Litha: The Midsummer High Festival

It is the high noon of the year, and as the flowers bloom and the day’s length has reached its peak, it is time to celebrate the glory of Summer and the promise of a fruitful harvest. The Summer Solstice was the second most important to the Ancient Teutons after Yule and continues to be celebrated today, particularly in Sweden. It is intended to be a time of hope and promise that life will carry on, even after the death of Winter at the other half of the year, returning again the following year. It reminds us that, though the generative forces do not always prevail, they consistently return when they are ready and overcome darkness each time. Fresh fruits such as strawberries become available, and the amount of food only increases as other plants begin to produce berries and vegetables ripen and mature. Though the days are long and the work is hard, the knowledge that we still have the rest of the Summer ahead of us can push us to take advantage of each day and enjoy the height of activity.

Litha is the Anglo-Saxon name for Midsummer, and was dedicated to the god Tyr (although some prefer to honour Balder), who rules the sky and serves as an example of bravery to warriors. The lofty virtues of the heavens embolden a sense of justice and righteousness that accompanies clear, sober thought and focus on the task at hand. The only myth featuring Tyr as the most important figure is the Binding of Fenrir, where it is foretold that the wolf shall consume Wotan at Ragnarök (“doom of the gods”). The gods kept Fenrir in Asgard, and Tyr was the one who fed him and whom Fenrir trusted. However, Fenrir became larger and larger, and the gods unsuccessfully tried to bind him by asking if he could break the chains they laid upon him. They then decided to gain help from the dwarves, by collecting the roots of a mountain, the spittle of a bird, the beard of a woman and so on (probably a riddle) and using them to create a light and incredibly strong cord. When Fenrir saw something so innocuous being laid upon him, he suspected enchantment, and refused to be bound unless one of the Aesir would put their hand in his mouth. Only Tyr was brave enough to do so, and Fenrir agreed because he trusted him. After he was bound, Fenrir found that he could not break free, and so Tyr lost his hand.

tyr_fenrir

In this aspect, Tyr is similar to the Gaelic god, Nuada, who also lost his hand. Because of this, he also lost the right to rule the Tuatha de Danaan (Irish equivalent of the Aesir) as he no longer upheld the demand for physical perfection placed upon ancient kings. It is also known that once, Tyr, rather than Wotan, was the head of the Teutonic pantheon and that he was replaced at some point in prehistory. The god was known as Tiw to the Anglo-Saxons and as Tyz to the Goths, who would offer him the intestines of their enemies hung on a tree as a sacrifice. His association with Midsummer is due to the fact that he is the lord of the open sky, as opposed to Thor who governs rain and the clouds that cover the sky. Since we have sunnier days and less rainfall (at least theoretically), we can appreciate the appearance of the heavens in our lives, as they open up into the depths of Space.

Tyr was also associated with law and order, and was a patron of judges. His dual nature of both warlord and arbiter of justice reminds us that we must make sure that we do things based on the understanding that they are right and have a logical outcome. Though giving us the clarity to dream of the future, we cannot be distracted by the illusion of our own ideas for how to fix the world’s problems. It is more important to first, focus on ourselves and our own struggles before reaching out into the world. A mindset more based on positive results than the morally ideal. Though celebrated all throughout the world, the Summer Solstice is not as big of a celebration in Britain as in other parts of Europe. It is still important to some local areas (such as Peebles in the Scottish Borders) and is sometimes referred to as ‘gala day’, where folk dress up and have competitions, which are a Modern version of the ancient festival.

There are also tasteless and tacky interpretations of the pre-Christian Midsummer festival (as today at Stonehenge), but it still survives within the folk memory and would not be difficult to revive. This year, Midsummer fell on the 21st June, though preparations would have begun the previous day as the folk performed a ceremony at sunset and waited for the sunrise. Unfortunately, Modern corporations do not regard celebrations that are not highly commercialized, and getting folk together on a weekday (this year it was on a Wednesday) can be difficult. Though such institutions attempt to crush our spirit and take our heritage from us, we can still honour the gods in our own ways at this time of year. More than anything, Midsummer is the peak of the year energetically, and can make us feel like we can do anything. Spending a lot of time outdoors and embarking on new projects can help us use the fire energy that drives this part of the year and achieve what we want because we know we can do it.

Hail Tyr!

Wulf Willelmson

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