Here we are, we have arrived at the longest day and the shortest night of the year. The Goddess is now full and pregnant with Child, and the Sun God is at the height of His virility. This is the peak of the Solar year and the Sun is at the height of its life-giving power. The Earth is awash with fertility and fulfillment and this is a time of joy and celebration, of expansiveness and the celebration of achievements.
Yet within this climax is the whisper and promise of a return to the Dark. As the Light reaches its peak so this is also the moment when the power of the Sun begins to wane. From now on the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer and we are drawn back into the Dark to complete the Wheel of the Year.
At this time the God, as Oak King, is rich in abundance, but he too surrenders his reign to his brother twin, the Holly King, and the descent begins. But before we welcome the return to the Dark side of the year, and acknowledge this great turning point of the Wheel, we celebrate!
Traditions and Symbols of Midsummer
Traditionally people stayed up all night on Midsummer’s Eve to welcome and watch the sunrise. Bonfires were lit on tops of hills, by holy wells, at places held sacred, to honour the fullness of the Sun. At Litha the bonfire really represents a reflection of the Sun at the peak of its strength. The chosen wood would often be Oak and aromatic herbs were scattered into the fire. People danced around the fires and leap through them. Blazing herbs from the sacred bonfire were used to bless the animals. Blazing torches were carried sunwise around homes and fields. Coals from the Midsummer fire were scattered on fields to ensure a good harvest.
Tree worship has always played a large role in Midsummer festivities and trees near wells and fountains were decorated with coloured cloths. The Oak King who has ruled the waxing of the year represents strength, courage and endurance, and the Oak has always been particularly significant at Litha. The Celtic name for Oak is ‘Duir’ which means ‘doorway’ – we are crossing the threshold, entering the doorway into the second, waning part of the year.
Mistletoe was and is, highly revered by the Druids. It is regarded as particularly potent when it grows on Oak, the noblest of trees, growing between the worlds of Heaven and Earth. Although it is more commonly associated with Yule and the Winter Solstice, it was often gathered ceremonially at Midsummer when it is regarded as being at the height of its power.
All herbs are reaching their peak at this time of year and thus the fullness of their healing and nurturing potency. Giving a bunch of herbs as a gift on Midsummer Day is wonderful.
All of the flower kingdom is reaching its peak, wide open, full of colour, surrendering their perfume.
Our lovely bees are now making honey. Midsummer full moon is known as the ‘Honey Moon’ for the mead made from honey now available. This is often part of handfastings performed at the Summer Solstice. Mead is regarded as the divine solar drink, with magical and life-restoring properties. Drink to celebrate and toast the life-giving abundance of the Sun.
Colours of Midsummer.
Well, take your pick! The natural world is full of colour at this time. Choose blue for the sky, green for the grass, yellow for the Sun. Or red, orange and purple to honour all the blooming flowers. Or choose the colours of the four elements – red, blue, green and yellow. We’ve been discussing this one amongst ourselves and generally agree that what matters is that you choose and work with the colours that speak to you at each Festival – what matters a little more is that you then work with those colours consistently every year.
Ideas for Your Altar
Oak leaves, oak leaves and more oak leaves. And mistletoe. All the abundance of all the herbs, flowers and grasses that are so very available at this time. Candles in Sun colours. This is a shrine to honour the Sun – Sunflowers!
Bees are so special, and make that golden nectar we know as honey – a reflection of the life-giving Sun. Honey itself is full of life-giving properties, and a Honey Cake is a perfect way to celebrate Midsummer, or to give as a gift. Make it with locally produced honey if you can. But wherever the honey has come from, think of the land and blossoms and bees that made it.
225 gms Butter
250 gms Honey
100 gms Dark Muscovado Sugar
3 Eggs, beaten
300 gms Self-Raising Flour
Cut the butter into pieces and heat slowly, adding the honey and the sugar. When fully melted, turn up the heart and boil the mixture for one minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Add the beaten eggs to the cooled honey mixture. Sift the flour into a large bowl and beat the liquid honey mixture into it until you have a smooth batter.
Pour the mixture into a round lined sponge tin and bake in a preheated oven at 160C for about 50 mins – or until the cake is well-risen and springs back to the touch.
Cool on a rack and glaze with a few tablespoons of warm honey.