Saturday, April 5, 2014

Beltaine Blessings!

Beltaine, celebrated on May 1-2, is sacred to the Goddess in her aspect as Queen of All Wild Things and to the God in his aspect as Lord of the Forest. 

 For Oakmist Grove, the Goddess' reign begins at Beltaine, and the rule of the year is relinquished by the God. We celebrate not only the changing of the power, but the marriage of God and Goddess. 

There are many sexual themes associated with this time of year. Animals are mating and the mood is catching! We find ourselves flirting and feeling frisky after the long, dark season of winter. (Spring! Tra-la!)

Beltaine marks the height of the season of Spring. Flowers, trees and shrubs are in bloom and the threat of snow and ice has ended.

At Beltaine, we place emphasis on all of the things that make humans happy such as love, sex, beauty, playfulness, and the arts. These feelings and activities elevate our consciousness to levels above mere survival. These energies, projected into the Beltaine fires, make a potent charm.

Bonfires are built wherever pagans gather for this Sabbat! The fires are composed of three, seven, or nine different woods. The fire is often lit by a spark from a flint. We make wishes and jump over the fire, hoping to be impregnated and made fruitful by it's power. 

On the last three days in April, pagan houses are cleaned and fumigated with juniper berries and rue. Couples often go off into the woods May Eve and spend the night together making love. At dawn, they return bringing green and flowering branches and decorate their homes and door lintels. 

In the past, this was the one night of the year when "nobody watched" what anyone did --each man and woman was free to explore beyond the marriage bed. The lovemaking was a form of sympathetic magic to encourage the growth of the crops and the fertility of the animals, as well as to increase the size of their own families. Stong, healthy children were needed to run successful farms! Children born of these Beltaine unions were considered children of the Gods, as each person "became" God or Goddess on this magical night! (Some believe that the Christian Jesus was a Beltaine child, conceived on this holy night by a mortal maid and an unknown "God." The math is right if you consider the shepherds may have been guarding their flocks in the spring, rather than in December. But, this is another article…)

On May Eve, a maypole, 
cut from a straight young tree, 
is brought from the woods. 
 It is decorated with ribbons, flowers, and green branches,
 and stood upright in the earth. 

 We dance around the May Pole, weaving in and out, 
concentrating on weaving those attributes we most need into our lives. 
 As the ribbons become tighter around the pole,
 the energy becomes greater. 
 Finally, the energy is focused and released. 

The May Pole itself is a phallic symbol, representing the penis,
 the long, streaming, colorful ribbons representing the potent sperm.

A May Queen is chosen each year, 
and according to sympathetic magic, 
it is optimal that this be a young woman in childbearing prime. 
If the May Queen is old and infertile, 
so will be your year! 
May Queen from Llandudno, Wales in 1910

The purpose of the Beltaine rites is to ensure growth and health of the crops and animals. Magic is done for happiness in love. Sexual unions among the people are united with the life-force of all nature. Fire magic is performed to strengthen the sun and obtain adequate rainfall.

Coelcerth, Grangetown, Caerdydd, 1887
In pastoral communities in Europe, cattle are driven to the summer pastures after being led through the "coelcerth," the ashes of the Beltaine fire. Fire is believed to be a purifier, and the ashes of the fire prevents sickness, and encourages abundance and protection. 

One carry-over of this practice may be the Ash Wednesday ritual performed by the Catholic Church, wherein ashes are placed on the forehead in the form of a cross, a strong symbol of protection.

Hawthorne, which is also called Whitethorne or "the May Tree," is sacred to the Goddess at this time of year. The first flowers, green budding twigs, and small branches are brought into the home to bless it. 

Children used to make May Baskets and leave on front doorsteps, 
blessing the recipient with fertility and goodness. 
 I recall this tradition with fondness. 

 We would spend hours making our May Baskets from old strawberry containers, 
filling them with flowers from my grandmother’s garden. 
 Then would come the excitement as we placed them on the neighbor’s doorstep,
 rang the bell,
 then ran to hide and watch the surprise on their faces! 
 What a wonderful old custom for children to carry on in pagan families today.

In the past, Baal (fire of the Sun), a god of the Sun and vegetation had his great feast at this time, as did Olwen, a Welsh form of Venus. Bolili, sister and lover of Tammuz; Priapus, Pan, and Eros; Maia, the mother of Mercury; Aphrodite and Venus; and the Roman Flora all had feasts at this time.

St. George is the Christian version of the vegetation god. Slain by the Giant (death), he is revived by the Fool (Sun) and kills the Dragon (Winter) in the spring Mummer's play, which is still performed in some communities..

The characters of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Merry Men, of Merlin and the fairy Viviane or Nimue, and the legend of Gawain and the Green Knight are all stories which surround Beltaine legends. The feast of Walpurga, a Teutonic Earth-goddess who has been converted into a Christian Saint, is at Beltaine.

Throughout much of old Europe, milkmaids and sweeps parade through the streets on the first of May. Green George (aka Jack in the Green, the Green Man) is a man concealed in a framework covered with green leaves, representing the vegetation spirit. He dances and whirls in the processions, and people sprinkle him with water --an old rain charm.

Glastonbury Well Dressing
Wells are decorated with flowers and blessed, the spirit of the well being propitiated with offerings. Dew is gathered at dawn on May morning , and used to wash faces, ensuring youth.

This year, celebrate Beltaine with the pagans! There are festivals occurring all over our beautiful Pacific Northwest. Something for everyone!

If it isn’t possible for you to meet with a group, bring the spirit of Beltaine into your own home or office. Traditional decorations include Maypoles decorated with flowers, greenery, and ribbons; garlands and hoops made from birch, hawthorne, lily-of-the-valley, rowan, and willow. 

Wheels and hoops symbolize the continuity of life. 
Fill your home with these symbols, and with masses of rainbow colored flowers! 
Wake up early on May 1 and wash your face in the dew! 

Most important of all, give thanks to the gods 
for the continued blessings of fertility in your life, 
however those blessings may manifest!



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