This weekend in Seattle was the Fremont neighborhood’s Summer Solstice parade. The parade is modeled after Litha, the pagan holiday for summer solstice, which is all about worshipping the sun. Unfortunately, Seattle’s parade goers couldn’t praise any sun gods on the overcast and drizzling Saturday—they just had to pretend. It didn’t feel much like summer solstice weather wise, but the parade did follow the pagan traditions of thanking the earth, freewheeling spirituality and nudity. The pagan elements of the parade got me thinking—this is our paganistic, Seattle version of Litha circa 2011, but what is the real thing?
Solstice is Latin for the words “sun” and “to stand still.” The idea is that by summertime, the sun rises higher and higher in the sky until the solstice, when the naked eye can’t see the sun moving at all. Summer solstice usually occurs on June 21 or 22 in the western hemisphere.
The pagans called the summer solstice Litha, but the coming of midsummer was celebrated the world over for centuries. Much about the ancient pagan celebration has been lost, but some volumes written by Celtic Christian monks say that people lit bonfires to welcome the summer solstice, honoring the space between the earth and the heavens. Pagans in other countries also lit bonfires. In Scandinavia, midsummer meant the end of nearly six months of darkness during midwinter.
Litha also celebrates the balance between fire and water. Pagan traditions for Litha also included setting wheels on fire and rolling them downhill into a body of water. The purpose of this ritual is lost to us today, but scholars think that giving the fire to the water may be a way to help prevent drought.
Pagans called the moon on this day the “Honey Moon” because they made mead of fermented honey to be used as part of the wedding celebrations at the summer solstice. They celebrated the midsummer with bonfires and couples would jump through them. The idea was that the couple’s crops would grow as high as they were able to jump.