At the height of summer, fields and roads are lined with rows of sunflowers blooming. Their radiant yellows and oranges burst through the landscape bringing cheer and brightness into our hearts. These amazing flowers reach two to eight feet in height as their rays, another word for their petals, stretch towards the sun.
The History of Sunflowers
Sunflowers have been growing in the Americas since 1,000 B.C. where they were cultivated as a valuable food source. When European explorers came to the New World, they quickly realized the beauty of the flower and brought it home, thus making it extremely popular throughout the world.
Native Americans taught the early colonists in North America about the many uses of sunflowers. They showed them how to use the color for fabric dye and pointed out several medicinal properties of the sunflower. From then on, the power and beauty of the sunflower spread across cultures.
The Sunflower Myth
This is the story of unconditional love that was never returned. Apollo, the Greek Sun God, had a palace in the eastern part of Olympus. Each day he would get in his fiery chariot of Gold and Ivory to ride across the sky from east to west. In the evenings, when he reached the west, Apollo would ride back home in his Golden boat. Apollo was known for his handsome, youthful beauty as he spread love and life to every being. Clytie, a water nymph, was particularly infatuated with Apollo. She would watch him, eyes unblinking, as he gracefully moved across the sky each day.
From here there are several endings:
Apollo ignored Clytie’s love and adoration because he was in love with Daphne. But Daphne didn’t return his love and Apollo was furious. Daphne’s father turned her into a plant to escape and Apollo was heartbroken. Clytie’s love remained true and she stayed on a rock for nine days without food or water, just watching him until she herself turned into a sunflower.
Or, Apollo got fed up with Clytie’s foolishness. She spent her time staring at him when she should have been doing her chores. Plus he made a point to shine so brightly that no beings on Earth could see him, but she could. He angrily flung a sun arrow at her and she instantly turned into a sunflower.
Or, at first, Apollo loved Clytie back, but then he fell in love with Leucothoe. Clytie was so jealous that she told Leucothoe’s father, who was angered by his daughter’s love for Apollo. He threatened to bury her alive if she didn’t end the relationship. Apollo was furious at Clytie and turned her into a sunflower.
Regardless of the ending you prefer, the myth explains why sunflowers turn towards the sun each morning and follow it across the sky during the day. It is the adoration and loyalty of Clytie to Apollo that makes the sunflower follow his chariot as he races across the sky each day.
Connection to Litha
Midsummer is the longest day with the shortest night of the year. The goddess has become pregnant and the sun god is at the pinnacle of his virility. Litha is the celebration of the climax of the solar year. When the sun is at his zenith of life-giving power. Litha is a time to rejoice in the fertility, fulfillment, and culmination of achievements. It is at this time Wiccans honor the surrender of the Oak King’s reign to his twin brother, the Holly King. Just as the sun has reached the height of power, the wheel of the year turns and the growing light shifts to increasing the increments of the dark.
Through its bright yellow hues, the sunflower symbolizes happiness, vitality, and intelligence. The color yellow has also been traditionally used to symbolize friendship. Each day the sunflower follows the path of the sun, which in many sacred practices represents the desire to seek light and truth. It so closely resembles the sun, that many cultural-religious traditions have worshiped it in conjunction with their sun god. In reference to the myth of Clytie and Apollo, the sunflower often symbolizes adoration and loyalty. The Incas worshiped the flower in their temples, the Chinese associate them with a long life and good fortune, and the Native Americans saw them as a testament to a strong harvest full of provisions.
Magickally, sunflowers are associated with truth, loyalty, and honesty. Sleeping with a sunflower under your pillow is said to bring the truth to light. The flower is loyal to the sun as it follows it each day, so having someone consume the oil or seeds in a spell is said to produce loyalty from that person.
In many traditions, sunflowers are a symbol of good luck. Planting them near the home could bring fortune your way. Picking a sunflower at sunset and then wearing it will bring good luck the next day. During the 17th century in Europe, rural folk magick practitioners created an ointment to help them see the Faerie folk. In the summertime, they would harvest and grind several sun-oriented flowers into a mixture and then add sunflower oil. The concoction was left to thicken in the sun for three days until it could be used to help them see the Fae.
The sunflower is also associated with fertility as it links the power and virility of the sun to the pregnant goddess during Litha. Eating sunflower seeds or taking a ritual bath with sunflower petals will help to magickally increase the chances of getting pregnant. It will also bring happiness and warmth into the home. Some practitioners will wear a necklace or crown of dried sunflower heads during Litha to heighten their fertility.
These majestic flowers are a clear indication that summer is in full swing. With their pure sun magick, the sunflower provides incredible energy to any magickal working with solar deities. Sunflowers are full of renewing and reinvigorating energy, so putting one in your home or planting one where you can see it outside will help give you a magickal boost whenever you need it!