Sunday, April 29, 2012

May Day and the Traditions of Beltane

"May I make my fond excuses for the lateness of the hour;
But we accept your invitation, and would bring you Beltane's flower.
For the May Day is the great day, sung along the old
straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley will heed this song 
that calls them back."
                                                                     Ian Anderson
                                                                    Jethro Tull, 
                                                                   "Songs From the Wood"

If you've never listened to Jethro Tull's "Songs From the Wood,"
The Green Man
you must download a copy from your favorite site (legally, of course) and allow yourself to be transported back to a time when men and women danced and frolicked to honor the transition of Spring to Summer.  With the harshness of Winter behind them, the long hours of sowing and planting done, people went into May hopeful. They symbolically chased away the specter of famine and disease.  May 1st marks the beginning of the ancient Celtic Summer and was considered to be a time of great energy.  Psychic powers were said to run higher during the last full moon before the first of May.

The origin's of what we now call May Day began as an ancient
The Hierophant from Stephanie
Pui-Mun Law's fae deck, "Shadowscapes"©
Druid fire festival celebrating the 'death' of Winter and the 'birth' of Spring.  The Druid festival morphed into the pagan celebration, Beltane,  celebrating the marriage of Mother Earth to her male consort, the Green Man.  You've seen the Green Man's image as garden art - the face covered in oak leaves, his mouth open as if exhaling the breath of life.  The Earth's marriage to the Green Man was symbolized by the planting of a large pole into the earth.  We can all get the symbolism of that.  The villagers danced wildly around the pole clockwise, celebrating the Mother and the Green Man whose union would ensure an abundant harvest of fruits in the Fall.

Beltane also kept the Druid tradition of setting bonfires ablaze at midnight.  Historically built on hilltops, these fires were constructed from nine pieces of wood, gathered by nine different men from nine different trees.  Fetching the hawthorn blossoms was called, "bringing in the May." Villagers would go into the woods on Beltane Eve (April 30th) to blow cow horns and gather hawthorn blossoms to bring back to their homes.  The revelers stayed out all night, probably enjoying cup after cup of May Wine, a wine flavored with herbs and blossoms.  They returned home with their blooms in the wee hours before dawn.  Eventually, Christian church doctrine outlawed the wild over-night trips into the woods.  I'm guessing because of the significant increase in unwed mothers nine months later.
This oracle card comes from "The Druid Plant
Oracle"© by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm,
illustrated by Will Worthington. Beautiful depictions
reads great!

On May Day, the villagers declared the prettiest girl in the village "Queen of the May," She sat on a throne decorated with flowers and her Green Man sprang out of the bushes to claim her as his dancing partner at the May-Pole.  Beltane, or May Day celebrations as they became known, were outlawed in England during Oliver Cromwell's time along with just about anything else that sounded like fun.

May Day returned to England with the return of Charles II- a historical player whose exploits in the bedroom were the stuff of legend.  However, the festivities were more sedate - at least in mainstream society.  The May-Pole became a fifty foot log with long ribbons attached to the top.  Dancers wore costumes and though they still danced clockwise, they twisted ribbons down the pole in what was probably a much more artistic way than anything their forefathers designed.  Soon May Day became a day for children to tie garlands of flowers to willow sticks and take them from houses to house for people to admire.  Sometimes their efforts were rewarded with cakes and coins. The garlands eventually gave way to baskets of flowers left anonymously on doorsteps and even today it's not unheard of to honor special friends and neighbors with flowers on May Day.

I think it's a nice tradition to celebrate May Day.  I make up my
April 30, 2014 adds up to #14,
Temperance - seen here in the fae world
of "Shadscapes"© by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
Watch your consumption of May Wine!
own traditions to celebrate the coming of May, borrowing as I please from various cultures along the way.  You can do the same.  On April 30th why not go out and bless your garden.  Give thanks for the growing season yet to be.  You can do this whether you live on a farm,  have a container garden on a patio, or just a couple of houseplants.  Claim and celebrate the fertile spaces in your life.  Sometimes the smallest ideas yield the largest results.

The Beltane Fire Festival in an international celebration hosted in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Here's a link to explain the history and majesty of this event.  Enjoy!

Did you know?

Beltane is considered to be the biggest moving day in the year for the fae world and the time of year when fairies are the most active.  Legend says that they move between the fairy mounds at this time.  If you have a fairy mound around you, or suspect their are fairies at the bottom of your garden, put out a dish of cream and a piece of sponge cake for them.

Other names for May Day:

Rood Day, Rudemas


Disregard the following "Green Man" product links, as they have been de-googlized

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