It is now Midsummer. Have you ever wondered how the Summer Solstice could be both the beginning of Summer, and Midsummer at the same time? As was pointed out in Beltane, Summer actually began then, so this is truly Midsummer!
It all goes back to Pope Gregory XIII, who decided to move the entire year around so that Pagans in the country could celebrate the Old Holidays, and at the same time, celebrate the Christian Holy Days. You may have noticed that September is not the seventh month (Sept is Latin for seven), October is not the eighth month, November is not the ninth month, and December is not the tenth month. That is where they were before Pope Gregory got ahold of them.
Oddly, while he moved the months around, Gregory didn’t rename them. January, named for the Roman God Janus, was always the first month of the year. Janus, being the God of doorways and new beginnings, it’s only fitting that the first month of the new year be named for him. Of course, the New Year was in the Spring on the Julian calendar, where April is now.
The Roman Legions always marched off to war at the start of the new year. Of course, the passes in the Alps didn’t clear of snow, and were impassible until Spring. So Spring is when the New Year started. When Pope Gregory changed January to the Winter Solstice, those who lived in cities and towns got the memo, but the villagers out in the country didn’t.
The villagers were always more concerned with the season, not the month. Was it time to plant, or harvest? These were how they kept time. When the Pope proclaimed that January was now at the Winter Solstice, the farmers heard, but really didn’t care. Come what had been January, they merrily wished everyone a Happy New Year, but it was now April first, not January first, and they were marked as April Fools, for not knowing. That is the origin of April Fool’s Day.
So Pope Gregory moved the entire year around, and lost an entire month somewhere. There were now only twelve months in the year, instead of thirteen. We had made the jump from a Lunar calendar, to a Solar calendar. The last five days of the year that didn’t belong to any year, that the Romans had celebrated as Saturnalia, were now in the dead of Winter.
Why the wholesale rearrangement? Several reasons. One, when you have thirteen months of 28 days each, but a yearly cycle of 365 days, you find that there are five days left over. The Romans named them Saturnalia. Think of Marti Gras on steroids. Even after Julius and Augustus Cesar claimed their months, and added extra days to them, the math still didn’t work out.
A solar calendar was the answer, and it gave the Pope a good excuse to move Christian holidays wherever he wanted. The birth of Christ stayed at the end of the year, but that was now the middle of Winter, not the beginning of Spring. A way to figure out the date of the Resurrection needed to be found, so the Pope decided that Easter would always be a Sunday, so that the Faithful would already be going to Church. The question was, which Sunday?
Have you ever noticed how Easter floats around? Sometimes it’s in March, other times it’s in April. The solution was to use the most Pagan method possible. Easter is always the first Sunday, after the first Full Moon, after the Spring Equinox. You can’t get much more Pagan than that.
Pope Gregory also decided that it would be easier to remember if the seasons started on the Equinoxes and Solstices, instead of between them. Being the Pope, he had total control at the time, so he could do whatever he pleased. Unfortunately for him, Nature does not bend to the will of a Pope. Gregory could place the start of the seasons on the calendar, but the Earth still orbits the sun just as it had before, so the dates he used are completely arbitrary, and have no relation to the actual start of each season.
Litha is the middle of Summer celestially, and every astronomer will back me up on that. It is the peak of the daylight hours. Every day from now on, will have less sunlight, both by time and intensity, due to the axial tilt of the Earth, and its relative position to the sun. Even the Pope can’t change that.
We celebrate the sun’s peak, and imminent decline. Winter is coming, as the famous line from a book states. We can take a few days break to relish the warm Summer sun, but we have to start planning for the Harvest. It will be here sooner than you expect!
Nothing lasts forever, and Litha reminds us of this. The Wheel turns, and the warmth of Summer fades. The Wheel turns, and the virility of life at our prime fades as well. Our Winter is also coming. Maybe not this year, but sooner than you expect!
Time marches ever onward. You may be in your prime today, but Litha shows us that it is but an instant, and then the decline begins. You can call it whatever you like, but that doesn’t change anything. Nature is as it has always been, no matter how hard you try to change it.
That is a lesson we learned from a Christian Pope.
The following audio file about Litha, is from Season Of The Witch Podcast.