the reliance on the Sun supported their livelihoods. Litha is concerned with honouring the power of the Sun and the year’s longest span of daylight hours.
Within Celtic traditions, Litha associates the Oak King who represents the waxing or growing power of the Sun. This is very often the reason for lighting bonfires in honour of the strength of the Sun and to encourage plentiful harvests in return for the labour invested in the production of and nurturing of the crops.
In Norse traditions, the Solstice was marked by feasting, bonfires and celebration of their fertility God, Freyr, who also controlled the ram and sunshine.
Litha is a name that originates from Old English, with its roots in the Anglo-Saxon calendar.
It is widely believed that Litha relates to the word “LIBA” which means “gentle” or “calm” in Old English. Litha refers to the time of the Summer Solstice when the Sun reaches it pinnacle in the sky, giving us the longest day, this year it is suggested that the daylight will last on 21 June 2023 for 16 hours 38 minutes in the UK.
Litha, as a festival name, gained favour among pagan and Wiccan groups as they reclaimed and resurrected ancient traditions and festivals. In the present day, Litha is the time to recognise and celebrate the Summer Solstice.
Litha is an integral part of the Wheel of the Year, a cycle of seasonal celebrations that are observed by modern pagan and Wiccan groups. The Wheel represents the changing seasons and eternal cycle of life: death and rebirth. Litha is directly opposite Yule, the Winter Solstice. Litha is an opportunity to celebrate the fullness of life and embrace the energy of the sun.
Appropriate activities in which to get engaged include: gathering medicinal herbs and plants that are believed to be more potent at this time of the year. The herbs and plants are used ritually and in potions for health and protection.
Another long-held practice is the building of decorated wheels, aptly named Sun-wheels that are set on fire and rolled down a hillside, signifying the waning of the Sun and the continuous life cycle.