Sunday, 6 May 2018

Some thoughts on the mother of months - May

 Song for Bealteinne

Who comes maying, comes maying with me? -
Lad and maiden, sweetheart and friend –
Softly slip from your house-doors free:
Sweet May-night in the woods we'll spend!

We'll pass by where the hawthorns white
Breathe their bridal odour of love:
Not a twig shall we pluck till light -
Sweet May-night in the woods we'll rove!

Bring ye plenty of bread and ale,
Meat and sweet as it pleases ye, bring:
Lanterns vying with moonlight pale,
In the woods we shall sup and sing!

Praise the Goddess-Queen for whose feast
Love's the hymnal and kisses the creed:
Two and two 'mid the leaves embraced,
Sweet May-night in joy let us speed!

Bathed in dew when the daybreak is come,
Boughs of hawthorn bear we away -
Crowned and decked with its sacred bloom,
In the morning we'll bring home the May!

~ Vivian Godfrey

When I reached my early twenties, I often found myself “awakened” in a powerful and strange way each year at the end of April and beginning of May. Unable to sleep in after the long winters, with the light returning and each morning’s resonant dawn chorus, my mind and body would be bursting with energy. There was a heightened sex drive, yes, but also sheer physical energy and motivation to move and to do. It seemed like I was running my own internal micro climate of an English spring. Like the gambolling lambs, flowers bursting forth and budding trees, I was buzzing and erupting with energy and the creative urge.

The people of these Ancient Isles felt it too, celebrating it as one of the key nature festivals of the year. The festival was originally known by its Celtic name Beltane, occasionally spelled “Bealteinne” in Ireland or "Bealltainn" in Scotland. 

In some of the more rural parts of Ireland, in An Ghaeltacht areas, this time of year is indeed still referred to as Beltane. Bel or Belenus was one of the names of the Sun god, and Beltane celebrated the start of the Summer, when the Sun was at his height of power. It was a festival of fire and fertility.

Traditionally, the Sun god and the May Queen come together at this time (she who was the maiden at Imbolc or Candlemas).

May Eve was the time when young people went out into the woods and along the hedgerows to gather branches of May (the white blossoming hawthorn tree) to decorate their homes. Many young folk gained their wives or husbands at this time and there was much jollity and lovemaking. 

At this time of the year there was often also dancing around the maypole - which at one level can be seen as a phallic symbol. It is not surprising that, in Puritan times, great efforts were made to stamp out this festival with its sexual licence. However, like many primally driven things, the customs of the maypole still persist into the 21st Century. A good example of the maypole and its traditions surviving into this century can be found close to where I grew up in the village of Holywood in Ireland, a place long associated with the Irish Druid culture.

Nevertheless, the first day of May continued to be a holiday for working people and remains so in Britain and Ireland to this day -- often known now as "Labour Day". Beltane is another example of an old pagan festival which has managed to survive.

In the past week we were again honoured to be invited by two friends and the Cornovii Grove, of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, to participate in a wonderful Beltane rite in a magical apple orchard on the edge of the Wyre Forest in the West Midlands. Last time we were there was to celebrate Lughnasadh in 2017. 

What a treat and what a change to the orchard all these months later. This week, with not a fruit in sight, the trees were only just beginning to bring on their flowering. Personally, the greatest bit of the ceremony for me was the wonderful sense of kinship, good humour and peace. Declaring, “May there be Peace...”, we established peace in ourselves and in each of the elemental quarters. If any of it rubs off more widely, then we will have succeeded. It seems that now, more than ever, we need peace both within ourselves and between ourselves.

All hail the apple tree – the tree of peace and love!

The Old Ways go ever onwards, or so it seems.

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