Litha Playlist: 2 Hours of Music for the Summer Solstice

Ah, summer.  For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere (and in a place where, for at least half of the year, it is quite cold), summer is an especially sweet time.  It brings to mind bonfires, sunlight streaming through green leaves, flowers waving deliciously in a warm wind.  Sure, there are June bugs and mosquitoes (a LOT of mosquitoes), but these are small prices to pay for finally being able to go outside without wearing ten layers.

Despite the fact that the season of summer doesn’t officially start until the solstice, midsummer has become, for me, a slightly bittersweet celebration.  In the past, I didn’t start feeling melancholy at the fleeting nature of the season until probably mid-August.  After tuning into the Wheel of the Year, however, I realized that, in many traditions, the “light” half of the year actually ends at June 21st or 22nd.  At the summer solstice, the light king (sun god, Oak King, however you want to refer to this deity) actually dies, or at least gets defeated, by the dark king (Holly King).  This is just one tradition, of course.  I have also heard that some people consider the light half of the year to be from Ostara to Mabon, and the dark half to be from Mabon to Ostara.  This makes sense to me, too.  Perhaps I’d feel less of a pang of sadness at the summer solstice if I kept this in mind.

In any case, we do recognize the power of the sun, or the sun god, at this time of year.  This is the longest day, and the shortest night.  Where I live, this difference is quite pronounced.  For example, today the sun rose at about 5:30 in the morning, and won’t set until after 9:00 pm.  It’s not quite as obvious as when I lived even farther north in a foreign country for a year, but where I am now is my home.  I’ve always known warm, well-lit summer evenings.

It is only fitting that the music we listen to on a day like this is relatively sunny.  So, with a little inspiration from my favorite playlist lady, Ozark Pagan Mamma, I’ve come up with my own Litha playlist.  These aren’t in any particular order, and all songs are accessible on Spotify.  Explanations on why each song was chosen are below the list.

  1. Litha (Lisa Thiel)
  2. Dans ar keriadenn (Skarazula)
  3. Noon of the Solstice (Damh The Bard)
  4. Sun Arise (Rolf Harris)
  5. Three Drunken Maidens (Chris Hennessy)
  6. Rise With the Fire (Reclaiming)
  7. Sacred Fire (Deean)
  8. Summer Solstice (Libana)
  9. Firebird’s Child (S. J. Tucker)
  10. Sister Sunshine (OMNIA)
  11. Dancing At Whitsun (Tim Hart & Maddy Prior)
  12. The Oak (Spiral Dance)
  13. A Rosebud in June (Elizabeth Nicholson)
  14. The Hills They Are Hollow (Damh The Bard)
  15. Solsitce Call (Gaia Consort)
  16. Don’t Carry It All (The Decemberists)
  17. Trotto (Skarazula)
  18. I’ll Follow The Sun – Remastered (The Beatles)
  19. The Old Favourite (The Gloaming)
  20. Tolven Stone (Spiral Dance)
  21. English Country Dances: Newcastle (Musica Pacifica)
  22. Caluski Pastora (Beltaine)
  23. The Mystic’s Dream (Loreena McKennitt)
  24. Only Desire What You Have (Kate Rusby)
  25. The Willow Maid (Erutan)
  26. Fairy Nightsongs (Gary Stadler, Stephannie)
  27. Healing Power of the Green (Lisa Thiel)
  28. Fairy Dance (Erutan)
  29. Litha (Threefold)
  30. Celestial Soda Pop (Ray Lynch)
  31. Solringen (Wardruna)
  32. Oak, Ash and Thorn – Recorded for the Peter Bellamy Oak, Ash Thorn Project (The Unthanks)

 

Explanations for each song:

