When I smell the sweet, heady scent of elderflowers I know Midsummer is upon us. The cream-yellow flowers that cluster together on the hedgerows invite us to draw in closer, to look at the beauty of her tiny petals and breathe deeply. To allow the fullness of nature's vitality in to our cells and enrich our body with life-giving energy that will see us through the darker months.
The power of the sun reaches its crescendo at Summer Solstice, pausing for a moment before beginning its retreat, giving strength to the saplings and blossoms in the veg patch and adorning flower-beds and verges. The healing plants are infused with the Sun's energy and ripe for harvesting, to add to concoctions, dry for tea and herbal bundles for bath and pillow. By connecting more closely to nature through learning about her natural medicines, we empower ourselves to learn how to heal in nourishing and sustainable ways as we remember the innate wisdom within us and around us in our natural environment.
Summer Solstice, Litha, is the longest day of the year, with the Sun reaching the apex of its power in the Northern Hemisphere. Traditionally Midsummer was a time of gathering the community together to celebrate the abundance and fullness of nature, honouring all our achievements and sharing in joy and togetherness before the waning of the Sun returns us to our Winter cave. The sun is revered for all its life-giving energy, with a village bonfire being lit on Midsummer's Eve for those staying awake all night to welcome and watch the sunrise. In Wales, a huge wheel used to be set on fire and rolled down the hillside! Alternatively you can make a shrine to the Sun,adorning it with gold, yellow and orange, fresh flowers, herbs, and food from the garden, lighting candles and dancing and singing before it to honour the gifts from the sun.
Midsummer's day is a wonderful day to be outdoors and immersed in Nature's beauty, all powered by the light and warmth of the Sun. Celebrate the bounty of plants and flowers that can be gathered for your shelves and cupboards by going for a stroll with a basket, secateurs and a good plant identification book. Look out for mugwort, meadowsweet, red and white clover, yarrow, vervain, honeysuckle, elderflowers, white archangel, St. John's wort, dandelion and nettle. These can be dried and kept for tea infusions, used to make essences, tinctures or salves, or added to a jar of spring water individually or in any delicious combination you feel to, and left in the Sun for 4-6 hours. This makes a solar-infused herbal elixir that makes my cells and tastebuds zing!
As with each seasonal festival, it is a time for giving thanks, joyful abandonment and reflection. We are celebrating all that has grown during the outward cycle of the Sun, the swelling grain and the seeds within. We are also reminded at the Summer Solstice that nothing lasts forever, that the light will fade once more and we must learn to let go. With the waning of the sun we can intentionally release what is no longer serving us, what we have completed or outgrown, and relationships that have run their course. We can practice letting go by giving away things that we may still love, but are ripe for harvesting and sharing with others (suggestions below). Spread the love, give generously!
With the fullness of nature around us, Litha is connected to the pregnant mother, the Corn-mother Goddess, Ceres, Demeter and Ceridwen. In the past farmers would circle their crops with lighted torches to honour the Earth Mother and give thanks for the growing harvest. Creating a torchlit procession is a wonderful way to gather on Midsummer's Eve, including effigies of the Earth Mother, Greenman and dragons, walking the Earth in gratitude for all her abundance and beauty. We can celebrate our own achievements, what and who we are, activating the dynamic solar energy with our appreciation to infuse our dream-seeds and nurture all that we wish to bring to life.
“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”
― Robin Wall Kimmerer
Litha is also the day when the Oak King is revered for all his strength, courage and virility; the ruler of the waxing part of the year. The Celtic name for Oak is 'Duir', meaning 'doorway', as he also heralds the crossing of the threshold to the waning part of the year, when the Holly King reigns and darkness resumes. As we celebrate the Oak King, we are celebrating our own growth and journey since the Winter Solstice. What have we learnt about ourselves? What healing has come, what insights have we gleaned?
Feel in to and listen to what flower or plant is calling to you. What do you keep noticing on your walks? Or is there a particular medicine you feel you need? St John's Wort is particularly aligned with the Solstice energies, as is Rose. Notice where some Is growing nearby, gather some spring water and decide where you would like to create the essence - perhaps where the plant grows, somewhere you love or with a strong energy such a stone circle. Waking early on Midsummer morning, carefully pick each beautiful, delicate flower from the plant of your choice, intentionally setting it in a glass bowl of spring water until the surface is covered. Then place the bowl in your chosen spot to infuse with the energy of the flower, the Solstice Sun and the spirit of the place where you are. Stay with your essence, soaking up the golden rays of the sun like the petals on the water. Sing and pray over the essence if you feel to, allowing the water to soak up all the vibrations you create with your voice to add to the medicine of the essence. If you can leave it for 3-4 hours. Carefully skim the flowers off the water using a leaf from the plant if possible, then transfer the water into a clean glass, amber bottle, filling it halfway and then filling the remainder with brandy (80% proof). This is your 'Mother Essence'. To connect with this flower essence, place 5-10 drops of the mother essence in a small dropper bottle with half spring water, half brandy and take 2-4 drops under the tongue up to 4 times a day. You might like to journal about your experience and anything you notice about how the essence is working on you.
