Pagans who base their practices around western European pre-Christian traditions commonly observe a set of holidays. These are often grouped together as the Wheel of the Year, which is a way of visualizing the progression of seasons and sacred days as a cycle.
Litha is a solar festival that takes place on the longest day of the year — Midsummer.
Litha is a name given to the summer solstice. In the northern hemisphere, this takes place around June 21st.
Because of the Earth’s axial tilt, this actually corresponds with the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere, so Pagans in the south typically celebrate Litha around December 21st. This is considered to be the time when the sun and solar deities are at the height of their power.
Origins & History
It’s hard to say when summer solstice celebrations really began. As long as humans have relied on plants and grazing animals for food, they’ve tracked the seasons.
The word “solstice” comes from Latin, and roughly translates to “sun stands still.” The solstice, then, is the point when the sun seems to stand still in the sky. In other words, it’s when the daylight hours are at their longest.
Nobody’s really certain where the name “Litha” comes from, either. One source cites a document called The Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione) written by Saint Bede in 725 CE.
In it, he recorded a lot of Anglo-Saxon Pagan concepts, and the names of the months were among them. This time of year was allegedly named “Līða,” which translated to “gentle” or “easy to navigate.”
It was so named because this time of year marked the best weather for sailing, since the breezes were steady and not too powerful. June was Ǣrra-Līða, or “the first Litha,” while July was “the second Litha.”
Another source, Greer’s New Encyclopedia of the Occult, cites J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as the actual origin. In it, the Hobbits’ called midsummer Lithe.
It’s possible that we may never find the true name of this holiday. Many of the cultures that inform modern-day European-based Paganism had strong oral traditions, and placed less emphasis on writing. As a result, the only written records left behind stem largely from invaders and other outside observers.
Traditionally, Litha was a time to light bonfires, celebrate marriages, feast, sing, and dance. It’s a time when the weather is at its warmest, and all of the crops are at their most fruitful. This is a celebration of plenty, partnership, and community.
In Wicca, it’s customary to use this time to work solar magic, magic for men’s issues, and rituals for community stability, success, environmental healing, and strengthening relationships.
In ancient Rome, people celebrated Vestalia around midsummer. This was to honor Vesta, a virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family. Under normal circumstances, only her devotees, the Vestal virgins, were allowed into the sacred inner areas of her temples.
During Vestalia, the inner sanctums of her temples would be opened for all women to come make offerings and request her aid and protection.
In some forms of Wicca and …