  1. Litha – Lisa Thiel has an album called “Circle of the Seasons” where she makes a tribute to each Sabbat.  Obviously I wanted to include this one.
  2. Dans ar keriadenn – Just a fun fiddle piece with some interesting instrumentals that reminded me of a great summer party.  The instrumentals bring to mind Australia, which I have noticed seems to be a running theme through many summer-style songs.  For some reason the digeridoo seems to be associated with the sun in music.
  3. Noon Of The Solstice – Damh The Bard is a massive gift to Pagan music.  I also heard he’s going to be making an appearance at Minnesota’s Paganicon next year (2019).  This song brings to mind the battle between the Oak and Holly kings, which I mentioned above.  But, as he points out, the wheel keeps turning, which means that summer will come again.
  4. Sun Arise – Now this artist is actually from Australia.  The song is about the sun rising (perfect for Litha), but with lots of digeridoo.  Personally knowing somebody from Australia makes me love this song even more.
  5. Three Drunken Maidens – I thought this song just particularly brought to mind the playfulness of summer.  Three drunken maidens came from the Isle of Wight, started to drink on a Sunday, didn’t stop til Saturday night…  Just classic.  There are many versions of this song out there, but I love this one.
  6. Rise With the Fire – This is a chant-style song that slowly seems to raise energy throughout.  It’s all about how fire can be for healing and truth, not necessarily for destruction.
  7. Sacred Fire – Another repetitive song that you can easily memorize, basically a prayer in song form.  Denean sings about fire illuminating her dreams, burning through the night.
  8. Summer Solstice – This is a pretty choral piece that, for me at least, evokes images of an English meadow and a bunch of kids playing in it.
  9. Firebird’s Child – So opposite from the previous song!  S. J. Tucker is a vocal powerhouse as she sings about a maiden who can dance in fire.  In the end, though, we’re all the Firebird’s children.  I also love this piece because the Firebird is a creature of Slavic mythology.
  10. Sister Sunshine – A dreamy song about the innocence and beauty of the sun shining sweetly, and the knowledge that she’ll always come back.  This is a great song if you associate the sun with a feminine deity, rather than a masculine one.
  11. Dancing At Whitsun – I’m not going to lie, I had to look up what “Whitsun” is.  Whitsuntide is apparently the seventh Sunday after Easter, which puts it usually somewhere in late May or early June.  I love that the song focuses around an elderly woman who has been dancing at Whitsun for the past fifty years.
  12. The Oak – If you love the Celtic mythology of trees, this song is a great, meditative piece on the parts of the mighty oak tree and its power.  According to the Celtic tree calendar, Oak rules over the period of time between June 10 and July 7, after which Holly rules for a little under a month.  There are thirteen trees in the Celtic tree calendar.
  13. A Rosebud in June – Does anybody remember Pirates of the Caribbean 4?  Where the pirates try to capture a mermaid, and the mermaids in turn sing the song “Bonny Sailor Bold” to the pirates?  If you like the haunting appeal of that song, you’ll love this little solitary tune about summertime.
  14. The Hills They Are Hollow – Damh The Bard loves to sing about the British Isles.  In this piece, he describes how the hills are home to the fae, which dance on Midsummer’s eve.  “Some people don’t understand when I say, these are the things I believe.”  Just for all you guys out there who sometimes feel like people think you’re crazy because you’re Pagan.
  15. Solstice Call – A super fun, jolly piece about gathering everyone for Solstice celebrations.
  16. Don’t Carry It All – I saw this song on another playlist, and it’s probably the least Pagan-sounding song on this list.  But, the very first line talks about the turning of the season toward the sun.  The album name is also “The King Is Dead,” which probably has nothing to do with the Oak King, but we can pretend.
  17. Trotto – Skarazula has all these festival-sounding dance pieces.  I think I just picked this one because I thought it fit, to be honest!
  18. I’ll Follow The Sun – You probably never thought you’d see The Beatles on one of these lists.  This song probably has more to do with a relationship than with the actual sun, but I can appreciate the point of the lyrics.  “Tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.”
  19. The Old Favourite – Another instrumental piece that I just absolutely love and wanted to put in this list.  I think it just feels like rolling meadows and hills, maybe going down a dirt road on a bicycle.
  20. Tolven Stone – I assume that this is a reference to the Tolvan/Tolven Holed Stone, which is in Cornwall county, England.  The song talks about how on Midsummer Eve, the girls go to the Tolven Stone.  This is just a nice, upbeat song in general.
  21. English Country Dances: Newcastle – Exactly what its name implies, this is a nice little country dance with violin, drums, and harpsichord.  I definitely picture a fun solstice dance in the meadow.
  22. Caluski Pastora – A different kind of dance, this song by the awesome band Beltaine includes a lot of jazzy flute, violin, and finger snaps.  Just a great, cheerful number that brings to mind the sunny days of June.
  23. The Mystic’s Deam – This song is another fantastic piece performed by Loreena McKennitt.  It’s hazy, dark, and mysterious.  It turns those sunny days of June into the humid evenings with fireflies.
  24. Only Desire What You Have – One artist that I’ve found in the past year and really appreciate is Kate Rusby.  She records a lot of British folk songs and her voice is really unique.  This one is a great piece about appreciating what you have when you have it.
  25. The Willow Maid – This is actually a rather sad piece, and I guess I’m not sure why I ended up including it.  It’s about a forest sprite who cannot leave her willow tree, but a covetous man comes to chop down her tree and take her as a wife.  She becomes a flower because she can’t leave.
  26. Fairy Nightsongs – Beltane is supposedly the time when the veil between the Fae and the mundane world is thinnest, but Midsummer is also a classic time for honoring Faeries.  This dreamy piece is just a good addition to this list.
  27. Healing Power of the Green – Lisa Thiel knocks another piece out of the park with this devoted piece that lauds the healing that we experience when we return to the earth.  And, at no time is the earth quite as green and stunning as during Midsummer.
  28. Fairy Dance – I’m not going to lie, I love this song.  It’s just a beautiful, flute-y piece that sounds like an actual fairy party.  This is just one beautiful piece on the whole album “Court of Leaves” by Erutan.  She’s known for recording in her coat closet, which is neat.
  29. Litha – Threefold does a song for every Sabbat.  They’re actually quite nice for meditative purposes, because they’re very repetitive.  I love the battle motif in this one, since Litha is a time when the Oak King and the Holly King fight.
  30. Celestial Soda Pop – When I was a kid, my dad and I used to listen to many of his favorite artists in the car, and I realized that my musical taste was really influenced by his.  Ray Lynch was one of our favorite artists, and I used to make my dad play this song on repeat.  I guess I’m not sure what it has to do with Litha, but it seemed to fit this playlist more than any other.
  31. Solringen – Just like with Fairy Dance, I absolutely LOVE this song.  It’s in Norwegian, and it translates to “Sun Ring.”  You can look up the translated lyrics to this online, but I could just listen to the Norwegian all day.
  32. Oak, Ash and Thorn – This is based on Peter Bellamy’s song version of Rudyard Kipling’s “Oak, Ash and Thorn” poem.  The poem itself is beautiful, the song ads a fun medieval/renaissance style flair, and this version is a darker, lovelier version.  I definitely love it.  The last verse has to do with conjuring summer in, and every chorus talks about midsummer’s morning.  Just a classic.
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Yule Blessings

