For many Pagans the first of May is Beltane. In the past I never celebrated this holiday that much. I came into my own as a Pagan living in the San Francisco Bay Area and I struggled to feel the rhythms of the Land there and the turnings of the Wheel. Beltane made more sense when I lived in Wales, especially as that Land is rife with the Fey. And then we moved again, this time to Washington State. I had no standard practice for this holiday and so I let it slide. But no more. This day is full to bursting with reasons to celebrate, and as I settle more into my new home I see how I can integrate this holiday into my life.
Beltane is the primary Celtic spring holiday, celebrating the Fey and fertility with riotous revels, fire, and flowers. It is one of the primary observances of my witchcraft tradition, and I’ll be celebrating ritually this year with kin. The veils between the worlds are said to be thin this time of year; communing with the Spirits and the Fey is easier and more frequent during this turn of the Wheel.
Rua Lupa has asked why humans associate this time of year with sex, when most mammals are just giving birth. It’s a good question. All three of my children have been born in the spring-ish months: February, April, and late May. It feels good to have a new born in the warmer months!
But I can relate to having a heightened sexual drive during this time of year! The days grow longer, the sun grows warmer, flowers are blooming, bodies are less covered up, and the light encourages us to get out and get moving – all of these things stimulate our human desires.
Finding ways to incorporate ritual, magic, the outdoors, fire, and/or celebrating sexuality are all appropriate ways to honor and observe this holidays. Oddly, I find something like Olympia’s Procession of the Species to be the perfect lead in. This set of community parades is creative and physical, snaking through town in rain or shine, with the exuberance of children of all ages, celebrating the earth and its creatures. There is distinctly fey quality to it.
This holiday conflates the saint day of Walburga, an 8th Century English nun who is credited with bringing Christianity to the German area of Europe, with Hexxenacht, night of the witches. This night falls on the eve between April and May. While Beltane is the Celtic expression of the energies afloat on this day, Walpurgisnacht is the Germanic expression. Other than making witchy magic at this time, I don’t have any personal experience with this Germanic flavor of the holiday, but I didn’t feel like an overview of this Turn of the Wheel would be complete without mentioning this aspect of the day.
Anytime we get a conflation of pre-Christian and Christian holiday observances we can usually find the Virgin Mary somewhere in there, which leads me to….
Mary’s Day/Mary’s Month
Observing the entire month of May as a celebration of Mary has been folk tradition for about 700 years. Various Popes have encouraged this over the centuries. Crowning a maiden as a May Queen in honor of Mary is one way the Catholic Church absorbed various folk customs of this holidays.
I deeply love Mary, but find her involvement in this day suspect. It does not surprise me that the Catholic Church evolved a tradition of their Holy Maiden, Mary, to usurp a holiday based on rampant sexuality. There are lots of metaphors that mingle, though. Mary has been associated with a host of flowers: roses, lilies, marigolds, as well as the lesser known columbine, lavender, and violets. Mary is the Holy Mother, the Theotokos, bearing the Christ – a sexless conception, but a fertile womb nonetheless. It is no coincidence that Mother’s Day ends up in May.
It is also no coincidence that the Roman Catholic Church made May 1 the feast day of St Joseph the Worker, in direct counterpoint to….
International Worker’s Day
This day was established in the 1880s by the Communists and Socialists, to honor the Haymarket incident of 1886, in which workers marching for an eight hour workday ended up in violent confrontation with the police after some one threw a bomb. These days most of the world observes this day as a state holiday in honor of their workers. Only Canada, the United States, and Australia celebrate labor day other than on May first. As May first has long been a folk holiday, it makes perfect sense to have a day off, to enjoy the generally mild weather, as a community.
Now more than ever we need to embrace the socialist ideals of this holiday! Eschewing American and/or Western exceptionalism and standing in solidarity with workers all over the world and at home, we can encourage one another to “resist beautifully.”
And last, but certainly not least, May the first is my mother’s birthday. She and I are no longer very close, and I haven’t been in the same state or country as her on this date in over twenty years, but not a May Day goes by without me thinking of her. So happy birthday, Mum!
Weaving it all together
All of these threads make one beautiful tapestry! Finally, I see the pattern. This Friday I’ll keep my son home from school, and the kids and I will go walking in my favorite wood, a place where the Spirits are keenly present. We’ll take offerings and work on listening to and looking for the Other-than-Human. We’ll spend the afternoon enjoying one of the fine public parks in my town. We’ll not spend a dollar, nor do anything that requires some one else to work. We’ll pass out reminders of beautiful resistance. And we will celebrate the efforts of my husband, who works every day, and many weekends, to provide for us.
On Saturday I will share a meal with a friend and attend a Faery ritual with my teacher. Sunday’s full moon will be observed with a bevy of local ladies.
However you honor this turn of the wheel, may your efforts and labors be met with the blessings of rest, fulfillment, solidarity, and fecundity!