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 Litha

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Stacey/Cirrius
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PostSubject: Litha   Tue Sep 22, 2009 7:42 am

Summer Solstice, or Litha as it is also called, occurs on or about the 21st of June, when the Sun enters zero degrees Cancer. It marks Midsummer for many cultures, even though in most of the US, summer has barely started and the kids are just now getting out of school! It is the longest day of the year, and the shortest night; when the sun reaches his apex in the sky, and the days will now grow shorter as the light begins to wane.

Many legends explain this phenomena as the darkness triumphing over the light. The darker brother kills the lighter brother in these legends, and the brother who dies resides in the underworld until it is time for him to return and slay his brother again, to rule for the next 6 months. The stories of Lugh and Goronwy, and the Oak King and the Holly King are but two of these legends.

It is interesting to note here that the Christian religion has also tried to usurp this holiday by decreeing it the birth of John the Baptist, and declaring it his feast day. Now, other Saints in the Church are only remembered for the day they died (usually in martyrdom) so it is very curious that St. John the Baptist should be the only one recognized on his natal day. Also, the original birth of Christ was moved from late Spring when he was actually born, to December 25 to coincide with the birth of all the other "Sun" Gods. So even the Christian religion has rotated to the Pagan cycle of the Earth, with their births lining right up with our Solstices. The natural cycle, what we call the Wheel of the Year, is evidently highly compelling!

This was the traditional time of year to harvest your magickal and medicinal herbs. Cut them with a scythe or boline, by the light of the Moon, while chanting the appropriate chant for the purpose for which the plant will be used. Leave an offering for the rest of the plant, and try not to harvest more than 1/3rd of the plant so that the rest will remain healthy and vigorous. If you have to harvest the roots, then you will need to find a bunch of them growing together, and then only harvest 1/3 of them, so that the rest will thrive in the space you have just provided. Harvesting a branch should be done at the lowest junction where the branch joins the main plant, and be careful not to damage the remaining plant. Nature will provide all our needs, but not if we destroy Her gifts!

If you live in the southern part of the US, you can harvest many plants now also, unless you are in the deep south. This far south, like southern Florida, and southern California, not much that has magickal or medicinal value will still be alive by this time. Most of the harvesting must be done at Imbolc, or Ostara, because the intense heat and sunlight will have burned off many herbs by this time. One way to try to save them is to put them under screening, or indoors with diffused light. That will enable some of the hardier varieties to survive through the early summer at least.

Since the Sun at Litha is entering Cancer, a water sign, this holiday is one of the best ones for gathering your magickal water which will be used on your altar and in your spells for the coming year. We usually go to the beach at Litha, and gather salt-water. We bring offerings of flowers and nuts, and 3 pennies or 3 dimes for prosperity and throw these into the waves before we take our water. We honor Aphrodite and Yameya as the Goddesses of the Sea by taking some jewelry as an offering. It can be simply a broken silver chain, a ring you used to wear, one half of an earring set, things like that. We find that doing this means that when we visit the beach anytime at all, we don't have to worry about losing any of our "good" jewelry to a jealous Goddess!

If you don't live near the sea, another excellent source of magickal water, is rain water from a thunderstorm, and there are plenty that occur at this time of year. The more electrical energy the storm puts out, the more energized the water is, so the fiercer the better! Collect in a glass jar, or porcelain, avoid metal containers. Store on a shelf, and don't leave the jar on the ground, or the energy will ground. We only use our water for 6 months, after that we return the water to the source, and collect fresh. The energized water really only lasts about 6 months. If you add shells, rocks from the sea, or other non-perishable sea items such as coral, the energy of the water will stay higher during the 6 months. This water is not for drinking, but only for magickal use.

In June, the Full Moon is called the Honey Moon, because this is the time to collect the honey from the beehives. Mead is an excellent brew made from honey, and there is Lord Riekin's Mead making recipe on this web-page, or you can e-mail Lady Bridget for his instructions also. Mead is the traditional drink for Summer Solstice for that reason. Small mead, or Soda-Pop mead, can be made about 10 days prior to drinking, and is low in alcohol and on the sweet side. For these reasons, it is the preferred Mead to make just prior to this Sabbat. Incidentally, it was believed that since the Grand Union between the Goddess and God happened in May, at Beltain, that it was unlucky to have mortal weddings in May. In addition, many couples found that after the May Day frolic, they were "expecting" and so June became the most popular month for weddings, and still is today. Since the June Full Moon is called the "Honey Moon", can you guess now why that term is used for the time right after the marriage ceremony?!!

It is appropriate also, to have honey on the altar during the Cakes and Wine to dip your cakes in for this celebration. In our tradition, we always have honey on the altar to symbolize the sweetness of life. It also is a symbol of what combined energies to a single goal can accomplish!

