Earth-cycle observances typically follow the farming calendar, but they can be urban too. Even here in Brooklyn, we have four seasons and eat year-round. Wherever you live, it feels natural to honor the vitality of the physical world and the way that world endlessly mirrors itself inside of you and out. The bluebells are rising, why not you?
One of the most potent earthy shifts comes up this Wednesday, May 1. It’s called Beltane, also known as May Day. Do you remember that one? Surely, in grade school, you danced the Maypole!
In ancient Rome the first day of May fell during the festival of Floralia, a celebration to honor Flora, the goddess of springtime and flowers. When the Romans conquered other lands, they brought their customs. But in Celtic countries the first of May was already celebrated as the festival of Beltane, where bonfires were lit on hilltops, cattle put out to pasture, blossoms gathered and Maypoles erected.
Beltane is a “cross-quarter day,” one of eight solar Sabbats on the Wheel of the Year. Sitting halfway between the Spring Equinox in March and the Summer Solstice in late June, it marks the very height of spring. In some traditions, it’s actually the first day of summer, and includes traditions of the Gaelic celebration, such as bonfires, and those of the more familiar Germanic tradition, like dancing the Maypole.
(Beltane sits exactly opposite Samhain, or Halloween, on the calendar, an equally potent celebration. At both of these, the veil between worlds is considered thin and there is magic in the air. Samhain takes place halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, and some consider it the first day of winter. Its focus is death, endings and the hidden world.)
Beltane’s energy is rising, not falling. Its focus is warmth, growth and fertility. Sex! One tradition holds that the God, to whom the Goddess gave birth at the Winter Solstice, has grown strong and mature enough to become her lover. When the May Queen joins the Green Man, they produce a fiery energy that animates healthy livestock, strong crops, bumblebees and babies.
The fertility invoked on this day is not only physical. It can also bless our minds and spirits, our creativity, activism, work, families and community, the richness of our personal connections and expression.
When complementary opposites flow dynamically together, the result is union, force, vigor, an energetic wholeness and completion.
At the annual grand Beltane festivities in Edinburgh, Scotland, a fiercely gorgeous May Queen figures prominently. She symbolizes a ripe moment to seize: if you belong to the physical world, then arguably, you are the May Queen (it’s okay, go there), and the possibilities of spring are as rich as you decree. Maybe you stand on the brink of the best summer ever. Maybe your clothing will always be fabulous, or scarce. Maybe you’ll get jobs, finish projects, articulate thoughts. Maybe you’ll pay the rent, have an incredible romance or a nourishing meal. Maybe you’ll birth babies, or ideas. The first of May dares your vision, stoking the opportunity connected to everything you can imagine.
How might you honor Beltane? You can channel your inner goddess with bright colors and dancing, of course. Lighting a candle is perfectly fine where bonfires are not permitted. A pleasure ritual, like a long walk for ice cream, would be entirely appropriate, as would flowers and fresh peas. Come autumn, we’ll settle for what we got and what we didn’t get, we’ll divide this from that and make a reckoning. But this is not the Fall, this is the Spring. This is the part where everything rises, everything is wildly possible. Those blossoms lading the branches of every Brooklyn tree are the magic of sun and water inside of cells. Perhaps we consider the magic inside our own, what else might ripen and come to fruit. When the natural world hands you a flower crown, wear it! When invited to dance, grab a ribbon! You know we will, and we’d like to wish a deliriously productive and happy High Spring to you and yours. Blessed Beltane!