THE FESTIVAL OF GROWTH
By Yasmine Galenorn
(From Dancing With the Sun*)
Summer nights so warm you can sleep under the stars, heady-scented roses shimmer in the moonlight, the sparkling water of a forest pond beckons, cool gauze dresses and sunglasses, ice cream melting under the noonday sun…today is Midsummer’s Eve, the day before Litha, and the season of growth is upon us.
Litha is the season of expansion, when the crops burgeon forth. We forget winter’s cares and spend our days basking under the brilliant light. The Summer Solstice brings us the longest day of the year–the zenith of the Sun King, and also His death as the Holly King dethrones him and takes reign over the now waning year. From now until Yule, the light will fade into darkness.
This is the time of lovers and gardeners. The rutting fervor of Beltane has deepened into the passionate eroticism that grows when partners become familiar with one another’s rhythms and moods. It is the love between those committed by heart as well as body, it is also the love of parents for their children (be they two or four-legged). Nature is at her most fecund and everywhere we look ripeness spills out from field and forest.
Litha is the height of the Divine Marriage, then the Oak King falls, His vigor and prime giving way to the sagacity of the Holly King even as the Goddess prepares Herself for harvest and Cronehood.
The actual date varies from year-to-year, as with the Winter Solstice and the two Equinoxes. Litha usually falls on June 20th or 21st. Once again, check your almanac for your time zone.
We also celebrate Midsummer’s Eve, the day when the Faerie Realm is most strongly connected to our own world. Though all Sabbats (especially Beltane and Ostara) have some connection with the Faerie Realm, on Midsummer’s Eve the denizens of Faerie enter our own, ruling the night before the Solstice.
The realm of Faerie is a realm of power and inspiring strength. All too often the inhabitants are infantized, dis-empowered by those who would represent them with gentle, Victorian images of child-like beings. History, legend and the reality of those who work with that realm prove the Faerie quite different.
While there are helpful and ambitious faeries who may fit the Victorian image, the majority of Faerie Folk are wild, chaotic beings, ranging from mischievous to terrifying, from awe-inspiring in their beauty to hideous.
Faeries don’t play by human rules, they don’t live by our ethics. We only have to look at the history of the Kelpie, the Black Annis and Jenny Greenteeth to know that.
These are beings of the elements, with a connection to the natural world so strong that we cannot even begin to fathom it. Earth, air, fire and water–all have their Faerie Folk. We give them names, but they were there long before humans walked on the planet.
So on Midsummer’s Eve we honor the Faerie Realm and then, on the morning of the Solstice, we rejoice in the season of abundance even as we mourn the passing of the Oak King.
The Colors of Litha
Gold and green are two of the most prevalent colors this time of year. Not only do they represent the sun and the verdant forest, but they represent the colors of Faerie Fire Magic. Other color accents include seagreen and red (especially when red roses are added to the altar).
Incenses, Herbs & Woods
Incense should be full and robust–rose, violet, fir and cedar are good. Tangerine, frankincense and frangipani also work.
If you want to work with herbs at this time, St. John’s wort is one of the most popular associated with Litha. Also connected with the holiday: basil, parsley, mint, thyme, violet, dragon’s blood, fern, vervain and lavender.
Woods of Midsummer include oak, fir, mistletoe and holly.
Instead of nine sacred woods being used, these were kindled of oak and fir. The midsummer fires were used much like the balefires, to hex the cattle for health and safety, to drive away baneful influences and they also represented the power of the sun at its zenith.
The Summer Tree
A curious custom includes cutting down a fir tree and decorating it in ways similar to the Yule Tree. Decorations include ribbons, colored eggs, hoops, bows, garlands of flowers and bells.
On the night of Litha, the summer tree was thrown into the fire and burned.
If you want to practice this without cutting down a tree, gather a few fir branches (or if you own your own home, you can plant a fir tree in your yard and decorate it every summer, cutting one branch to go into the fire instead of burning the whole tree) and weave them into a wreath, decorate the wreath and then burn it instead of the actual tree.
In retrospect, this custom makes sense when we think of the balance. If we burn a Yule Tree at Midwinter to represent the return of the light, shouldn’t we burn one at Midsummer to represent the waning of the light?
Sometimes invoked during Beltane, other times at Litha, the spirit of Jack-in-the-Green represents the spirit of the vegetation god.
You can make a full-sized Jack-in-the-Green or a smaller representation and use it for decoration on your altar, then return it to the Earth or burn it at Lughnasadh.
If you have someone enact the role of Jack-in-the-Green, create a wicker or grape vine frame that can rest on his (it should be a man) shoulders, leaving a wide enough hole at the top for his head to easily slide through after the addition of the foliage. Then weave a light layer of branches and ivy through the framework in a cone-shaped manner. You can then make a mask out of moss and a crown of ivy to cover the man’s face.
Have him wear this during the Litha celebration and then keep the framework in a dry place and burn it at Lughnasadh.
To make a miniature Jack-in-the-Green, make a simple framework of thin branches and fill with cedar, ivy, oak and other foliage. Set on your altar and then keep dry until Lughnasadh.
If you can’t have a Lughnasadh fire, simply disassemble the figures and return the foliage to the Earth at that time.
Bees, Honey & Mead
June is the month of the Mead Moon. What better drink with which to celebrate the intoxication of faerie and forest than the nectar of bees?
Honey has a long history of sacred correlations and is connected to many goddesses. The bee is sacred not only to the Great Mother, but to Mielikki, Cybele, Hannahannas, Freya and a number of flower-goddesses.
A number of marriages and pairings took place shortly after Beltane and the couples were given mead to drink for one month after the wedding to insure fertility. The month during which they drank this was known as the honey moon, (i.e.–Mead Moon) and this is where we get our modern concept of the honeymoon.
