Like many old world traditions, the days of celebrating Beltane have come and gone. There was a time in Northern Europe though, when Beltane (May 1st) and Samhain (Nov. 1st ) were considered the most important dates in the calendar year. These dates are mid-haven between Equinox and Solstice, and carry an important traditional significance as the beginning of Summer and Winter. As such, they were celebrated with many rituals and ceremonies to ensure a prosperous and healthy season to come. Beltane also served to connect everyone in the community with the importance of giving thanks for the abundance they already had.
Most of us think little of the old world traditional celebration of Beltane as we go about our lives with business as usual. Though there are small examples of Beltane still alive in our society, like the May pole or May day celebrations, which is now most often now celebrated as may long weekend.
The loss of seasonal significance in our culture is one of many examples of a story that is woven deep into our modern collective consciousness. This is the story of separation from the natural world. As a society we no longer live close to the land, we no longer feel governed by the cycles of the natural world.
So, why should times of the year like Beltane be important to us now?
I’d like to suggest that auspicious times of the year such as Beltane, Solstice, and Equinox are markers that can assist in re-connecting our stories with the story that the natural world and the rest of life live by. The story of an inter-woven connection where the self and the collective are not separate, rather reflections of each other. They are cut from the same cloth and grown from the same substrate. The more markers we have, such as Beltane, linking us back to this story of connectedness, then the easier it is to create the new story for humanity. (Which is actually the old story, enhanced with a larger understanding of our world.)
So, what is Beltane all about?
Beltane is derived from a common Celtic word belo-te(p)niâ, meaning “bright fire”. It is also translated as “Bright May Day”, the root of the word “belo” meaning “white” or “shining”. This is the time of the year when herdsmen and farmers would celebrate and give offerings to the abundance of the “waxing” Sun. The intention was to summon that their animals, crops and selves be healthy for the summer season to come.
Traditionally, the offerings came in bright colours, or white. These included large bonfires, yellow and white flowers, bright fabrics, oatcakes, and even living sacrifices. There are many specifics and details to how these offerings were done, but for our sake today, what is important is that we recognize this time of the year as an important transitory cycle of the seasons.
So, how do we bring the energy of Beltane into our lives today?
My suggestion is to create a space of reverence for all that this time of year has to offer. Possibly this means taking an hour, an evening, or a day to give thanks to the abundance around you. Perhaps asking that you, and your loved ones, are carried forward with good health and strong connections for the year to come. With this an offering of yourself (in service), your time, and/or something you value is a good way to seal the deal. This may mean lighting a fire outside, or a candle inside, and smudging yourself with the smoke. It could be picking some bright yellow or white flowers and decorating your home or garden with them. Maybe it’s sharing your time and energy with someone who seems like they could really use it. Many children love leaving an offering of some freshly prepared food for the wild creatures around. The Specifics are not as important as the Intention. The intention comes from a place of connection, offering, and thanks to the world around you for the life you are so fortunate to live.
So, where will this actually make a difference in our lives?
The Revival of ceremony and Reverence in our our modern age is something that expands beyond superstition, beyond tradition and beyond explanation. It is something that helps us keep the fire of love and appreciation in our hearts, something that connects us to a larger sense of life. There is no need for us to prove or disprove its importance, only to trust that acts of offering ourselves in service to the world around us brings more prosperity and a healthier state of mind, body and spirit.
There is a new story brewing in the world, and many of us feel it rising to the surface. Our old ways of separation no longer serve to make sense of the reality we find ourselves in, the collapse of this way of thinking is inevitable and the unsustainable impacts of it are everywhere we look. Beltane is but one reference point to a story of interconnected awareness, and the beautiful world we are capable of creating. Honouring Beltane (or the initiation of Summer) may seem small, but it is one of many steps into deepening our awareness of the connection all life shares and the natural cycles that govern our home, this earth. The more we let go of the “us and them” story of separation, the more we become the change we want to see in the world.
© 2020 Yarrow Willard