Pack a basket of delicious food and make your way to your favourite oak tree or find a new one in your local park or woodland you can adopt! Approaching the tree, state your intention to give thanks for his strength and guidance these past 6 months, to sit in his shade and spend time in his company, feeding him with your laughter and celebrations. Before eating your food, offer a little bit of everything to the roots of the Oak, imagining you are feeding him, sustaining him for his next journey around the sun. Be aware of his presence as you enjoy your picnic, let his energy uplift and nourish you. Before you go you might like to sing a song or read a poem, connecting to his aliveness and presence and your kinship with the tree.
As Solstice approaches, reflect on what is present for you in your life, what is alive in you, what are you investing your time in? If you have children, begin to gather some of their pictures, artwork and writing they have made recently. On Midsummer's Eve have a shoebox ready - you might like to paint and adorn this to make something really beautiful and long-lasting. Have some craft and writing materials, and anything you feel to add to this solstice time capsule. Light a candle, connect to the sacred flame within you, play some music, and allow your inner artist or children to freely express what is alive for you/them right now. You could write yourself a letter to read in one year from now. For children, they might like to include their accomplishments and what they have learnt this year. You could add what you wish to grow in your life in the coming year. Put each letter in an envelope if there are several of you, name any artwork and then ceremonially add all these elements to your time capsule box. Include some photos, dried flowers, natural items found on a Midsummer's walk and whatever else speaks to you. This is wonderful ritual to repeat annually, opening the capsule each Midsummer's eve and creating a new bundle on Midsummer's day.
On your Midsummer's walk or pilgrimage, set the intention to find a stick to become your staff, your companion and tool for drawing down solar energy and activating the earth energies. You will know the right one to choose. Hazel, birch, beech and chestnut all work nicely. Hold it and see it how it feels when you walk with it. Give an offering to the earth in exchange for this special gift. Spend some time with the tree it comes from if possible, tuning in to its spirit, it's medicine. Record any thoughts or messages that feel relevant. This staff is your anchor between earth and sky, keeping you balanced and aligned to your Highest Truth. Walk with it a while, hold it, feel what it might like to be decorated or adorned with. It might not need anything! Or you can play with removing some of the bark, carving symbols and images on to it, painting it, binding it with fabric or leather, adding feathers or shells or a totem. When it is done create a simple ritual by lighting a candle, wearing something beautiful and special, call upon your guides and Higher Self to be present, and speak aloud a pledge that commits you to a form of action or new direction. Speak it loudly for all to hear, and ceremonially take your staff and stamp it on the earth 3 times, feeling the power of your intention being amplified by the sun, drawn down in to the earth by your staff, to be manifested in the physical realm. Take your staff with you on walks, use it for anchoring your intention and to heal the earth.
Now is the time to gather the abundant herbs from the hedgerows and gardens. Look for fragrant, healing blooms such as chamomile, meadowsweet, lavender, calendula, mugwort, valerian, comfrey. Pick them with care and in reciprocity - making offerings of songs or prayers, connecting to the spirit of each plant. Either hang the herbs in bundles indoors near a window or spread out on a flat basket to dry. Using muslin or cotton, you can mix different herbs in to bundles to add to a ritual bath, or use some beautiful fabric and make them in to small pillows to add sweet scents to your drawers or lavender bundles to put on your pillow to aid your sleep. Gift some of these bundles to friends and loved ones to share the gifts of nature. .
Plan ahead a route that includes a site or two that you resonate with, that call to you. Decide whether you would like to walk alone or with others, you can still enjoy silence in a group, gathering for celebrations at the site of interest. On the day, you might like to fast or eat light to feel more fully in your body and awaken your senses. Before you set off, connect to your intention, whatever feels alive for you. Write it down and keep it in your pocket, alongside some offerings for the journey - such as nuts, herbs, chocolate, crystals. Call in your guides, ancestors and spiritual support to be with you as you make this journey. Through walking this circle upon the earth, ask that you remember your wholeness and come in to balance within. Make offerings to nature, the spirits of place and anywhere you feel drawn to as you go. Enjoy a simple ritual or moment of honouring the sun along your journey, giving thanks for all that is growing in your life and on the earth. When you return home, you can burn or bury your piece of paper with you intention on, and than journal for 20-30 minutes - free-flowing with whatever comes in relation to your intention.
Connect to the spirit of the Earth Mother, the abundant Corn Goddess, and feel that overflowing generosity of nature. You might like to create an altar for her or make a mandala on the earth. Lighting a candle and asking for her presence and love to fill your heart, play some funky music to dance to and have a good shake! Now go around your home and see what jumps out at you to give-away - things that you love and want to share with others. Choose some of your favourite books and give them to friends you think will appreciate them. Find some beautiful clothes you hardly wear, wrap them with love and send them to someone you know will cherish them. Jewellery, scarves, toys, teas, candles, tarot cards, a rare feather... anything that has some resonance for you that you no longer need - give it away. This is a powerful heart-opening exercise that can cultivate more acceptance, generosity and ease with letting go. Enjoy!
“Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need. Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully.
Never waste what you have taken. Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”