There are many songs associated with Litha, or the Summer Solstice, and chants dealing with the ocean and the ebb and flow of the year are especially appropriate. Do some research, find books of poetry and see how much material is available with the Sun theme, and the Ocean theme. Our ancestors have been worshiping the Sun for long ages, and the wealth of material out there will astound you. Anything that pleases you and your group can be used in your rituals without copyright infringement as long as it is not published, and if you distribute words be sure to credit the proper sources.

Happy Litha!

In addition to the four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year, there are four lesser holidays as well: the two solstices, and the two equinoxes. In folklore, these are referred to as the four 'quarter-days' of the year, and modern Witches call them the four 'Lesser Sabbats', or the four 'Low Holidays'. The Summer Solstice is one of them.

Technically, a solstice is an astronomical point and, due to the precession of the equinox, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, and we experience the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Astrologers know this as the date on which the sun enters the sign of Cancer.

However, since most European peasants were not accomplished at reading an ephemeris or did not live close enough to Salisbury Plain to trot over to Stonehenge and sight down it's main avenue, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, June 24th. The slight forward displacement of the traditional date is the result of multitudinous calendrical changes down through the ages. It is analogous to the winter solstice celebration, which is astronomically on or about December 21st, but is celebrated on the traditional date of December 25th, Yule, later adopted by the Christians.

Again, it must be remembered that the Celts reckoned their days from sundown to sundown, so the June 24th festivities actually begin on the previous sundown (our June 23rd). This was Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Eve. Which brings up another point: our modern calendars are quite misguided in suggesting that 'summer begins' on the solstice. According to the old folk calendar, summer BEGINS on May Day and ends on Lammas (August 1st), with the summer solstice, midway between the two, marking MID-summer. This makes more logical sense than suggesting that summer begins on the day when the sun's power begins to wane and the days grow shorter.

Although our Pagan ancestors probably preferred June 24th (and indeed most European folk festivals today use this date), the sensibility of modern Witches seems to prefer the actual solstice point, beginning the celebration at sunset. Again, it gives modern Pagans a range of dates to choose from with, hopefully, a weekend embedded in it.

As the Pagan mid-winter celebration of Yule was adopted by Christians as Christmas (December 25th), so too the Pagan mid-summer celebration was adopted by them as the feast of John the Baptist (June 24th). Occurring 180 degrees apart on the wheel of the year, the mid-winter celebration commemorates the birth of Jesus, while the mid-summer celebration commemorates the birth of John, the prophet who was born six months before Jesus in order to announce his arrival.

This last tidbit is extremely conspicuous, in that John is the ONLY saint in the entire Catholic hagiography whose feast day is a commemoration of his birth, rather than his death. A generation ago, Catholic nuns were fond of explaining that a saint is commemorated on the anniversary of his or her death because it was really a 'birth' into the Kingdom of Heaven. But John the Baptist, the sole exception, is emphatically commemorated on the anniversary of his birth into THIS world. Although this makes no sense viewed from a Christian perspective, it makes perfect poetic sense from the viewpoint of Pagan symbolism.

In most Pagan cultures, the sun god is seen as split between two rival personalities: the god of light and his twin, his 'weird', his 'other self', the god of darkness. They are Gawain and the Green Knight, Gwyn and Gwythyr, Llew and Goronwy, Lugh and Balor, Balan and Balin, the Holly King and the Oak King, etc. Often they are depicted as fighting seasonal battles for the favor of their goddess/lover, such as Creiddylad or Blodeuwedd, who represents Nature.

The god of light is always born at the winter solstice, and his strength waxes with the lengthening days, until the moment of his greatest power, the summer solstice, the longest day. And, like a look in a mirror, his 'shadow self', the lord of darkness, is born at the summer solstice, and his strength waxes with the lengthening nights until the moment of his greatest power, the winter solstice, the longest night.

Indirect evidence supporting this mirror-birth pattern is strongest in the Christianized form of the Pagan myth. Many writers, from Robert Graves to Stewart Farrar, have repeatedly pointed out that Jesus was identified with the Holly King, while John the Baptist was the Oak King. That is why, 'of all the trees that are in the wood, the Holly tree bears the crown.' If the birth of Jesus, the 'light of the world', is celebrated at mid-winter, Christian folk tradition insists that John the Oak King was born (rather than died) at mid-summer.

It is at this point that I must diverge from the opinion of Robert Graves and other writers who have followed him. Graves believes that at midsummer, the Sun King is slain by his rival, the God of Darkness; just as the God of Darkness is, in turn, slain by the God of Light at midwinter. And yet, in Christian folk tradition (derived from the older Pagan strain), it is births, not deaths, that are associated with the solstices. For the feast of John the Baptist, this is all the more conspicuous, as it breaks the rules regarding all other saints.