Today is my first Yule!  I know that sounds strange, because really, I’m twenty-two years old, but at least this is the first Yule I’ve had where I celebrated the Solstice, and not just Christmas (having been raised Catholic).

Of course, I’m still going to celebrate Christmas.  One cannot go twenty some years celebrating a certain holiday and building up traditions and then decide “eh, not anymore” and go with something completely new.  Some Pagans might argue that Yule is close enough to Christmas to just kind of switch them out and keep lots of the same traditions, but for me, there really is something in honoring Christmas, and saying, “Yeah, this was the day that Jesus of Nazareth was born, and he was a pretty cool guy.”  Plus, I am deeply in love with most Christmas music, and honestly, I’d really just be mincing words if I said that I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore, because by celebrating Yule, I’m celebrating everything about Christmas, just not the word “Christmas,” per se.  So I might as well just call it like it is, and celebrate Yule, and celebrate Christmas.  I mean, who ever said no to two holidays?

Even more interestingly, in the country that I’m working in right now, they actually celebrate New Years like Christmas (it’s a bigger holiday), and “Christmas” (again, just mincing words in my opinion, but it’s cool) is celebrated in January.  So I get to celebrate Yule, then Western Christmas (Dec. 25th), then New Years (as New Years and as a big, Christmas-type event), then Eastern Christmas (which is basically just a religious day).  So FOUR HOLIDAYS FOR ME.  Of course, I’m not taking them all off work, but I get about a week or so coming up with no work, so I’m satisfied.

Anyway, I really wanted to do something special to celebrate the Solstice.  I’ve been slowly working my way up to bigger and bigger celebrations of each of the Sabbats, because I’ve become a little more confident in what I’m doing.  For Litha last year, I made some sun water and worked outside.  For Lammas, my family had a picnic and a campfire (remember, I’m in the broom closet, so there was nothing special about the fire for them, but I was pretty stoked).  For Mabon, my roommate and I made pizza and got our first paycheck (which is awesome because Mabon is for prosperity), and I got treats for everyone at work.  For Samhain, I got a little more gutsy and I actually decorated my apartment a bit, and then on November 1st I had a silent dinner to honor my grandpa, my grandma, my other grandma, my neighbor, and my dog–all of whom had died in the past two years.

So for Yule, I wanted to get pretty geared up and have a nice ritual.  So, despite not getting much sleep, I knew that I wanted to get up early and celebrate the moment of the Solstice, which was, for me, at about 7:48 am on December 22nd.  So, even though it’s really early for me to get up before 11:00 am (I work very late at night), I planned my ritual last night, got some stuff together for it, and got up at 7:20 this morning to get it all together.

