Yesterday was May Day. Also International Workers’ Day (And St. Joseph the Worker Day). The day following Walpurgisnacht. The Swedes walked through the streets with torches and celebrate with bonfires for their first of May holiday. It’s an important moment in the turning year, and in the northern hemisphere, it is associated with holidays of passion, energy, glory, and flame.
For my deep religious heart, this week’s holiday was Beltaine. I live in the Northern Hemisphere, and here May first is Beltaine.
Before I knew what to call much of anything, my mother taught me about maypoles and their dances. Before I knew what to call the day, the kids at the Catholic school lay flowers at Joseph’s feet and crowned the statue of Mary and one girl from the eldest class. Not just May Day. Beltaine.
Later, though, Beltaine became an important marker in my religious life.
Despite my identity as a Unitarian Universalist, the year of my religious heart has been described thus:
Autumn – Quaker reflection
Winter – Episcopalian finery
Spring – Catholic renunciation
Summer – Pagan delight
And Beltaine is the beginning of summer. The opening of my Pagan months.
In point of fact, my heart is not so neatly divided by the seasons. But it is true that in autumn, I am more reflective, quiet, attentive, and inclined to want to attend Meeting. In winter, I adore the songs and celebrations of Advent and Christmas in the Anglican tradition. In spring, there is Lent. Ah, Lent, you misunderstood and much-maligned season. And Easter, yes Easter. But Lent. And Holy Week. The glories of Holy Week. We’ll come back around to them.
Now, though, is Beltaine, and summer.
Now I feel most spiritually expansive, most in touch with all my spiritual and religious parts. The flowers bloom, in my hometown the thunderstorms start coming on, it might get hot here or there. And my heart turns to bonfires and maypoles and flowers and flowers and flowers. Did I mention flowers? Turn down that page corner for next spring. We’ll talk about flowers then too.
Beltaine, as a Euro-Neo-Wicca-Pagan Cross-Quarter holiday, links my memory and heart to the years I spent in Pagan community, as well as to my ongoing personal practice. Beltaine reminds me that all of us are part of blue-green Earth and Her rhythms. Beltaine is the holiday that reminds me after the wet spring, Go out! Go out! Go out and see what you find there. The rhythm of the year is speeding up, becoming more intense, more demanding, more passionate. Go out! What do you find there, where you are?
In your place, and your moment, and your time, what do you find?
Is the wisteria blooming? Has the cold truly broken? Are the streets and rivers flooding? What do the birds say, and who are they? Tornadoes? Storms? Delicate misty rain? Brilliant sky and Santa Ana winds?
What does Earth speak in your place this week of waning Bel-tide and the growing moon?