Today we celebrate a very special solar Sabbath on the Wheel of the Year, the apex of spring. We have reached the midway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The flowers are blooming, bees a buzzing, and all life is passionately eager to reproduce. Earth energies are at their peak and life is beaming with fertility and vitality.
Beltane has long been celebrated as a festival of fire. Its name is derived from Belinos, one of the names for the Sun God and the Gaelic word “teine” meaning fire. The word translates as “bright fire.” A community bonfire was lit to honor the Sun God, inviting his support for a healthy harvest in months to come. The sun is now emerging, more and more each day until Litha, the summer solstice, when the daylight begins to wane.
The maiden goddess has reached her wholeness. It is now time for the May Bride to join in sacred matrimony with the May King, the Green Man. Together, they consummate their marriage, turning potential into conception. This union symbolizes the Hieros Gamos, the holy marriage of earth and sky. Just as the maiden becomes the bride, the young god, the May King, evolves from adolescence to manhood. He is aroused by the earth energies at play and longs for the goddess. On this night, we celebrate their marriage which ushers in the beginning of summer. We recognize this union as the alchemical wedding of the divine masculine and feminine. We welcome the vibrant and fertile energies of the earth. We invite them into our homes, our gardens and our communities for an abundant and fruitful harvest later this year.
As summer begins and the days grow longer and warmer, the plant world blooms and an exuberant mood arises. In ancient Celtic traditions, it was a time of bold promiscuity and open sexuality where marriages of “a year and a day” could be undertaken. Wedded couples were allowed to lay down their rings for this one night. Many would spend the night “A-Maying” in the forest, dancing around the phallic Maypole which was erected at sunset to symbolize the connection of earth and sky. It was a time for exploration and passion, unabashed sexuality and potent fertility, ripe for conception.
At sunrise, women harvested the blooming Hawthorn and wild flowers to decorate the home. They would adorn their bodies and braid flowers in their hair. Bathing naked in the river, dancing in the moonlight and spending time in nature with lovers and friends, this was the way.
Although we can not celebrate in physical company with each other today, we can celebrate in spirit, with action and intention. Honor this day, the peak of spring, the beginning of summer, in some kind of ritual. Tune in to the earth energy, turn potential into conception. Though we are experiencing physical isolation, we are never alone. We are nature, in sync with the rhythms of the planet on a cellular level.
Our ancestors understood the value of the metaphors in myth. They turned storytelling into the living fabric of their communities, woven by the common thread of honor and respect for the earth. When we look around, we too, can see the metaphor of the May Bride and the Green Man. We can see the flowers blooming and smell their sweet aroma. We can feel the sunlight on our skin. We notice the earlier sunrise, and the deeper sunsets, late in the evening. We hear bees and insects busy pollinating, and we see birds and other animals giving birth to new life. We can continue these rituals in our lives, honoring and worshipping the earth. She is the host of all life, our teacher, our home.