• Tag Archives Beltane
  • Beltane, 2013

    Beltane                                                                         Planting Moon

    Yes, the Great Wheel has turned again, according to the calendar.  But.  Not according to my 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.



  • Beltane 2012

    Beltane                                                          Beltane Moon

    May Day.  Brings up cold war images for me.  If you’re of a certain age, you remember black and white television with Kruschev or Brezhnev in the reviewing stands as long flat bed trucks pulled even longer missiles, whole large squares of soldiers trooped after them, some tanks, armored personnel carriers, probably some air displays, too, but I don’t recall those personally.

    This was the worker’s holiday to celebrate the successful revolution, the now sad story of a mad man who killed millions and used a centralized state to justify it all, and those who came after him, company men with broad shoulders, craggy faces, phenomenal eyebrows and bad tailors.

    If, however, you’re of a certain ethnic heritage, or inclined to join us on certain holidays like May Day, I can conjure a different picture.  Fair maids dancing with ribbons, winding them around and around the tall May pole.  In other spots women and men jumping over bonfires to quicken their fertility.  Herds of cattle driven between two bonfires to cure them of disease.

    On a mythic plane the goddess as maiden takes the young greenman for her lover, offering their fertile energy to the fields, to the animals  and to the people.  Villagers take to the fields at night for bouts of lovemaking.

    A fair, running perhaps a week, finds persons contracting for field labor, trying out handfast marriages, and surplus goods being traded. This was a joyous time, the long winter lay in the past and the fields had seeds in them.  The air was warm, there was milk and meat.  A good time.

    A mood much different than the other great Celtic holiday, Samain, or Summer’s End, which marks the end of the growing season, the final harvests before the fallow and the cold time began.  In that holiday the dead got gifts of food and spirits in hopes that they would at least not do harm.  Those of the fey might cross the barrier between the worlds and snatch a child or even a grown man or woman, taking them back to the sidhe.

    These two, Beltane and Samain, were, in the oldest Celtic faith, the two holidays.  The beginning of summer, or the growing season, and summer’s end.

    In Beltane we have all the hope of fields newly planted, cattle quickened, perhaps wives or lovers pregnant, warmth ahead.  This is the holiday of hope, of futurity, of anticipated abundance.

    No missile laden trucks, no marching soldiers.  No, this was a festival for rural people celebrating the rhythm of their world, a highpoint in the year.

  • Beltane 2011

    Beltane (May 1)                                                        Waning Bee Hiving Moon

    A bit about how I got interested in the auld religion, the ancient Celtic faery faith and from it, the Great Wheel.

    23 years ago I left the Presbyterian ministry and wandered off into a life I could never have anticipated.  The writing turn I took then led me to investigate my Celtic past, the heritage of my Welsh and Irish ancestors.  I learned about Richard Ellis, son of a Welsh captain in William of Orange’s army who was stationed in Dublin.  After his father’s death, his mother paid Richard’s fare to America, to Virginia, where he was to become heir to a relative’s land, a common practice at the turn of the century since children died so often.  This was 1707.

    Also a common practice at the turn of the century was a ship captain’s larceny, stealing Richard’s fare and selling him into indentured servitude in Massachusetts.   Richard went on to found the town of Asheville, Massachusetts and become a captain in the American Revolution.

    My own other Celtic ancestors, the Correls, were famine Irish, part of the boat loads forced out of Ireland by the failed potato crop, or an Gorta Mór it is known in Gaelic, the great hunger. (Incidentally, this was due to planting potatoes as a mono-culture, much like we plant corn, soybeans and wheat today.)  They came to this country in the mid 19th century.

    I did not go into the history of Wales at the turn of the 18th century, nor did I investigate the an gorta mor and its aftermath.  Instead, I went further back, into ancient Ireland and Wales; in fact I looked at all the Celtic lands, Isle of Mann, Scotland, Brittany and Galicia as well.  What fascinated me then, and still does now, was the auld religion, the Faery Faith, as represented in The Fairy Faith by W. Y. Evans-Wentz, more famous as the translator of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

    Not long after leaving the Presbyterian ministry I packed my bags for a week + at St. Denioll’s, a residential library in Hawarden, Wales.  While there I wandered northern Wales, visiting holy wells, castles and Welsh villages.  There was also an extensive collection of Celtic material at St. Denioll’s. Continue reading  Post ID 19843

  • Beltane: 2010

    Beltane                               Waning Flower Moon

    The old Celtic calendar divided the year into two seasons, Summer and Winter.    Summer began on Beltane, May 1st, and ended at Samhain, Summer’s End, at October 31st.  Summer is the growing season, the time when a subsistence farming economy like that of the Celts in Britain and Ireland raised food stuffs that had to last throughout the long, fallow season of  Winter.

    As my inner journey has  changed over the years since Alexandria, Indiana and my received Methodist Christianity the wisdom of these early earth based faith traditions means more and more to me.   The technology of food raising and preservation has changed dramatically, it is true, but the human need for food has not.  We still need enough calories to sustain us throughout our day and most of those calories still start out in the form of plant material.

    Taoism emphasizes conforming our lives to the movement of heaven.  At its most obvious level this means making the rhythms of our lives congruent with what the Celts called the Great Wheel of the Seasons.  If you care for flowers, have a vegetable garden or raise bees, then the biological imperative of their seasonal needs tends to pull you into the season.  If you enjoy the gradual and beautiful transition in Minnesota from the growing season to the depths of Winter, the cool days and leaves may call you outside, perhaps to hunting and fishing, perhaps to hiking and birdwatching, perhaps just for the changing colors.  As fall changes to winter, you may, like the bears, begin to  hibernate, turn away from the cold and begin to do inside work.

