The summer solstice, also known as Midsummer or Litha, celebrates the return to warmer days and the official beginning of summer. Today is the day the sun sits directly above the Tropic of Cancer, appearing to stand still as the longest day of the year rolls out over the sky. The summer solstice marks the beginning of harvest season—both metaphorically and literally. Not only is it almost the time to start physically collecting crops, but the solstice also signals an energetic shift that has been in the works since the winter solstice six months prior. While the the winter solstice urged us to sit and stew with our intentions, the energy of Midsummer is all about expansive creativeness—harvesting our energy and working with it directly.
In other words, the solstice is a peak; from today, the year begins to wane, with the days shrinking in unnoticeable increments until we hit equal day and equal night on the vernal equinox. As a result, the day has held huge significance for many cultures and peoples.
Perhaps most famously, the giant boulders at the entrance of Stonehenge are oriented in the direction of the Midsummer sunrise. Although it is debated whether the ancient Celts actually celebrated their solstices at Stonehenge, many modern-day Druids will still return to the sacred site for their own celebrations. For the Greeks, the summer solstice was the first day of the year, and it was also a time for celebrations, like Kronia, which honored Kronos, the god of agriculture. During Kronia, masters would wait upon their slaves, and all other manner of social convention would be suspended for a day of pagan debauchery. For the Romans, Midsummer was a tribute to Vesta, goddess of the hearth, virginity, and marriage. During Midsummer, the temple of Vesta—guarded by virgins—would be open to all women who wished to worship or make sacrifices to the goddess.
For modern neo-pagan groups, like those who practice Wicca, Midsummer marks a change in the Wheel of the Year. It is on Midsummer that the Holly King (think hipster Santa Claus), god of the waning year, succeeds the Oak King (a fertility god), who has ruled since the winter solstice. There is a clear shift back to the darkness—days are getting shorter, and the year is waning, so it's crucial to focus on action to survive the impending fall and winter.
While the winter solstice signals an emphasis on sitting with the intentions for the coming season and what the waxing year will hold, the summer solstice celebrates the vivacity and passion of the sun and of the energy it ignites, namely through the action of doing, collectings and reaping the rewards of what's been sown. Midsummer is all about celebrating action—it's the perfect time to work with the Faeries—and engaging creative expression, celebration, and the adoration of nature.
How can you take advantage of it? As with most endeavors, you should start with building an altar. Since the summer solstice is associated with the element of fire, altars facing south, the direction ruled by fire, are ideal. Decorate with candles in bright, fiery hues such as gold, red, yellow, and orange and flowers that are in full bloom, especially summer flowers like roses and sunflowers. Seashells and crystals such as red agate, tiger's eye, citrine, amber, and yellow topaz can be placed on the altar to better align energy. Fir and oak wood are also associated with this day, so sprigs of each may be placed on the altar. Since Midsummer is a day of the Faery, leaving an offering of milk is also appropriate. Lavender, musk, tangerine, and rose are good scents to be burned. Goddesses associated with fertility, like Freyja, Litha, Brighid, and Cerridwen are honored on Midsummer, and gods such as Pan, Cernunnos, Sol, Lugh, and Ra may all be called upon and honored as well. Midsummer is also associated with wands, so using this suit of the tarot deck for some extra energy is a bonus.
Read more: Five Women Show Us Their Sacred Altars
If you plan to take your celebration outdoors—as you should—nothing screams over-the-top solar energy quite like a bonfire on a warm summer day. Bonfires have been associated with solstice celebrations for ages, and up until the 19th century, or possibly later, the day commonly involved a tradition of hurling fire wheels into the air or from the top of a sacred hill. Simply spending time next to the bonfire, meditating, or throwing herbs such as St John's Wort, lavender, basil, or fennel into the flames are all appropriate ways to observe.
Creating your own herb bundles is a potent way of harvesting the Midsummer energy to use year round. You can create your own using any herbs you may have planted, cutting them into similar size lengths and winding string around them, or you can follow this easy step-by-step guide. You can also buy raw herbs like lavender, rosemary, juniper, yarrow, pine, and cedar and dry and bundle them yourself.
But be careful—Midsummer is also a call for protection, and with the added energy of the sun, it's a perfect time to do some protection magick. Whether you're charging a crystal with the intention of protection, burning a sigil in your bonfire (or cauldron), or making a god's eye charged with your chosen desire, you can't go wrong.
The most important, and easiest, way to celebrate the solstice, however, is to do just that—celebrate! Gather your tribe and spend the day outside, basking under the sun. Commune with nature, eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, drink some juice or tea, and enjoy the sun. Take your own time to ground and connect with the Earth, basking in her ever-changing face and preparing for the journey ahead. If you're called to the Faery realm, leaving an offering and meditating with them is also an easy way to observe the occasion. (You can also use this guide to commune with the Fey.)