Mead is the mixture of honey, yeast and water.
Maser is mead with the addition of fruit.
Metheglin is mead with the addition of spices and/or herbs. If mead has both spices and fruit added to it, the result is still called metheglin.
There are a number of books on brewing mead, should you decide to try your hand at it. I have never dabbled in it as of yet, but I did enlist a friend who makes the most incredible mead to help me when my Lady Mielikki voiced (during meditation) a desire for a brew dedicated to Her specific design. The result, a metheglin with raspberry, lemon, cinnamon and galangal, was the most gently intoxicating taste of autumn (Mielikki’s season) we’ve ever encountered!
A Honey Spell For Beauty
Summer is a time of beauty, and honey is a food connected with beauty, both inner and outer. This is a simple spell to perform on Midsummer’s Eve and you can enchant enough honey to last through the year until the next summer! You can double or triple the ingredients depending on how much you think you’ll be using.
On the Full Moon before Midsummer’s Eve:
1 lb of honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1 sliced vanilla bean
1″ sliced ginger root
In heavy pan, stir together all ingredients. Stir over medium-low heat for twenty minutes. Strain into pretty jar with tight lid. Store until Midsummer’s Eve.
Near dusk on Midsummer’s Eve, take your honey, a fifth of apple brandy, a hand mirror and your hairbrush outside (if it’s raining, you can perform this at your Litha altar).
Set up the mirror on a tree stump or rock so you can see yourself in it. Place the honey jar, the apple brandy and the brush on the rock with the mirror.
Cast a circle and invoke the elements. Say:
Queen Mab, Queen of Faerie, Your blessing I ask
Reflect Your beauty in my looking glass.
Look into the mirror and see your unique beauty. Say:
Like honey my words will both charm and enchant
Stirring memories of wine and the labyrinth dance
Eat one teaspoon of the honey and hear the sweet sounds of your voice. Say:
Like brandy my presence bewitches and glows
With elegance, strength and the power of poise
Drink one teaspoon of the brandy and feel your carriage shift, your posture straighten and your demeanor take on an otherworldly refinement. Say:
Be it shorter or longer, I find in my hair
The power of beauty, my looks they are fair
Take up brush and brush hair, feeling the strength of your beauty ripple from your inner core to radiate through your body and in your face.
Meditate on your individual and unique beauty, comparing yourself to no one, and then close the spell saying:
Queen Mab, Queen of Faerie, bless my mirror and my brush,
To my lips bring bright crimson, to my cheeks, a fair blush,
To the honey bring charm and the power of song,
To the brandy bring strength for the winter so long,
To my heart bring both courage and the power to see
The beauty and glamour belonging only to me.
Devoke the elements and open the circle. Take the honey and brandy and keep them on your personal altar or on your vanity table with your brush and mirror. Each evening before bed eat one spoon of the honey and drink one spoon of the brandy.
The Flowers of Midsummer
Flowers abound at this time of year and there are many ways we can tap into their energies and powers besides just using them to ornament our houses.
Marigolds are a natural pest-control for the garden, driving away several types of insects. Plant them around the borders of your vegetable garden and watch the plants thrive. Violets can be candied and used to decorate wedding cakes. Nasturtiums are both spicy and colorful additions to salads. Nothing cools at the end of a hot summer day like iced mint tea or a mint julep…and why not add a spring of lavender to your drink? It’s both pretty and flavorful.
Just make sure that when you use a flower for consumption that it’s both edible (there are poisonous flowers like foxglove and the buttercup) and free from pesticides. Always wash them before eating or using in a recipe.
Rose Petal-Chamomile Jelly
4 cups tightly packed rose petals
1 pkg dry fruit pectin
3½ cups boiling water
4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp chamomile
Clean rose petals. Blend with chamomile in a large enamel or stainless steel bowl. Pour boiling water over petals, making sure they are saturated, and cover bowl. Let stand for 1 hour. Strain, squeezing petals to get all of the liquid out of them. Discard petals and strain liquid again.
In large enamel pot, stir pectin into rose water. Bring to a boil. Add sugar all at once. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one (1) minute exactly.
Remove from heat. Skim foam from top (good to eat, just put in a little saucer). Pour jelly into clean, hot jars and seal with paraffin or according to canning instructions.
Makes about 5 cups.
The color of the jelly will depend on the color of the roses–the whiter the rose, the paler the jelly. Deep red roses make a dusky rose jelly. Rose petal jelly is a treat and the flavor reminds me of a very delicate strawberry.
Midsummer is a good time to fashion protection charms for your house and car. Simple charms can be made by harvesting a small sprig of rowan tree or mistletoe and tying a red ribbon around the branch. Charge by visualizing protective energy and focusing it into the wood (both contain protective energy), then hang the charm in your doorway or over a window. Ask the Goddess to bless and protect your house.
Picnics and Hoe-Downs
What better way to celebrate Midsummer than with a Pagan-oriented barbecue and picnic? Picnics can be romantic getaways for two (with a wicker basket, china and crystal, cold roast duck, grapes and tarragon biscuits) or they can family affairs (fried chicken, watermelon and chocolate cake), or more extensive parties with barbecued ribs and chickens, corn on the cob, fruit salad, cakes and cookies.
For a change put together a clam-bake on the beach or a Hawaiian luau (please look into the traditional styles of this, the tourist-hotel versions can be an insult to the native culture).
After everyone is satiated, light the fire, bring out the drums and music-makers and put on those dancing shoes!
*Copyright Yasmine Galenorn 1999, and 2020
You may print this out but you do NOT have permission to post it on other websites, etc. Or to use it in your own writing.