    Taoism also encourages us to conform our lives to the possibilities of the moment.  That is, when standing in a river, pushing it back upstream is foolish, but it is possible to dig channels for it and divert it’s energy.

    The Great Wheel is often seen as a metaphor for the human journey:  baby (spring), youth (summer), adulthood (fall), elderhood (winter).  The tao of human life is to act as the moment in life you are in suggests.  A twist on this might be to consider what the adult stage finds calling to it when the season of summer is upon us.  There are many levels.

    Beltane offers us a chance to reflect on those things in our lives that have begun to take on real form, that seem poised for a season of growth.  In my case bee-keeping and the translation project come to mind.  I’ve done preliminary work with both of them and it may just be this summer that they grow into regular parts of my ongoing journey.    I hope so.

    Whatever it is for you, whatever things in your life  need a long hot summer for maturation, give it to them.  This is the movement of heaven.

    Kate’s colleague Dick, whom I have mentioned occasionally here, has come close to the end of his painful last days.  The cancer has proved more than his body and the medical wisdom we have now could defeat.  What comes to maturation for him in these first days of summer is the whole of his life and the transition of death.  None of us know what lies on the other side of the grave, or even if there is another side, but all lives end.  Vale, Dick.

  • The Great Wheel

    Spring                                              Waxing Flower Moon

    As spring winds down toward Beltane on May 1st, the green up has taken on an accelerated pace.  We have leaves on trees like the Amur Maples, ash and feathery new leaves on the oaks as well.   The daffodils and tulips have brightened our April for some weeks now.  The more integrated I become to this property and its transitions, the more I can layer them in my head.  That is, as this moment of greening and flowering promises a new season, the needed resurrection of the plant world, I can also see late August and September when the florescence begins to yield to brown, to decay, to dieing back.  The two are not polar opposites but places on a continuum that extends not only from season to season but from year to year, decade to decade, century to century.

    This layered sensibility is one of the privileges of staying in place, where the rhythms of the land call different things out of me.   As Rachel Carson said, “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrain of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, spring after winter.”

    This rhythm, the Great Wheel, teaches us about our experience of life, about life’s ongoing struggle against entropy, a struggle always lost, yet a struggle always valiant and often joyful even though destined to end in tragedy.

    I hope your life has a springtime right now, one in which the trees have begun to leaf out, the daffodils have bloomed and the first vegetables have started their journey toward your table.

  • In the Merry, Merry Month of May

    Beltane                      Waxing Flower Moon

    Beltane marks the beginning of the growing season so fertility is the essence of the celebration.  In a pre-refrigeration, pre-food preservative (except salt and drying) culture fertility during the growing season carried with it survival, for animals and humans.  Thus, anything to encourage the land and to safeguard the animals that could be done, would be done.

    This holiday, Beltane, used to separate the Celtic year into halves, the other half coming six months later at Samhain, or Summer’s End.  Later the Celts adopted the solstice and equinox celebrations of other peoples and added Imbolc and Lugnasa to make an 8 holiday year.

    Beltane, Lugnasa, Samhain and Imbolc are cross-quarter holidays.  They occur between the quarter year events of Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox–Imbolc,  between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice–Beltane, between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox–Lugnasa and between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice–Samhain.  The cross quarter days were the occasion for markets, festivals/fairs and certain seasonally observed matters like short term weddings, labor contracts and preparation for winter.

    The fire jumping and making love in the fields at night preserved and magnified fertility.  The May pole which you may have gaily stomped around as a child in elementary school symbolizes the male aspect of fertility while the young maidens with May baskets symbolize the feminine.

    The choosing of a May queen carries over the honoring of the goddess in her maiden form, when she can become pregnant and bear children.    This tradition has almost died out in this country and I don’t know whether the selection of a mate for the May queen ever crossed the pond.  At certain points in Celtic history the May Queen’s mate was king for a year and a day.  Over the course of the year and a day the king received all the honors and trappings of royalty.  After the year finished, however, the king died at the hands of his people.  His blood fertilized the soil.

    Today we have much less feel, if any, for this holiday.  It has faint impressions on our culture with May Day celebrations, sometimes with construction paper baskets for paper flowers.

    As we have distanced ourselves from the land and the processes that bring us food, we have also distanced ourselves from the celebrations that mark seasonal change.  We can let Beltane pass by with no bonfires, no cattle purified, no holiday related love making in the fields.

    It may not seem like much, this cultural dementia, at worst a mild symptom.  It might, though,  reveal a more severe underlying affliction.  As we forget the world of fields and cattle, the oceans and their wild fish, cattle ranches and dairy farms, the subtle body may die of starvation or dehydration. Continue reading  Post ID 19843

  • Beltane Has Begun

    Beltane                Waxing Flower Moon

    As is the case with all Celtic holidays Beltane began at sundown.  Over the years that I have kept the Celtic calendar, now 14 years at least, Beltane signals a real shift from the getting going of spring to the active growth of summer.  Some years that’s more obvious than others and this year the change has been slower than the recent past, yet the emergence of the daffodils, tulips, garlic and the blooming of our magnolia all point toward summer.

    Kate’s back from work with new rules for influenza A(H1N1) novel.  They had a sick hallway at the Coon Rapids clinic tonight and they were, again, swamped by persons concerned about the flu.  She said a case has been reported at HCMC.  Tomorrow, however, her attention moves from pandemic to garage sale, the sort of odd shifts we all make between our work and domestic lives.