Litha - Summer Solstice - St. John's Eve

Snails, bonfires, morning dew and collecting herbs: Litha is one of the Minor Sabbat, it occurs during Summer Solstice, and throughout the centuries it has also become known as St. John’s Eve.

It is at this very time of the year that new herbs are collected and plants harvested, whereas the old ones are burned in huge bonfires in the summer nights between the 21st and the 24th of June. While the old herbs are burned, the new ones are harvested in the most early hours of the day, when the morning sun is not out yet, and the dew still moistures the leaves and flowers: these herbs are then generally used in divinatory rituals as traditionally “St. John’s Eve allows no deceit” and it is therefore a perfect time to unravel the future.

Since most ancient times in history, the Sun’s path has been at the very centre of rituals, mainly propitiatory ones: ancient cultures had already studied the star trajectory across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of sunrise and sunset, and they already knew that those elements would shift regularly throughout the year. In fact, Summer Solstice has always been considered a magical moment, charged with energies, as monuments such as Stonhenge, in England, and Machu Picchu, in Peru, still remind us today. Nowadays science has classified the solstice as an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis during its orbital motion around the Sun but still, even in its most physical aspects, this moment of the year remains a wonderful festivity in so many different cultures that it is hard to avoid any mysticity at all.

Even for Christians, and then Catholics, these days have kept their meaning, celebrating the birth of John the Baptist exactly six months before the birth of Jesus Christ, and therefore officialising the St. John’s Eve on the 24th of June. 

For us, the descendants of those country women who used to live according to the old religion, even though professing themselves as Christians, these are days during which time seems to stop, and the heat and blinding daylight of Summer makes it hard to stare at the sky outside, so we look inside of ourselves.

Three magical days to harvest botanical herbs from our beloved gardens, out in the refreshing morning dew: it is a brief but intense period of time during which herbs and plants, surely under the beneficial influence of the solstice, develop the highest energies. Once collected, stored and used during the whole year for all the different purposes and rituals, they will be burned the following year, in the next Summer Solstice bonfire.

This cyclical renovation of the botanicals should remind us of the cyclicity of the seasons of life, and keep us well grounded with our feet in Mother Earth’s womb.

There is a strong and consistent tradition of divination too, during these magical days. In pre-Christian times, indeed, the Summer Solstice day might have been considered as important as the beginning of a new year, hence the divinatory practices.

During Litha celebrations, the Sun, a symbol for the sacred flame of life, enters the Cancer Sun Sign, a Water sign dominated by the Moon: this is how two opposites - fire and water - finally come to their intersection, unifying masculine (the Sun) and feminine (the Moon). 

At the solstice, the Sun, with its fiery and masculine energy, is at its highest positive tilt, lifting everything up towards the height of the system; on the other hand, the Cancer Sun Sign, a water sign hence dominated by the Moon, represents everything below, to the inner core of Earth. 

Together, above and below form the two opposites which, when reunited and collapsed onto each other, have the power to create. This union has been codified into the hexagram symbol: the fire triangle and the water triangle combined to form the six pointed star, expressing equilibrium.

A solstice is also referred to as a “doorway”: Winter Solstice would be Gods’ Doorway and Summer Solstice Men’s Doorway, creating a bridge between the two realms. 

Hexagram - As Above, So below - Solstice

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