How Hobbits celebrate the Summer Solstice: Raising the Shire

How Hobbits celebrate the Summer Solstice: Raising the Shire June 20, 2015
shadow of mordor
The Shadow

The Shadow of the Mordor

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and the apogee of the light. In the Neo-Pagan tradition, the summer solstice is called Litha.  Litha mirrors the winter solstice, Yule.  It is the time when the Oak King comes to the climax of his power, which is both the time of his greatest strength and the beginning of his decline. Like Yule, Litha is an ambivalent time. The sun at its zenith and the fires which are lit to celebrate it cast shadows which will lengthen in the following months.

In spite of all the fire and light imagery of the date, the Jungian in me inevitably turns to thinking about the shadows cast by those fires.  I imagine the Goddess and her consort, the Oak King, consummating their union, which becomes a conflagration which will eventually consume the Oak King.  This fire casts a shadow across the land, foreshadowing the decline of the Oak King and signaling the escape of the Dark God from his imprisonment.

Fire and shadows.

The one nearly universal way of celebrating the summer solstice is by lighting fires.  In the light of the recent publication of the Pope’s environmental encyclical and “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”, these fires call to my mind the warming of our climate. Climate change is the Jungian shadow of our industrial culture. It is that part of our way of life in the United States that we don’t want to look at, don’t want to acknowledge. And so it continues to work its destruction below the level of our collective national consciousness, in far away places like the the Arctic and Greenland, Subsaharan Africa and Pacific islands.  And occasionally it bursts into our collective national consciousness during events like Hurricane Sandy and the California drought, only to be quickly repressed again.  Meanwhile, it insidiously works its destruction in our lives through fracking and the sprawl of tar sands pipelines.

A Hobbit Calendar

According to the Venerable Bede, the name “Litha” is 1 Anglo-Saxon name for the summer solstice, which for the Anglo-Saxons was an intercalendary time between June and July.  June was called “Ærra Līþa” (“before Litha”) and July was called “Æftera Līþa” (“after Litha”).  [The same goes for Yule: Ærra Gēola (“before Yule”) and Æfterra Gēola (“after Yule”).]  But the reason “Litha” was adopted by Neo-Pagans may have had less to do with the 8th century monk, Bede, and more to do with Hobbits. …

Yes, Hobbits.

As Oberon Zell recently explained  in a Facebook discussion on the origin of the names for the Wheel of the Year:

Regarding Tolkein’s references to traditional Pagan “Wheel of the Year” festival dates in his calendar of Middle Earth, and the events recounted in his history of the War of the Ring. […] In the explanatory text beneath the Shire Calendar graphic, Tolkein writes:

“The Mid-year’s Day [i.e. Summer Solstice], and in Leap-years the Overlithe, had no weekday name. The Lithe before Mid-year’s Day was called 1 Lithe, and the one after was called 2 Lithe. The Yule at the end of the year was 1 Yule, and that at the beginning was 2 Yule. The Overlithe was a day of special holiday, but it did not occur in any of the years important to the history of the Great Ring.” (The Return of the King, p. 478)


After the paperback release of The Lord of the Rings in 1965, the phrase “Frodo Lives” began to appear on subway walls in London and New York.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was first published in 1954-55.  After the paperback release in 1965, the phrase “Frodo Lives” began to appear on subway walls in London and New York. With its lush landscapes, nature loving elves, despoiling orcs, and sentient tree “shepherds”, Tolkien’s tale is credited with helping to inspire the environmental movement — not to mention inspiring the first generation of Neo-Pagans.

The Burning of the Shire

The Burning of the Shire

The looming threat of global warming caused by the industrial complex calls to mind an episode in Tolkien’s tale called the “Burning of the Shire” or the “Scouring of the Shire”.  In the penultimate chapter of the last book of the trology, Frodo and Sam return from their journey to their idyllic rural home, the Shire, only to discover it having been taken over by a greedy industrialist who was then replaced by the evil wizard Saruman.

“It was one of the saddest hours in their lives. The great chimney rose up before them; and as they drew near the old village across the Water, through rows of new mean houses along each side of the road, they saw the new mill in all its frowning and dirty ugliness: a great brick building straddling the stream, which it fouled with a steaming and stinking overflow. All along the Bywater Road every tree had been felled.”

(This episode was omitted from the movie version.)  Commentators understand this episode as an allegory for the destruction of the English countryside by industrialization and Tolkien’s own nostalgia when he returned home from the First World War.

The Scourging of the Shire

Today, Britain is facing another “scourge”, the petroleum industry.  And this scourge is not limited to Britain.  We are facing a scourging of the entire planet.  We are facing the Tolkien-esque equivalent of the triumph of Sauron in the War of the Ring.

When we light our solstice fire, I will be thinking of shadows.  I will be thinking of ruined landscapes.  I will be thinking of Hobbits.  Little people who took up farm tools and kitchen implements and drove out the shadow of desolation from their homes.  I will be thinking of Meriadoc Brandybuck who rallied his friends to fight:

… ‘it will certainly mean fighting. You won’t rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo.’ …
‘No!’ said Merry. ‘It’s no good “getting under cover”. That is just what people have been doing, and just what these ruffians like. They will simply come down on us in force, corner us, and then drive us out, or burn us in. No, we have got to do something at once.’
‘Do what?’ said Pippin.
‘Raise the Shire!’ said Merry. ‘Now! Wake all our people!’
‘They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don’t at all understand what is really going on. But Shire-folk have been so comfortable so long they don’t know what to do. They just want a match, though, and they’ll go up in fire.’

Merry was right.  It will mean fighting.  We won’t rescue our friends and family just by being shocked and sad.  There is no place to find cover from this fire. Many people don’t understand what’s really going one, and they’ve been so comfortable for so long, they don’t know what to do.

So this summer solstice, let’s raise the Shire.  Let’s light that match, wake all the people, and lead the revolution!

You can start by signing “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”.  Then go to the Take Action page and find a way to light your match.

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