Naturalistic Traditions: All Things May

Beltane fire with womanWhat can a naturalist celebrate in May?

This post is part of Naturalistic Traditions, a column exploring naturalism in Pagan ways.  This column will cover seasonal celebrations, historical and contemporary movements, and ritual practices.

Natural cycles

May 4th is a Cross-quarter.  That is, it is the midpoint between the previous equinox and the upcoming solstice.  As such, it is one of eight stations in our planet’s annual journey around the sun.

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, spring is well and truly come and summer is around the corner.  Flora is bursting to life even in the most northern climes, and fauna frolicks in the verdure.

Those in the Southern Hemisphere experience the opposite, as autumn passes into winter.

The lunar phases in May see the full moon on the 6th, and the dark moon on the 21st.

Neopagan traditions

In the Northern Hemisphere, this time is traditionally celebrated in the Neopagan Wheel of the Year as Beltane.  According to Nichols (2009), the name derives from the Irish Gaelic Bealtaine or the Scottish Gaelic Bealtuinn, for “Bel-fire”, the fire of the god of light, Bel, Beli, or Belinnus.  Nichols asserts that on this day, Druids kindled the “need-fires” on beacon hills, and these had healing properties for those who leaped through them.  Cattle would also be driven between two such fires before being taken to their summer pastures.

Beltane is also reputed as a day of unabashed sexuality, visible in the phallic symbolism of dancing round the maypole and riding the hobby horse.  Other customs include “beating the bounds” of one’s property by walking its circuit (Nichols, 2009).

Glenys Livingstone of PaGaian, a naturalistic tradition revering the Goddess as a metaphor for the Cosmos, recommends the ritual celebration of beauty, as in the following call and response:

Celebrant: “Name yourself as the Beauty, whom She desires – the Beloved. Speak if you wish, of the Beauty that you are, or simply show us. Let us welcome your Beauty.”

Each one: (wording as you wish … this is a suggestive, and presenting object or photo of Beauty,or describing, as you speak: “I am this Beauty”. AND/OR “I am the Beauty of … . I am the Beauty whom She (the Cosmos/Universe) desires.“ (Put your object or photo on the altar)

Response: Welcome, we saw you coming from afar, and you were beautiful. We saw you coming from afar, and you are beautiful.  (Livingstone, 2008)

She also finds this a particularly appropriate time to use the well-known Charge of the Goddess as an invocation: “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.”

Jon Cleland Host of the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo group suggests making Maybaskets of flowers, running barefoot in the grass, washing one’s face in the morning dew, and writing romantic poetry.

Beltane can be timed to the Cross-quarter, or more traditionally to May 1st (May Day).

Civic and scientific traditions

Cherry blossoms in full bloom, by B. T. NewbergMay 16th is Love a Tree Day.  Yes, it’s a real holiday (what a great idea, eh?).  Check out a list of the five best ways to celebrate Love a Tree Day.

On Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar, which maps the entire history of our cosmos onto a single year, the universe has been swirling since the Big Bang on January 1st (13.7 billion years ago).  Now, on May 11th, comes the formation of the Milky Way (8.8 billion years ago).  The cosmos will continue to ferment until September, when the next big event is the emergence of our sun.

Many more days to celebrate can be found here.

And, of course, don’t forget Mother’s Day (May 13th)!

About the author

B. T. Newberg portrait

B. T. Newberg has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective for eleven years and counting.  After experimenting with Agnosticism, Buddhism, Contemporary Paganism, and Spiritual Humanism, he currently combines the latter two into a dynamic path embracing both science and myth.  He is the editor of a community blog for naturalistic spirituality called Humanistic Paganism, which just published an anthology called Year One with over a dozen contributing authors.  After growing up in Minnesota, and living in England, Malaysia, and Japan, B. T. Newberg currently resides in South Korea with his wife and cat.

References

Livingstone, G.  (2008).  PaGaian Cosmology.  New York: iUniverse.

Nichols, M.  (2009).  Candlemas: The light returns.  The Witches’ Sabbatswww.thewitchessabbats.com.

About B. T. Newberg

B. T. Newberg has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective since 2000. After experimenting with Agnosticism, Buddhism, Contemporary Paganism, and Spiritual Humanism, he currently combines the latter two into a dynamic path embracing both science and myth. He is the founder and advising editor of the community blog for naturalistic spirituality called Humanistic Paganism. After growing up in Minnesota, and living in England, Malaysia, Japan, and Korea, B. T. Newberg currently resides in St Paul, Minnesota with his wife and cat.

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  • http://blog.chasclifton.com/ Chas S .Clifon

    Glad to see someone recognize that the popular May 1 is out of synch wit the solar calendar, for what that is worth.

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    What a lovely post!  In terms of Bealthuinne, May 1rst (or May 11th during the previous calendar) was changeable until certain features central to the season emerged.  If the season was colder, and winter held a longer grip, Bealtaine would be celebrated only when the season itself emerged. 

  • Glenys

    Some other thoughts about the evolution of the name “Beltaine” (pronounced “Bee- alt- onya” in Irish): commonly it said that “Beltaine”  means ‘bright fire’,  and it is common to associate the name with a rumoured Celtic god Beil or Bel. (See “Ireland: a Sacred Journey”  by Michael Dames p. 196 for more on that) But the evolution of the term
    is probably much more complex. There is ancient association of ‘fire’’
    with ‘dea’/goddess. And Aine is the name of a Celtic Sun Goddess. “Belt”
    means white – perhaps referring to the white lunar eye, according to
    scholar Michael Dames (2000:199). There is ancient association of
    elemental fire and divine eye. In the old Irish language, ‘eye’ and
    ‘sun’ are the same word – “suil” (Dames p.196). There is common indigenous
    recognition of the power of the Sun entering the eye … and science
    recognises that the eye is formed by the same processes as the
    chlorophyll molecule.

    In the Irish language, the word “suil” brings all that together:
    As Michael Dames puts it (2000:196):
    “So,
    in a word, the gap between human subject and divine object disappears
    as a light beam enters the eyeball. Suil, the divine intelligence,
    integrates with the eyes … of bird, beast and humankind and thereby
    enters the brain and heart.”

    So the word Beltaine,
    may be a bringing together of the “eyes” of day and night .. since this
    Seasonal Moment marks the transition to Summer (Dames 199). Thus this is another valency of meaning to the red and white traditionally associated with Beltaine – it may represent the fertility of day and night as well as that of the female and male.

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