I recorded a lot of what I was planning to do in my journal and used it kind of like a Book of Shadows, in the absence of an actual BoS.  For my ritual, I started by cleansing my room with water and salt, and then cleansing the closed balcony where I was going to have my ritual.  Then I decorated the altar with some pine boughs (very small ones) that I cut last night (no other option, unfortunately…the streets around here are kept notoriously clean of any natural debris, so I couldn’t find anything already on the ground), and got all my candles situated.  I made sure everything was on the balcony, then I cast my circle (which I’m not very good at, but hopefully I’ll continue to get better at that).  Then I sat down on the floor in front of my altar and started.  It was a little strange to sit on the floor of a balcony, because you can do like, no grounding there, but I think the ritual was very fiery and ethereal, so maybe grounding wasn’t entirely necessary.

So I’ll confess that I took a lot of the ritual from About.com and its spirituality section, but there are some pretty awesome rituals on there (who knew?).  Of course, I tweaked the ending a bit and put my own spin on everything.  The key idea was starting in complete darkness and contemplating what the meaning of the Solstice was for our ancestors, who knew that they were going to go months without being able to get more food and adored the Sun as the bringer of life.  Then one candle is lit on the altar, and some words are spoken about the meaning of the Solstice.  The second candle is lit, and the winter goddess is invoked.  Then the rest of the candles (and there can be many, and even electric holiday lights) are lit, and the reborn god is invoked.  It was such an amazing thing to go from sitting in complete darkness, squinting to read my journal notes, to having the balcony be flooded by candlelight, which was shining out of the windows to all of the town and the few people on the street below heading to work.

Once all the candles are lit, an offering of incense is given (the recommendation was frankincense, myrrh, or cinnamon on a charcoal disk, but mine was frankincense and pine in one of those water-based oil heaters).  Additionally, you can offer food, so I offered dried buckwheat and a cup of hot wassail.  One thing that’s tricky for me is that I don’t really know what to do with food offerings.  I guess that if I were outside, I would just leave them for animals or nature to eventually absorb.  But I can’t just leave them on my altar inside and let them get old.  So I drank the wassail, because I figure that having that energy go into me and then out into the world is a better way to offer it, and the buckwheat will maybe sit there for a few days, and then I’ll toss it out the window to the Earth (I could toss the wassail, but I’m three floors up and you never know if somebody’s going to be sticking their head out the window below).

Once the offerings are given, you can pinch out the candles and finish the ritual, but first I contemplated all the new things I want to bring to fruition in my life for the rebirth of the light.  I wrote them in my journal next to my ritual notes, and they filled a page.  I would love to check in at Imbolc and see how things are going.

Then I gave an additional offering of music.  I wore red/silver/green jingle bell earrings, so that the sound of the bells could be an offering, and then I sang a song that is near and dear to me, As the Dark Awaits the Dawn.  Not only have I sung this before in choir, but we sang an arrangement by one of my favorite people in the world (my choir director).  It also can be for Christmas (my choir director is Christian), but the words are very universal and have more about light than about religion.  So I sat on the floor of my balcony and sang this song.

As the dark awaits the dawn, so we await your light.

O Star of promise, scatter night, loving bright, loving bright,

Til shades of fear are gone.

 

As the blue expectant hour before the silvering skies,

We long to see your day arise, whole and wise, whole and wise,

O lucent Morning Star.

 

As the moon reflects the sun until the night’s decrease,

May we your healing light release, living peace, living peace,

Until your holy dawn.

 

Shine your future on this place, enlighten every guest,

That through us stream your holiness, bright and blest, bright and blest;

Come dawn, O Sun of Grace.

 

And the ending really is “Sun,” not “Son,” so really, this was a great song to sing for the Solstice, and I imagine I’ll sing it again and again every year.

The sun actually still is yet to rise.  Around here it doesn’t come up until 10:00 am in the dead of winter (and likewise, we have white nights in the summer), so I still have a half-hour, but now we are in the “blue expectant hour,” so the sky is lightening.  As the end of my ritual (it’s still kind of ongoing), I’m going to make a buckwheat breakfast.  I don’t think buckwheat is really traditional for the Solstice, but I’m working with the few resources I have.

So anyway, that’s most of what I did for my Yule ritual, but I fully expect to keep honoring the Yuletide season for the next couple of weeks, until the Eastern Christmas is over, definitely.  I kicked it off with a great ritual and filling up our Christmas stockings for my roommate and me.  He’s going home to his own country for Christmas, so I will be alone for the next week at least.  It’s okay though, because I made the stockings part of my Yule ritual, rather than for Christmas.

Anyway, I have to go and make the buckwheat to finish before the sun rises, so then I can greet the dawn.

Blessed Yule to everyone.  I am sending out love to you, wherever you are in the world.

)O(

By the way, if this blog post was kind of strangely written, keep in mind that I’m writing this way before I usually get up in the morning.