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  • Writer's pictureChiara

Memories of Beltane

love, May, celebration, culture, tradition, art

The Lusty Month of May

TODAY is Beltane. May Day. The official day to celebrate life, love, hope, and fertility. The natural impulse at this time of the year when seeds are planted in the rich moist soil of the earth (and bodies!) must have been the impetus for the ancient adage: HOPE Springs Eternal.

Beltane is the name the ancient Celtic cultures gave to this lusty time of year, and dancing the May Pole is still one of the enduring joys I remember most fondly. Traditionally, on the eve of this sacred day, the old pole was set afire, and its ashes scattered over the fields to enhance fertility for the coming season. Young men would choose a new sapling to erect for the dance to come. Make no mistake about the meaning. That robust young tree was the symbol of the Earth’s phallus, to be adorned and celebrated for its reproductive powers.

A maiden, by virtue of her virginity, was chosen as May Queen to be honored and adored as the ripe symbol of the Earth’s womb waiting to be impregnated with new life. This was the day that merry lovemaking was not only celebrated but encouraged. The energy of bliss and blessing would spread across the land into hearts, young and old, a rejuvenation of hope for the future.

We created a family tradition that co-mingled our celebration of May Day, Mother’s Day and all the spring birthdays into one. And there were those first sips of May wine. (We loved a crisp white wine infused with sweet woodruff from the garden).

To be completely honest, it was the feminine energy promoting this celebration for our gathering. The men and boys participated by burning the old tree and cutting and erecting the new one. The women and girls attached the long, colored ribbons to the top of the pole just before it went up, and then the men sat back to enjoy the festivities, becoming more indulgent observers than revelers.

Back then, my garden in Gig Harbor, Washington, was just beginning to bloom with Forget-Me-Nots, early Lavender, Lilacs, Blue Bells, and Daisies. The women and girls gathered in baskets of flowers and wove them into garlands for our hair as we sat on the sunny deck, laughing, talking, and sipping our wine (or fresh juice for the youngers). The little boys went off into the woods to choose sticks that became swords and twigs to make their crowns of Stag Horns.

We dressed in our favorite flowing dresses and skirts, and the music was always gay and merry: Celtic reels, pipes, and drums. Lots of Van Morrison. The boys were always pleased to provide the percussion background to the thrum of the day. The aromas of the feast that would follow the dance, drifting out onto the deck and into the garden, reminded us of more pleasures to come at the table: roast lamb, new potatoes and asparagus, young greens, berries with thick cream, and of course, more May Wine.

The impulse to dance spontaneously lifted us to our feet throughout the day, and when it seemed just the right time, we would go to the pole, curtsy, or bow to the power of the Dance. In and out, over and under each other’s arms, we danced and laughed. (The mothers, aunties, and grandmothers were often teary-eyed with gratitude to be able to continue our festival tradition with our young ones another year.)

The memory of that last May Day at home is so vivid to me today. I see my mother, dressed in her full bright skirt, the garland of flowers and ribbons that she had assembled worn as her crown, laughing even as tears streamed down her cheeks. She danced! Her chronic pain disappeared while she reveled in the embrace of her family.

What a full-hearted memory this is to me now. In those days, before children were grown and scattered, loved ones were lost to us by illness, marriages disintegrated, and households disrupted, we celebrated our lives, each other, our children, and the good fortune to be together, to belong within Our Clan.

Even today, in these times of climate, political, and ideological disruptions and crushing uncertainty, we can still hold out for Hope. Traditions embraced can soothe us. I remember how we each called out our personal hopes for the future as we wove the bright colors around the pole and danced. We must always embrace hope and the possibilities for new life and new opportunities, rejoice, and give thanks for a renewed sense of belonging. Isn’t this what our deepest longing truly evokes? For me here, so far away from those I love and the traditions we cherished, the hope of coming together again soon is what I hang onto in these strange times of uncertainty. We belong together, come what may.

Blessings to All now and always.


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