So if births are associated with the solstices, when do the symbolic deaths occur? When does Goronwy slay Llew and when does Llew, in his turn, slay Goronwy? When does darkness conquer light or light conquer darkness? Obviously (to me, at least), it must be at the two equinoxes. At the autumnal equinox, the hours of light in the day are eclipsed by the hours of darkness. At the vernal equinox, the process is reversed. Also, the autumnal equinox, called 'Harvest Home', is already associated with sacrifice, principally that of the spirit of grain or vegetation. In this case, the god of light would be identical.

In Welsh mythology in particular, there is a startling vindication of the seasonal placement of the sun god's death, the significance of which occurred to me in a recent dream, and which I haven't seen elsewhere. Llew is the Welsh god of light, and his name means 'lion'. (The lion is often the symbol of a sun god.) He is betrayed by his 'virgin' wife Blodeuwedd, into standing with one foot on the rim of a cauldron and the other on the back of a goat. It is only in this way that Llew can be killed, and Blodeuwedd's lover, Goronwy, Llew's dark self, is hiding nearby with a spear at the ready. But as Llew is struck with it, he is not killed. He is instead transformed into an eagle.

Putting this in the form of a Bardic riddle, it would go something like this: Who can tell in what season the Lion (Llew), betrayed by the Virgin (Blodeuwedd), poised on the Balance, is transformed into an Eagle? My readers who are astrologers are probably already gasping in recognition. The sequence is astrological and in proper order: Leo (lion), Virgo (virgin), Libra (balance), and Scorpio (for which the eagle is a well-known alternative symbol). Also, the remaining icons, cauldron and goat, could arguably symbolize Cancer and Capricorn, representing summer and winter, the signs beginning with the two solstice points. So Llew is balanced between cauldron and goat, between summer and winter, on the balance (Libra) point of the autumnal equinox.

This, of course, is the answer to a related Bardic riddle. Repeatedly, the 'Mabinogion' tells us that Llew must be standing with one foot on the cauldron and one foot on the goat's back in order to be killed. But nowhere does it tell us why. Why is this particular situation the ONLY one in which Llew can be overcome? Because it represents the equinox point. And the equinox is the only time of the entire year when light (Llew) can be overcome by darkness (Goronwy).

It should now come as no surprise that, when it is time for Llew to kill Goronwy in his turn, Llew insists that Goronwy stands where he once stood while he (Llew) casts the spear. This is no mere vindictiveness on Llew's part. For, although the 'Mabinogion' does not say so, it should by now be obvious that this is the only time when Goronwy can be overcome. Light can overcome darkness only at the equinox -- this time the vernal equinox.

So Midsummer (to me,at least) is a celebration of the sun god at his zenith, a crowned king on his throne. He is at the height of his strength and still 1/4 of a year away from his ritual death at the hands of his rival. The spear and the cauldron have often been used as symbols for this holiday and it should now be easy to see why. Sun gods are virtually always associated with spears (even Jesus is pierced by one), and the midsummer cauldron of Cancer is a symbol of the Goddess in her fullness. It is an especially beautiful time of the year for an outdoor celebration. May yours be magical!

In our tradition, of the Welsh-Celtic as practiced by the Witch and Famous Coven, we traditionally celebrate Litha at the beach. Being located in South Florida, this is easy and natural for us to do. We meet a little before sunrise on the morning of the Solstice, and gather together all our beach supplies, towels, etc, and head "en masse" towards the water.

At an appropriately secluded spot, if one can be found, we set up our towels and assorted sundries. We do not wear robes for this, but we do wear regular clothes and bathing suits. Next year, we hope to do this at the Nudist Beach in Miami, and so do away with the bathing suits altogether. We also do not take any ritual altar tools, unless these need to be cleansed or consecrated in the water. We don't set up an altar, or otherwise cast a circle. This is in part because it is a public area, and we have been approached at times by Christians professing to be worried about our souls. If there are no overt signs to alarm people, most will ignore us and pass on. Occasionally we will be joined by a solitary Pagan who also came this morning to worship and didn't know anyone else existed! They were drawn to us because they saw us dancing in a circle in the water, and could hear what we were chanting. That is always a wonderful experience.

We bring nuts and pennies or dimes, also flowers, jewelry, and any other offerings we deem appropriate. We honor Aphrodite and Yemaya as Goddesses of the Sea by tossing the flowers, pennies and dimes, and old jewelry into the Sea as a way of thanking the Goddesses, and the Gods, Neptune and Posiedan, for all we have received from the Sea. We remember that we are nourished by the Sea everyday, and that all life came from the Sea.
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