If you’re a child of the sixties or seventies, you may have a vague recollection of decorating and dancing around a May Pole on May 1st at school or during a community-wide celebration. And did you ever pick a bouquet of Dandelions, Butter Cups and Johnny Jump-ups to secretly deliver to a neighbor, ring the doorbell and dash away? I have a wispy little memory of a May Pole at school and a clearer memory of my sister and I bringing hand-picked posies to our neighbors on May Day. But recently I became curious about Beltane, also a May1st celebration, and googled around on the internet to see what it was all about.
Apparently, Beltane (not the same as the English May Day) was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man as early as the 1500’s and on into the mid-twentieth century. I’d only heard it mentioned as a Wiccan celebration, so I was happy to discover that my ¼ Irish roots had a hand in the original holiday. AND it included a BONFIRE … and who doesn’t like a little fire?
For the Gaelics, Beltane marked the beginning of summer, as this was the time when cattle would be turned out to pasture for the season. The myriad of rituals sacred to this day were intended to invoke protection of the livestock, ensure abundant crops and protect the milk and dairy products. Along with the evenings’ bonfire, a huge village-wide celebration included decorating May Bushes, hanging bouquets and garlands on or above windows & doors, and a curious ritual of fastening posies to cows’ tails, cattle horns, and milking equipment. It was believed the milk products were in danger of being stolen by the “aos si” … nature spirits, or fairies. Yes, those pesky little fairies! (Please don’t tell me you don’t believe in fairies!?!)
Prior to setting out for the day, the villagers would douse their hearth fires and candles at home, before gathering for the lighting of the bonfires. The night included many rituals around these fires and at the end of the evening, everyone would light a torch from the flames and carry it home to relight their hearth and candles, extending the blessings of protection to their home and family.
So, are you already thinking about how you might mark this mid-point of spring and summer and create your own version of Beltane/May Day, sprinkled with a good dose of magic and grounding ritual? I love the idea of celebrating the growth and renewal ushered in by Spring and feeling a part of Mother Nature’s seasonal cycles. A special day for sprinkling blessings over the garden with a hand-picked bouquet of early flowering plants and herbs (sometimes mistakenly viewed as weeds) really appeals to me. Set in a juice glass and perched on the kitchen windowsill, it would make a cheery reminder of the days’ significance. Or if you have the time and inclination, why not make a paper cone of flowers, staple some yarn for a handle and hang it on a neighbor’s doorknob? (A dampened paper towel wrapped with foil will help to keep the flowers perky.)
And what about that fire ritual? It’s still cool enough where I live, so I’ll be building a small fire in the wood stove and using the ensuing flames to transfer a spark to a few candles while silently making wishes and asking for blessings for the coming season. No wood stove or fireplace in your house? How about that fire pit in your back yard? Or just indulge in one or two candles and send your prayers upward with the dancing heat of the flame. Will you make this a family holiday, invite a few friends, or keep the rituals small and personal? I hope you’ll feel inclined to mark this day in some small way that feels right to you, acknowledge our deep connection with Mother Earth and immerse yourself in the natural rhythm of the seasons.
Thank you for stopping by the blog! My name is Carol and I'm a metalsmith and fiber artist who makes amulets and talismans. You can find my work at Willowsongstudio.com