Beltane                                                                   Emergence Moon


Turn. The Wheel has turned again and Beltane is at the top. Beltane, a fire festival, was one of the two original demarcations of the Celtic year. It marks the beginning of the growing season and Samhain, the other, marks the end of Summer, or the growing season.

In the Celtic year Beltane and Samhain are equivalent in significance to Christmas and Easter.  At Beltane fertility plays the central role in the festivities while at Samhain both the final physical harvest and the already harvested dead are the focus.

Beltane has had a long half life in American culture though it has faded away considerably 220px-Maibaum_Ostfriesland967in recent years, unlike Samhain which seems firmly rooted with its faint echo in Halloween. I don’t know about you, but I remember making May baskets out of construction paper and Maypoles were still occasionally present in my youth in the late 1950’s.

The Maypole in particular hearkens directly back to Beltane. It was some sort of fertility dance, likely an opportunity for young maidens to display themselves in a vigorous manner to watching young men. There is another, more Germanic explanation for the Maypole, which sees an axis mundi, a world tree, as its symbolism. Whatever is behind the Maypole, it has now winked out for the most part in the U.S., but the tradition lives on in Great Britain and Europe.

In the Celtic world bonfires were important to this celebration of the return of the power of the sun. Two bonfires were lit and cattle driven through it to ensure their health. Cattle were the indicators of wealth to the early Celts. Young women would leap over bonfires to increase their fertility. Other bonfires were lit for dances, often done today in the nude.

There is, especially in Scotland, a vibrant revival of the Beltane and Samhain festivities, managed now by the Beltanefiresociety based in Edinburgh. Click on their website to see beltane_cristiana_ferreiramany photographs of their work. I find the free and joyful expressions of the dancers, both the choreographed and attendee, moving. They stir something deep in me, like an ancestral memory, a thrill. On the surface it comes out like, “These are my people.”

The body can express what sings in the heart often better than the mind or mouth. Beltane’s spontaneous, eager, fiery essence jumps out of the arms and legs, breasts and heads in these photographs.

I have no interest in resurrecting the ancient faith of a pastoral people now long dead. None at all. But I respect it and honor its impulse. I believe that its reverence to the rhythms of the year need to be included in our time. The particulars of their time can inform us, certainly, but the more important point is to let those rhythms have their song among us today.

As we wait here in a cold, wet Minnesota, I have no trouble accessing the anticipation of 3571484035_235bef3ffcthe growing season evident in Beltane. It is a dance, too, one done around the bonfire of the sun, which heats us all, which gives us the energy we need to live. Yes, it gives us the energy to live. Think about that. No, better yet, when there is sunshine again, go spread your arms outside, absorb the warmth and feel it. Then go into the kitchen and have a slice of bread, a tomato, perhaps a slice of salami. That same heat goes into your body, transformed initially by a plant, then perhaps again by an animal and now of use to the mitochrondria, ancient and mysterious, that fuel our cells.

Yes, Beltane is a rite right down to the cellular level. Embrace the sun and glory in your chance to live. It comes but once.

Beltane, 2013

Posted on May 1, 2013 by Charles

Beltane                                                                         Planting Moon

Yes, the Great Wheel has turned again, according to the calendar.  But.  Not according tomy window.  For some inexplicable reason this Beltane finds snow falling on the somewhat greened grass.  Snow.  Since 1891 there have been 6 instances of 2 inches or more of snow in May.  Today, tonight and tomorrow we may get as much as 5 inches.  So, that’s the first thing to say about Beltane 2013.

Beltane celebrates the marriage of the lady and the horned god, the introduction of fertility among the cattle and the fields of ancient rural Celtic lands.  Labor contracts for the year got made.  Hand-fast marriages through a hole in a fence were for a year and a day.  As with all the Celtic holidays, there was a week-long market and festivities that included huge bonfires (sympathetic magic to heat the earth), couples jumping over bonfires in hopes of children, cattle driven between bonfires to cure them of disease.  And, on Beltane eve and night, couples in the fields, coupling.  Like the sympathetic magic of the bonfires human lovemaking transferred to the fields the fertile passions of all the couples.

We got seeds in the ground and bees in the orchard over the last couple of weeks.  The
magnolia wants to bloom but has a hard time imagining blooming during a snow.  The garlic has emerged, as have the daffodils though they have not bloomed.  The scylla and the grape anemones out front are blooming.  They don’t mind the cold.

It is this combination of the practical and earthy with the mythic that has kept the Great Wheel present in my life for over 20 years now.  As Kate and I work with the soil, with the plants and trees, the bees, we follow in our labor the movement of the sun and the seasons, long observed closely out of dire need, now out of wonder.

John Desteian has challenged me to probe the essence of the numinous.  That is on my mind.  Here is part of that essence.  The seed in the ground, beltane’s fiery embrace of the seed, the seed emerging, flourishing, producing its fruit, harvest.  Then, the true transubstantiation, the transformation of the bodies of these plants into the body and blood ourselves.  A unity, a circle, rhythm.  Plant, grow, harvest, feed, be.

There is some kind of resurgence of these deep feelings, these always have been connections and the resurgence gets expressed in what might seem extreme ways, but I find them encouraging.  Hopeful.  Google Edinburgh Fire Festival 2013.