Druid Thoughts: Beltain Without Ritual

Druid Thoughts: Beltain Without Ritual May 2, 2012

Beltain has been and gone. I didn’t celebrate this year in any obvious sense. I’m finding the seasons hard to get to grips with at the moment. In February it was hot enough, in the south west of England, for me to get sunburn. Then we had rain. I’ve always associated Beltain with the coming of bluebells and May blossom on the hawthorn. The bluebells were out weeks ago and the May hasn’t shown up yet. In previous years they’ve been much closer.

Climates have always changed. In Celtic times the UK was warm enough for the Romans to grow grapes here. And, I assume, warm enough for floating about in the required togas, which do not suggest warmth! In Henry the Eighth’s time we had what some refer to as a mini ice age. The River Thames froze so solidly that people managed to roast an ox on it! The weather patterns shift, that’s part of nature.

When it comes to the wheel of the year used by Wiccans, druids and often other pagans too, this creates some interesting questions. How important are the calendar dates? We know the calendars have changed, nothing quite falls when it used to. The dates themselves have lots of cultural baggage, with May the first becoming Labour Day, and Samhain becoming Halloween. The history of those dates is something to consider when pondering whether, or how to honour them.

Maypole by Haxpett. Image via Wikimedia Commons. CC license 3.0.
Midsummer celebrations in Östra Insjö, Dalarna. Image by Haxpett.

The solar dates are easy enough because they represent a definite phenomena. Longest day, shortest day, balance days. So long as the earth and the sun stay in the same relationship, this will be fine. I think if there was a physical change, we’d be led by that to move away from the previously accepted dates.

I think of the other four, sometimes called ‘fire festivals’ or ‘cross quarter festivals’ as being inherently seasonal. They mark transition times in the year, or at least, historical ones. But most of us now are not farmers. Our food comes from all over the world, from every season. Our local seasons may not match festival dates derived from the UK. In the southern hemisphere it makes far more sense to be celebrating Samhain now, and Beltain in October, to match the seasons.

Yesterday was not the beginning of summer. The hawthorn is not in bloom. I felt no drive to do anything specific. I feel ever more strongly moved to try and get to grips with the seasons as they are, and the key points in my own life, as I live it. A one size fits all wheel of the year doesn’t make any sense. I feel sure our ancestors would have celebrated what was immediately relevant to them. But what would that give us? Shall we celebrate the turning of the tax year? How about a bit of maypole dancing to honour the success of the human resources department this month? We could light a fire in honour of our government, or maybe bun a few effigies.

The whole fabric of modern life is radically different from the way our ancestors lived. The more I think about it, the more strongly I feel that being pagan has to mean more than a focus on a few festivals. It has to mean living a whole life that is resonant and that makes sense. If what we do in the day job could not be meaningfully celebrated in circle, there are questions to ask about why we did it in the first place.

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