May Day POD (Poem Of the Day)
~My mouth is
My hands are
Hard green seedlings
No longer innocent
Yet pliable by grace
An active hive of Bees
Stirred by Sun mysteries
some Ancient Origins of Beltane
May 1st, called Beltane by the ancients, is the cross-quarter on the wheel of the year, between the Spring Equinox & the Summer Solstice, which marks a joyful festival of growth & fecundity, heralding the promise of Summer. This is a time when nature blossoms & felicity & fertility return to the land.
Beltane is the festival of the ‘Good Fire’ or ‘Bel-fire’, named after the solar deity Bel. “Bright and Brilliant Regenerator”, “Protective Shepard”, “The Fiercely Shining One”, & “The Hospitable Boar Chieftain”. All hearth fires were extinguished on Beltane Eve & then kindled again from the sacred “need fires” lit on Beltane. People would leap through the smoke & flames of Beltane fires & cattle were driven through them for purification, fertility, prosperity & protection. Bel was a Pan-Celtic & Gaulish god of light who was revered in such widespread locals as Aquitaine, Austria, Britain, northern Italy. Bel was also known as Bile in Ireland, meaning ‘tree of Life’. Besides being a solar god, Belenus was also known to be a rainbow rayed healer & there are healing springs that were associated with him.
Rudolf Steiner, when lecturing about the Mystery Schools, speaks of this time as being ruled by the Archangel Raphael.
In terms of the Archetypal cycle, Beltane marks the union of female & male polarities, bringing new life to the earth. It is a traditional time for Handfastings (marriages), & was a time for couples to make love outside to bless the crops & the earth.
Maypoles were often danced around at Beltane to bring fertility & good fortune. The later addition of ribbons which were wrapped around the pole by the dancers brought a further sense of the integration of male & female energies, mirroring the union between the God & the Goddess.
Beltane is a time to devote energy to growth & integration. It is a time of celebration, exuberance & hope, when we can enjoy & appreciate the gifts of nature.
It is believed that Beltane is a Celtic reinvention of an even older Sabine festival, Floralia, which celebrated the goddess Flora & the flowering of spring into summer, especially associated with vines, olives, fruit trees & honey-bearing plants.
Cernnunos, the earthly god-force present at Beltane, is a Triple God who is Green Man, Great Father, & Nature Deity. “Antlered Horned Forest Lord”, “Leaf Faced Greenery Father”, & “Primal Landscape Goddess Consort”, he was known by many names throughout the ages on the European continent & the British Isles.
The keeper of the archetypal bag of “fertility coins”, he carried a mighty club that symbolized his authority as master of the hunt, & protector of nature –
A creative mentor of animals, nature spirits, & woodlands, Cernnunos is also a magickal craftsman & Mysteries initiator, considered an Otherworld threshold guardian.
Originally a movable feast controlled by the condition of the crops & flowers, It is believed to have been instituted in 238 BCE under the command of an oracle in the Sibylline Books, with the purpose of gaining from the goddess the protection of the blossoms.
Games were instituted in honor of Flora; with pantomimes, & street theatre. The people of all classes wore their brightest clothes, all decked out in flowers – even their animals were garlanded. Goats & hares were let loose as they represented fertility.
Rome must have looked particularly beautiful at this time.
Gift-giving for the season included vegetables as tokens of sex & fertility. (Use your imagination) In fact, the origins of the Floralia are associated in Greece with Aphrodite in her aspect as the goddess of Love & flowering plants (Antheia) before the festival found its way to Italy.
Choosing a May Queen & King is part of celebrating May Day. A young girl dressed in white represented the Goddess in her maiden aspect. The merry month of May & the word maiden both come from the same source, a word which simply means young.
In Piedmont Italy, the Bride of May carries the maggio, a green branch garlanded with ribbons, fresh fruits & lemons.
In some English Villages, the maiden is called Maid (or May) Marian & this is considered Robin Hood’s holiday.
Anyone who went out into the woods & found a branch of flowering hawthorn would bring it triumphantly into the village (thereby bringing in the May) & announcing the start of planting season. However there were warnings about bringing hawthorn into the house, since it would invite the fairies in.
Sometimes flowers were given as messages: plum for the glum, elder for the surly, thorns for the prickly, pear for the popular.
