“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” – Jeanne D’Arch
Beltane season is here! This ancient holiday was and is celebrated by nearly every group under the broad umbrella “Pagan.” The central symbolism of this festival is fertility and virility. Bringing opposites together and having some friction occur that produces a thing.
Beltane marks the halfway point between Spring Equinox (March 21) and Summer Solstice (June 21). The festival begins in earnest on the eve of the Sabbat, at the sight of the rising moon. True Solar Beltane – the actual halfway point on the Earth’s orbit – falls on May 5th. Interestingly, even this is marked by some ancient groups as with the Irish observance, the Veneration of the Thorn, which is, of course, the Holly King, who is coming into power at Summer Solstice.
Pagan groups witness the rise of Spring at Imbolc, Ostara, and Beltane, with more emphasis added to a particular Sabbat depending on where they are on the globe and how quickly or slowly the light and heat comes back. But no matter where they are, by Beltane, the Sun is rising, the warmth is returning, and the Earth is coming back to life.
Where Ostara embraces symbols of Nature’s return to life and the vitality of the flora and fauna world, Beltane brings that focus to the world of humans. Sex and sexuality are at the forefront of much of this Sabbats symbolism. The Maypole is one example.
An apparent phallic symbol, the Maypole represents the form of God energy that is virile, rising, surging. This is The Holly King, Jack-in-the-Green, The Green Man, Pan, Bacchus and dozens of other vegetation Gods. This is also the energy in all of us to thrust forward and push into the world. The portions of us that are extroverted that lust for results, and seek to assert our dominion in the world.
Often centered around an evergreen tree, the Maypole could be erected by individual families or the whole village. Some were temporary, others permanent. Many times, it was the young unmarried men and boys of the town who cut down and raised up the maypole, staying up all night to guard it. The pole would be topped with a flower garland and streams of ribbons.
The unmarried youth of the village would then assemble in two circles and alternate weaving back and forth as they circled the pole, holding a streamer. The result was two-fold; the streamers were braided in a lovely pattern down the outside of the pole, and as people wove the streamers, the circles became tighter and tighter, bringing these folks closer together.The flowers and streamers represent Goddess energies, enveloping and blessing the Godform.
The May Queen and May King would be chosen from among these young people, to oversee the proceedings. Beltane, then, is an initiatory festival for youthful energy that is maturing and entering the world.
With all this sexy and sensual energy, it’s no surprise that marriage proposals are typical for this time of year, handfastings, which last a year and a day, as well as “Greenwood Marriages” which only last one beautiful night. Such trysts can have any number of people involved, and exemplify the Wiccan phrase, “Perfect Love and Perfect Trust,” as they are meant to simply bring joy, pleasure, and vitality to anyone who wants to willingly join.
Flowers actually play a particularly important role in this holiday. Marry making, or Going A-Maying was an ancient form of worship and is still one of the most traditional. Dressing up in colorful clothes, wearing flower crowns, and secretly leaving baskets of flowers for people are all in line. Picking wildflowers and then looking up their meanings when you get home is a form of Beltane divination.
Fairy, fae, and nature elemental energies are all closer and more natural to communicate with, creating an air for divination. Much can be said about stepping into a circle of mushrooms of May Day and being hauled off by the Wild Hunt. These energies can sometimes be enticed to come closer and reveal themselves with homemade cookies, honey, mead, and bells. In fact, intoxicants like mead made from flowers, absinthe, and hallucinogens are also traditional for this Sabbat.
Another important symbol of the Sabbat is The Bonfire. Sometimes one, sometimes two were lit. When two were lit, it was called the Eyes of Anu, named for a Welsh Goddess who was a combination of Brigid and Callaich. It had to be started by a group of men who had no sin or guilt among them. And it had to be lit using a form of friction, like rubbing wood together. Nine holy kinds of wood were used; Ash, Oak, Hawthorn, Holly, Rowan, Birch, Willow, Hazel, and Alder. Cattle would be driven through the fires twice; once to purify and protect, and the second time to ensure plentiful milk production. Counting the number of Beltane fires one could see on the horizon was another form of divination.
Last but not least, at the heart of Beltane symbolism is sensuality and abundance. Delighting the senses and revealing in the physical world. Eat, drink and be merry!
Rose, Jasmine, Apple Blossom, Holly, Cypress, Amber
Rose Quartz, Copper, Emerald, Selenite, Kunzite, Salt
THEMES FOR MEDITATION
How can I bring more pleasure into my life?
How does sexuality contribute to my vitality?
Thinking on all the ways I bring beauty into the world, list five things that are unique or beautiful about myself.
When I hear the phrase, “The Dance of Life” what does that make me think and feel?
Fertility, Sexuality, Union, Initiation, Love, Purification, Divination, Spirit Work
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