Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
In the Celtic Wheel of the Year, today is the feast of Beltaine and the very start of summer. This is an excerpt from our online self-study retreat Sacred Seasons: A Yearlong Journey through the Celtic Wheel of the Year (click link for details and registration):
Beltaine (which means bright fire) is another of the cross-quarter days, representing the mid-point between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice and it is often experienced at the height of spring. In Ireland it is considered to be the beginning of summer and the beginning of the light half of the year. We can feel the significant shift in light at this latitude and the days are becoming significantly longer. Temperatures are warmer. Flowering has come to its fullness. Birds are singing in full chorus.
In Ireland the cuckoo birds start arriving from their winter in Africa, and there are music and walking festivals named after its return. The power of nature’s life force returning is celebrated. Two fires were lit and the sheep and cattle were brought to the summer pastures. It is a fire festival of fertility and garlands of flowers are made up in honor of the creative abundance beginning to stream forth from the land.
The theme of Beltane is union of male of female energies to increase this fertility. Couples would go off into the woods to gather flowers the night before and return with hair and clothes rumpled. Upon their return at dawn, they would scatter flowers on the doorways and windowsills as blessing.
This time of year celebrates the rising sap, the fruitfulness of the earth and human beings, and all in the process of ripening toward fullness. We honor the life force at work in the world around us and within us.
A well-known tradition is the Maypole with ribbons and streamers and dancing around it which often ended with a great banquet. The dew of May was thought to hold special properties. Women would bathe in it to renew their complexions. Men would wash their hands in it to increase their skills. Many would walk barefoot in it or roll in the wet grass for healing.
People would go to holy wells and walk the rounds, bless themselves with the water from the well, and hang a strip of their clothing or a ribbon on the tree.
As the growth cycle turns toward summer, this feast calls us to engage in our creative power and ignite the sparks of our life force seeking expression in the world
Join our Sacred Seasons online program for a mini-retreat exploring Beltaine including music, dance, creative expression, contemplation, and reflection on the Christian connections with this feast including May as the month of Mary and the celebration of Pentecost.
Stop by Patheos for my next reflection in the series of Practicing Resurrection where I explore love and peace as holy directions.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner