“Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire.” – Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil)
Tonight and tomorrow (in the northern hemisphere*) are the traditional dates for many of the major spring/summer festivals in modern Paganism. Beltane, Bealtaine, May Day, Floralia, Protomayia, and Walpurgis Night, to name just a few. This fire festival heralds the coming of summer and is a high holiday, a liminal time when the barriers between our world and the otherworld were thin. In many traditions and cultures it is a time of divine union and fertility.
Walpurgis Night bonfire, near lake Ringsjo, Sweden Photo by David Castor
Here are some quotes for the holiday.
“To those who actually practice it, morris dance has an elemental quality, an ancient ritual magic comparable to the whirling dervish dance or the spiritual movements developed by G.I. Gurdjieff. Its gestures are designed to act as a lighting conductor for spiritual energies to unite the universe with the earth and replicate the seasonal cycles of growth, death and rebirth. Morris dancers’ tatter jackets act as symbolic antennae; clogs dash against the ground, awakening slumbering earth gods.” – Rob Young, “Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music”
“Despite its modern links to Christianity, Valborgsmässoafton, which has been celebrated in Sweden since the Middle Ages, is one of two Swedish holidays which still resemble their pre-Christian merrymaking. The other is Midsummer. The original pagan festival heralded the onset of the growth season. It attempted to ward off evil, ensure fertility and cleanse the land of the dried and dead of winter. Today, it is still the accepted gateway to long and warmer days.” – Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius, The Local (Sweden)
“…while Samhain began one kind of yearly cycle, Bealtaine began another, and both could be construed as a kind of “New Year”. In ancient Ireland the High King inaugurated the year on Samhain for his household (and, symbolically, for all the people of Ireland) with the famous ritual of Tara, but in nearby Uisneach, the sacred centre held by the druids in complementary opposition to Tara, it was on Bealtaine that the main ritual cycle was begun. In both cases sacred fires were extinguished and re-lit, though this happened at sunset on Samhain and at dawn on Bealtaine. Bealtaine was a time of opening and expansion, Samhain a time of gathering-in and shutting, and for herd-owners like the Celts this was expressed with particular vividness by the release of cattle into upland pastures on Bealtaine and their return to the safety of the byres on Samhain.” – Alexei Kondratiev, Samhain: Season of Death and Renewal
“Celtic Druids used to hold the festival Bealtaine (Day of Fire) in the highest regard, as it was thought to be the day that divides the year in half. The other half of the year had its ending marked with Samhain on November 1st. The old custom was to celebrate with a rite of setting new fire which in turn was believed to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire or between two fires as a purification process and lovers passed through the smoke together. Different types of wood held different spiritual meanings and were believed to play an important role in the fertility of the land and cattle in the coming year. Many traditions associated with May Day stem from the old Roman festival of flowers known as Floralia. It was a celebration in devotion to Flora, the goddess of flowers, and spanned five days from April 28th to May 2nd. Gradually, the celebrations of Floralia became added to the rituals of Bealtaine and many of today’s customs and superstitions bear the stamp of the combination of the traditions.” – Cammy Harley, The Southern Star
“The First of May is Beltaine, the celebration of the marriage of the earth itself. In sacred symbolism and mythos the King is identified with the sun, who in order for his reign to be fruitful must marry the land itself, which is seen as a Goddess in her own right. It is in May the earth thrives under the caresses of the sun, when the greenness of the earth reaches toward the sun as toward a lover. There is no timidity in the abundant verdancy of May. In the Pagan Wheel of the Year both God and Goddess are mature, confident, and aware of the danger when they marry at Beltaine. For a King to marry the May-bright land is no half-hearted gesture. The King that spends an early summer evening with the May Queen is the same King who is sacrificed for the land when his harvest time has come.” – Star Foster, Patheos.com
“[May Day’s] roots as a holiday stretch back to pre-Christian pagan festivals, and the Gaelic Beltane. The familiar rituals of dancing around the Maypole and the crowning of the May Queen made it a popular seasonal celebration in medieval England. “May Day is associated with spring and fertility, the sowing of the seeds. It is a rural tradition,” says Julie-Marie Strange, senior lecturer in Victorian Studies at the University of Manchester. “It’s things like May Day that remind us we were once an agricultural community. We’ve clung on to these traditions and I’m not sure why we’d want to get rid of them now.” – James Morgan, BBC News
May you all be especially blessed this evening and tomorrow.
*A very happy Samhain to those of you living in the southern hemisphere!