The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Author Ms.Faith

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Summer Solstice - A Sabbat we call Litha

 Good Afternoon,

Today is a special day, in addition to being a lovely Tuesday, it's also Litha. Known to many as the Summer Solstice.  First I wish to address a confusing aspect of this holiday.  In the United States the 21st day of June is traditionally considered the first day of summer. (?) That has always confused me a bit, as for centuries in Europe and still, it's considered midsummer, at least anywhere from the 21st to the 24th, depending on the actual timing of the sun.   You've heard of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream?  Well he was referring to evening of midsummer or the 24th of June in his time. 

How and why the 21st became considered the first day of summer I don't know, yet I suspect the end of school and the start of summer vacation has something to do with it.  As for the reason school ends and summer 'vacation' begins is because over 100 years ago, the farmers needed their offspring to help out on the farm and in the fields during the summer months, so kids left school and hard manual labor started! Tell that to the young ones today!!  Today for pagans everywhere it is considered our midpoint of the summer season and we celebrate it as such.  Of course our traditional first day of summer was back on May 1st, Beltaine.  I personally like to celebrate the traditional days as set forth centuries ago, they just seem to make more sense to me.  But good news! You can celebrate as you choose.

We call this holiday Litha which comes directly from Bede,  a Northumberland Monk,  in the year 725,  who wrote "De temporum ratione"  The Reckoning of Time which is an Anglo-Saxon Treatise which was written to introduce the traditional ancient and medieval view of the cosmos as well as to describe a variety of ancient calendars, including the Anglo-Saxon Calendar.

The focus of Bede's The Reckoning of Time was to calculate of the date of Easter,  for in which Bede described the method developed by Dionysius Exiguus. De temporum ratione was also written for those who wished to calculate the date of the Easter full moon, and also for following the motion of the Sun and Moon through the zodiac, and for many other calculations related to the calendar, a Farmer's Almanac of it's day, so to speak.

Whereas Bede gave this Sabbat  it's name, Pagans and Witches have been celebrating the Summer Solstice long before it was given the name Litha.  I once came across a taffy recipe that reputably had been made at a castle in Northern Britain for over 1000 years at the summer solstice. We made it one year during a Sabbat celebration, and I remember it being sweet, sticky and delicious.  This was an example of celebrations spanning back through time for centuries as the age of the taffy recipe attested to. Taffy of any kind during the summer months has been enjoyed for a very long time, so I've included a modern  (ish) recipe for taffy.

Unfortunately I cannot seem to find my notes concerning this information, the recipe of this taffy made many, many years ago at my summer solstice celebration with my first coven, or it's origins.  Grrrrrrrr.  So, I've come up with my own recipe, that has not been made for any length of time or has any historical significance! Ha! It's just yummy!

Modern Medieval Taffy
 This photo looks exactly like the recipe I had at one time, and made during a Solstice celebration. It's more brown than white and tastes of slightly burned sugar, though I can't say if that was the intention of the ancient recipe or my early skills as a cook?! 

- this recipe employs the ingredients and cooking instructions as we would fine back in medieval times, a particular favorite historical time of mine. Modern insertions are found in parenthesis.

1 cup sugar
2/3 cup honey or molasses - molasses will make a stronger tasting recipe. 
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup water
flavoring, as desired  - peppermint, lemon, orange were flavors commonly used back then. Cutting up, very, very tiny pieces of the rind of lemon and orange or mincing finely the mint leaves, these would be added for the flavoring, as extracts were not in use at this time in history. (Flavored extracts, a few drops can be added)
  • Melt butter in a saucepan, add sugar, honey, and water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. 

  • Bring to the boiling point and boil without stirring to 160°F ( use a candy thermometer) or until it forms a hard ball when dropped into cold water.
  • Pour onto a marble slab or a counter top that bags of ice have rested for a small time, making the surface cold and wet to the touch.  

  • Drip onto the surface of the candy and extracts or colorings desired. Do this quickly as the candy needs to be folded right away.
  • Using large buttered metal spatulas, (sprayed with cooking spray), fold edges over into the center before they have time to get hard; by doing this the candy will be kept soft. Do this gently until the candy cools enough to handle.
  •  As soon as candy is cool enough to handle, knead it until it becomes firm, add flavorings, then two strong people are to pull the taffy.until it is lighter and in color and silkier in texture.

  • Stretch the taffy into rolls, snip with an oiled scissors into bars or 1 inch pieces and wrap in oiled or waxed paper. Let it sit out, just in its papers for a few days in a dry, cool area away from insects or other pests. Then store in an air tight container in a cool, dark place until desired.

Regarding the information I utilize in my discussions with you, I do find, as I write for you and report on historical and cultural lore, one needs to cite their sources, and in this field of study, that can be difficult.  Little did I know when starting out as a young witchling over 30 years ago, that I would one day be telling you my story.  So that information, which I can relate sources for,  I will. I'll be as clear as I can about things I've learned through experience and practice and .  .  .  some of what I know .  .  .  I have no idea where the information came from that's in my head.  I just know it's there and it makes sense to me.  I hope it makes sense to you, but if not .  .  .  no worries.  There's an awful lot of information available nowadays.

Back to the Solstice. Sol for the Sun.  The Sabbats are solar celebrations, celebrations of the God force, the Sun's energy and the turning of the wheel of the year.  I personally feel that it makes sense that so many of the Christian holidays seem superimposed upon the ancient Pagan holidays, as we see with Ostara/Easter, Yule/Christmas and others, because of the emphasis of the God force at this time. The male energy of creation.  Yes, the early Christians fashioned the known holidays around the calendar on ancient Pagan celebrations, everyone knows that. But studying different cultures teaches me that every culture has many holidays, celebrations and days of honoring their many gods and goddesses.  The early Christians chose a few, a handful of sorts to play out around the wheel of the year. These are specifically tied to the Solar based Sabbats and I see a strong correlation between these holidays and the God being celebrated.  As such, bonfires are often burned in many cultures to celebrate this holiday.

Many Pagans today focus almost solely on the Goddess energy, and some groups and individuals such as myself work with and honor both the God and Goddess energy.  It's a personal choice that only you can make.  Beware of individuals or groups who tell you who you can or should work with when it comes to Deity.

The Summer Solstice is also the longest day of the year and the shortest night. The sun is at its zenith, also a reason the ancients rightfully saw this day as the mid-summer point.  For magickal folk, it's the first harvest, yet not of food stuffs or grains. It's the first harvest  for medicinal and magickal plants. Gathering any medicinal, magickal or any plants used in your magick today will ensure they have their peak of magickal power encased within themselves, ready to be released when you desire.

Today can be celebrated many ways.

  • Harvest some of your magickal or culinary herbs today. 

  • Just spend time on your garden.

  • Eat an egg! The egg is a symbol of the sun as well as the whole of the universe and the center of creation. Wow, pretty heady stuff for a simple egg. 
  • Dance in a field under the brilliant sun and allow yourself to feel the energies of the earth today, as she is at her peak of magickal abundance. 
  • Have a feast with your family. All Sabbats are celebrated with a feast of sorts. Everyone bring a dish and sit and partake with one a other and savor the nourishment and sustenance the earth has put forth. Even if it's a pie from your local supermarket, it is no less sacred because of it's origin.
  • Look around you, what is in season right now? Strawberries, almost blueberries, lettuces, greens, cucumbers, sugar snap baby peas and herbs are wildly abundant and ready for picking and serving. Serving fruit salad with fresh mint sprigs, a strawberry fruit punch with sprigs of sweet woodruff reminiscent of Beltaine yet still delicious nonetheless.
  • Plant a tree! This really is the last opportunity until fall to plant shrubs, trees and other perennials, as the heat of summer will become too strong, very soon, for transplanting. The shock of the transplant can combine with the severe heat and make for a dangerous situation for new trees and shrubs.
  • Take a walk
  • Be with a loved one

  • Oh yes! Make Taffy and enjoy it warm! 

    There are many ways to celebrate today, and even if you celebrated last weekend or plan to this coming weekend, doing a little something today will have a magick all of its own.  Me? I'm about to publish this post and go out into my garden and dead head the spent blossoms ensuring more happy blossoms pop out in time for this weekends Sabbat Celebration. What a glorious day!!  

    Gazing at this photograph brings all the magick of Litha to mind. Isn't it just beautiful?

    Happy Litha to you,

    Peace and Happiness

    Please check out my newest blog The Life and Recipes of a Medieval Cook @ 

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