Litha celebrates the height of the sun's power and the abundance of summer. Nature is alive, and fields and fruits are growing towards harvest, but the blessing is mixed, for once light reaches its apogee it can only decline. Litha is a fairly modern term for the summer solstice, and it may be derived from an Anglo-Saxon word for 'moon' that referred to the sixth and seventh months of the year. The Druidic name for the festival, Alban Heruin or 'Light of the Shore', is very appropriate for this turning point of the year, lying at the midpoint between 'Light of the Earth' and 'Light of the Water' (the Druidic terms for the equinoctial celebrations).
In the past, midsummer fires were lit for purification, protection and in the hope that the sun could be kept powerful for long enough to ensure a good harvest. People would leap over these fires in the belief that the crops would grow as high as they could jump. Drumming, dancing and singing were common, making this festival a noisy and social time. The full moon in June is known as the Mead or Honey Moon, and mead is a traditional drink for Litha, just as June is a popular time for weddings and hence honeymoons.
Litha honors the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year (days grow shorter after Litha). In terms of the God and Goddess cycle, the God is made King through his marriage to the Queen at Litha.
Just as the winter solstice festival was appropriated by the Christian church to celebrate Christ's birth, so the popular summer solstice festival was taken to mark the birth of one of the church's most important saints: the cousin and baptizer of Jesus, John the Baptist. Other saints' days correspond to the supposed dates of their deaths, but John's is unusual in marking his birth. Saint John's Wort is a flower of traditional importance to midsummer celebrations.
Litha is a time to consolidate your strengths and clear away negative thoughts and energies. It is a time to be joyful and full of life, while at the same time mindful of the waning of the light from now until Yule.
Art: Midsummer Magic by Marcia Baldwin