a guide to the symbolism of the Wiccan Sabbat
by Arwynn MacFeylynnd
Date: December 20-23 (usually, the date of the calendar summer solstice).
Alternative names: Summer Solstice, Midsummer, Midsummer’s Eve, Alban Heruin, Alban Hefin, Gathering Day, Vestalia, La Festa dell’Estate (Summer Fest), the Day of the Green Man.
Primary meanings: This Sabbat celebrates the abundance and beauty of the Earth. From this day on, the days will wane, growing shorter and shorter until Yule. It is a time to absorb the Sun’s warming rays, and to celebrate the ending of the waxing year and beginning of the waning year in preparation for the harvest to come. Midsummer is another fertility Sabbat, not only for humans, but also for crops and animals. This is a time to celebrate work and leisure, to appreciate children and childlike play and to look internally at the seeds you’ve planted that should be at full bloom. Some people believe that at twilight on this day, the portals between worlds open and the faery folk pass into our world; welcome them on this day to receive their blessings.
Symbols: Fire, the Sun, blades, mistletoe, oak trees, balefires, Sun wheels, summertime flowers (especially sunflowers), summer fruits, seashells and faeries. If you made Sun wheels at Imbolc, display them now prominently, hanging from the ceiling or on trees in your yard. You may want to decorate them with yellow and gold ribbons and summer herbs.
Colors: White, red, maize yellow or golden yellow, green, blue and tan.
Gemstones: All green gemstones, especially emerald and jade, and also tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli and diamond.
Herbs: Chamomile, cinquefoil, copal, elder, fennel, fern, frankincense, galangal, heliotrope, hemp, larkspur, laurel, lavender, lemon, mistletoe, mugwort, oak, pine, roses, saffron, St. John’s wort, sandalwood, thyme, verbena, wisteria and ylang-ylang. Herbs gathered on this day are said to be extremely powerful.
Gods and goddesses: All father gods and mother goddesses, pregnant goddesses and Sun deities. Particular emphasis might be placed on the goddesses Aphrodite, Astarte, Freya, Hathor, Ishtar and Venus and other goddesses who preside over love, passion and beauty. Other Litha deities include the goddesses Athena, Artemis, Dana, Kali, Isis and Juno and the gods Apollo, Ares, Dagda, Gwydion, Helios, Llew, Oak/Holly King, Lugh, Ra, Sol, Zeus, Prometheus and Thor.
Customs and myths: One way to express the cycle of the Earth’s fertility that has persisted from early pagan to modern times is the myth of the Oak King and the Holly King, gods respectively of the Waxing and Waning Year. The Oak King rules from Midwinter to Midsummer, the period of fertility, expansion and growth, and the Holly King reigns from Midsummer to Midwinter, the period of harvest, withdrawal and wisdom. They are light and dark twins, each being the other’s alternate self, thus being one. Each represents a necessary phase in the natural rhythm; therefore, both are good. At the two changeover points, they symbolically meet in combat. The incoming twin — the Oak King at Midwinter, the Holly King at Midsummer — “slays” the outgoing one. But the defeated twin is not considered dead — he has merely withdrawn during the six months of his brother’s rule.
On Midsummer Night, it is said that field and forest elves, sprites and faeries abound in great numbers, making this a great time to commune with them. Litha is considered a time of great magickal power, one of the best times to perform magicks of all kinds. Especially effective magick and spells now include those for love, healing and prosperity. Wreaths can be made for your door with yellow feathers for prosperity and red feathers for sexuality, intertwined and tied together with ivy. This is also a very good time to perform blessings and protection spells for pets or other animals.
Nurturing and love are key actions related to Midsummer. Litha is a good time to perform a ceremony of self-dedication or rededication to your spiritual path as a part of your Sabbat celebration. Ritual actions for Litha include placing a flower-ringed cauldron upon your altar, gathering and drying herbs, plunging the sword (or athamé) into the cauldron and leaping the balefire (bonfire) for purification and renewed energy. Considered taboo on this holiday are giving away fire, sleeping away from home and neglecting animals.