Beltane, or Walpurgisnacht, or May Day, or whatever you’d like to call it, is a festival of merriment and celebration. We’re welcoming spring, and expressing gratitude for everything spring makes us think of: flowers, fruit, warm weather, nature’s beauty, and, related to that, themes rated to fertility and sensuality. The barnyards, forests and fields are full of baby animals, and our own blood awakens in our veins like rising sap. Many of our rituals feature symbolic courtship, even copulation (assuming it’s an adults-only gathering), and rightly so! The music right for Beltane can be as eclectic as you like, but I find a mixture of traditional festive songs and sensual instrumentals are a great mix for rituals, Maypole dances, mystery plays, or post-ritual feasting. So, I’ve gathered together a few of my favorites for this holiday Feel free to share your own suggestions!
This will come as no surprise: Loreena McKennitt has quite a few songs suitable for Beltane, so this piece is focused on this well loved artist who is a perennial favorite in the pagan community. I love several of the songs from her album The Book of Secrets for Beltane, for their sensual, uplifting appeal. Why not start with “Prologue” (a shimmery, evocative instrumental) to get things warmed up, and go right into “The Mummer’s Dance”, which begins with these lyrics:
“When in the springtime of the year
When the trees are crowned with leaves
When the ash and oak, and the birch and yew
Are dressed in ribbons fair”
“Marco Polo” is another great song on this album that I think works extremely well for ritual: beautiful arrangement with intricate, sensual drums. There seems to be a concept or theme linking these songs and they really meld together beautifully; one could just start playing the CD at the start of ritual and keep going.
Many of McKennitt’s instrumental songs combine influences from a number of cultures, including Irish, Scottish, Middle eastern and African. The “Huron Beltane Fire Dance” begins with a lilting, lush vocal over slow, sensuous drums and heats up with drums and Irish fiddle for a rollicking dance piece: perfect for ritual use. I like “Night Ride Across the Caucasus” too; it has a mysterious, full-bodied sound and lyrics that also evoke the energies of Beltane:
“There are visions, there are memories
There are echoes of thundering hooves
There are fires, there is laughter There’s the sound of a thousand doves
In the velvet of the darkness
By the silhouette of silent trees
They are watching, they are waiting
They are witnessing life’s mysteries.”
I hardly think it’s worth wondering whether Loreena is a pagan practitioner: it doesn’t matter to me, since her music is so magical I can’t help but think she is channelling spirits and magicks and beings and gods that chose her unique talents to speak through. Or maybe she just knows how to make incredible music using material we all should pay more attention to (folklore, legends, poetry). I was thrilled to see her perform an intimate concert on my birthday last October, and just this past weekend I scored 3 unused CDs of her music in an antique store–after finding an Enya CD, I kept looking for more in that vein and my persistence, sorting through lots of bad ’80s music, was rewarded! It seems that every pagan festival can be accompanied by some of her songs. I’ll keep this thought in mind when summer solstice rolls around…