In Eastern Europe, a young man would go into the woods on May Eve, dig up a young flowering tree, decorate it with ribbons & colored eggshells, & plant it outside the bedroom window of his sweetheart.
In Scandinavia & Germany, May trees are important for both people & animals, & are set up beside the door, sometimes one for each animal in a stable.
In Italy, May Day was celebrated by tying lemons & ribbons around flowering branches. Maypoles are called alberi della cucagna (trees from the land of milk & honey). These Maypoles would have prosciutto, mortadella cheeses & money dangling from the top. The men try to get these prizes by climbing the pole which is greased with lard. Eventually the grease wears off & someone gets the prize. A similar custom is found in Wales.
In English villages, the Maypole is often decorated with a broom or bush & brought in from the woods with girls riding astride it.
The Maypole dance is a circle dance of alternating male & female dancers, weaving in & out in a maze movement, plaiting ribbons as they go. Maypole dances fulfilled social & sacred functions. They helped people flirt & mingle socially. They also raised energy in a patterned & focused way.
In ancient Ireland there was a Sacred Tree named Bile, which was the center of the clan, or Tuatha. As the Irish Tree of Life, the Bile Pole, represents the connection between the people & the three worlds of Bith: The Skyworld (heavens), The Middleworld (our world), & The Otherworld.
Today in some towns & villages a mummer called Jack in the Green (drawing from the Green man), wears a costume made of green leaves as he dances around the May pole. Mumming is a dramatic performance of exaggerated characters & at Beltane the characters include Jack in the Green & the Fool.
The Fool, & the Fool’s journey symbolism can be understood in relation to Beltane as it is the beginning of beginnings, the emergence from the void of nothingness (winter), as one can also see the role of the green man as the re-greening of the world.
In England, May Day was also an occasion for Morris dancing & mummer’s plays. Scholars have speculated that the exaggerated leaps of the Morris dancers serve as charms to show the crops how high to grow (similar dances are reported from early Roman times) & the clashing of their sticks may represent a ritual battle between summer & winter.
The mummer’s plays feature odd character including Green (or St) George, a hobbyhorse, cockhourse (or dragon), a male/female, a teaser, a jester & chimney sweeps with their brushes. Sometimes the hobbyhorse has coal under his skirts & he tries to trap young women under them. Only those who are marked with coal can dance around the maypole. Sometimes when the play portrays a battle between summer & winter, Summer squirts Winter with water & seizes the garland from winter & presents it to the May Queen.
Beltane, is still a precarious time, the crops are still very young & tender, susceptible to frost & blight. As was the way of ancient thought, the Wheel would not turn without human intervention. People did everything in their power to encourage the growth of the Sun & His light, for the Earth will not produce without the warm love of the strong Sun, & the nourishing, healing powers of rain.
Water has special properties on May Day. A Mother Goose rhyme tells us:
The fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
& washes in dew from the hawthorn tree
Will ever after handsome be.
Other sources suggest using the dew found under oaks or on ivy leaves. Make a special wish as you wash your face in it or as you drink from a well before sunrise. The first Sunday & first Monday in May are traditional days for dressing (decorating & honoring) wells.
This is an important association of Beltane, for water is refreshing & rejuvenating, it is also imperative to life. It is said that if you bathe in the dew gathered before dawn on Beltane morn, your beauty will flourish throughout the year. Those who are sprinkled with May dew are insured of health & happiness.
May wine is made by flavoring wine with herbs, berries, fruits or flowers. The traditional May wine is white wine flavored with sweet woodruff (soak the sprigs of woodruff in the wine for only 15 minutes or so to flavor the wine).
At Beltane the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon, (whereas winter begins when the Pleiades rises at sunset) The Pleiades is a cluster of seven closely placed stars, the seven sisters, in the constellation of Taurus, near his shoulder. When looking for the Pleiades with the naked eye, remember it looks like a tiny dipper-shaped pattern of six moderately bright stars (the seventh can be seen on very dark nights) in the constellation of Taurus. It stands very low in the east-northeast sky for just a few minutes before sunrise.
For as we stand on the earth bringing our prayers & intentions for new growth into our actions, we must also remember to rise in our thoughts to meet the cosmic forces, the inspiration & origin of our fertility…
See you in the grove