Midsummer - Litha (21st June)
Midsummer, or Litha as it was known by the ancient Germanic peoples, is the period of time centred upon the summer solstice and the religious celebrations that accompany it.
In the folk traditions of the British Isles Midsummer or the summer solstice in June was a time to mark the longest day of the year when the sun rose in the sky to it's zenith and was in it's full power and glory. On the other hand, as befits a belief system with a dualistic character, it was also a mysterious, Otherworldly time with a smell of death in the air and omens of impending doom. The sun may be blazing high in the sky, but from midsummer the evenings gradually begin to shorten and we begin the slow descent to the dark season.
When the Church took over the old rites to celebrate the midsummer they chose June 24 as the feast for St John the Baptist and it became Midsummer's Day. In the 12th century the bishop of Exeter denounced those who practiced sorcery on Midsummer's Eve. This date along with May Eve and Samhain were the three 'spirit' nights. On these nights witches, ghosts and faeries were supposed to roam lose and the veil between the worlds was thin.
In order to protect themselves from the powers of darkness, as they saw them, country folk hung St John's Wort over the doors of their houses, barns, stables and cow sheds.
At midsummer the Goddess is the Queen of Elfhame or Faerie. It was believed that contact could be made with the Little People at the 'in-between times' of dusk on Midsummer's Eve and dawn on Midsummer's Day. There are a number of places where tradition states you can meet the Faery folk. These include along faery paths, at burial mounds and springs, near oak, ash and thorn, at crossroads and fords where several streams meet, near waterfalls, and 'at the bottom of the garden' where it is divided off from other land by a hedge or fence. In fact at any boundary point where Middle Earth and the Otherworld are believed to meet. These are also likely to be the places where witches meet for obvious reasons.
Faeries, devas, elementals and nature spirits seldom appear to the human eye as the gossamer-winged fanciful creatures of Victorian fantasy - unless you really believe them to look like that. They are most likely to appear as points of light, or as the traditional shapes of elves, gnomes and goblins of fairy tales, or as nymphs, dryads and satyrs of classical myth, or as the great 'Shining Ones' like the Tuatha De Danaan of Irish myth. It should be remembered in dealing with the faery folk that they are amoral and not all of them are friendly or beneficial to humankind.
The connection between witches and faeries is a very strong one and is well established. It is often overlooked by modern Wiccans, some of whom do not believe in faeries. In both the British and European witch trials the female leader of a coven was often called the Queen of the Faeries or Faery Lady. Some country folk and traditional witches are of the opinion that faeries are the spirits of the dead. To these witches Elfhame is the place where the souls of witches go after death to await reincarnation. A few advanced 'old souls' do not incarnate again having been freed from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth on Middle Earth. These old souls become the Mighty Ones, or 'Hidden Company', and act as spirit guides to their Craft brothers and sisters in incarnation.
In British folk traditions and seasonal custom midsummer was a time for rituals dating back to ancient sun worship. A wooden wheel in twisted plaits of straw was set alight and rolled down a hillside. This was to mimic the motion of the sun in the summer sky
The traditional midsummer fires, which only dies out last century in Scotland and Cornwall, may date back thousands of years to when Roman farmers lit fires in the fields to protect their crops from diseases in the summer. Theses St John fires were lit after dusk on midsummer's eve and once blazing a bone was tossed into the fire. This bone was said to be a memory of some long forgotten martyr, but probably is a folk memory of ancient human or animal sacrifice in the fires. This is where we get the modern term bonfire or bone fire. An alternative may be from the old Norse buane, meaning a beacon, or from banefire, banishing evil.
At midsummer the goddess is the Queen of Elfhame, and the Enchantress. Her symbols are the queen bee, the owl swooping down on it's prey, and the lynx or wild cat who has always been untamed and independent. She represents the ageless femme fatale, the female sexual predator who chooses whatever man she wants to be her lover and makes him king. This is an erotic image of women and it is one that the patriarchy has always felt uncomfortable with. As a result it has reacted with fear, demonisation, repression and often violence.
The midsummer goddess is first and foremost Sovereignty, the goddess of the land and the kingmaker. She is also the White Goddess written about by the poet Robert Graves, the muse and patron of poets, artists and writers. As the White Goddess she can inflame the artistic with the madness of inspiration, creative energy and genius. She also ahs the power to destroy, for those the Goddess loves may die young, as their creative fire flares and burns out prematurely under her touch.
The goddess of the land is not the gentle maiden of springtime or the nurturing mother of Yule. Her sacred weapon is the double bladed axe and if threatened or crossed she adopts the persona of warrior woman or warrior queen. Like Boudica or Maeve she will fight to protect her young, her people, and vanquish the enemies of her land. She is both Queen and Priestess, controlling the political rulership of the land and conducting the seasonal rituals that bind her people to it.
Midsummer, like Beltane, is a happy time for the celebration of life. There is rejoicing for the benefits of the summer sun, for lazy days in the woods and by the river bank, resting before the hard work of the harvest time to come. The solar disk stands high and proud in the blue summer sky, and the Sun King and the Rose Queen rule over the land in peace and harmony.
All seems well with the world, but the dark shadow of the reaper's scythe is already over the fields, the poppies red a blood are ready to bloom among the corn, and the hungry land demands it's annual sacrifice. As the storm clouds of late summer gather, and prayers are offered for good weather to gather in the harvest, Fate has already selected her victim. He who would be king must die in the corn and shed his blood for the folk and the land.
© Traditional Witch 2006