George Harrison's classic opener to Side Two of the Beatles' immortal LP Abbey Road, Here Comes the Sun knocked us all out on first spin. I was at boarding school in 1969, when Wheeler in Providence was still an all-girls boarding school going by its traditional name of The Mary C Wheeler School. Someone brought in the brand new LP and put it on the turntable. By the time we flipped it over, young minds forever blown, George's catchy singalong joy at the sun coming out after a long cold lonely winter, masterfully played on acoustic guitar in a complex time signature, won us completely. May Day – and May Eve – are all about this.
There are many ways to celebrate the coming – at last – of the darling buds of May, to the upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Most of them harken back to the olden days of pastoral village life, a closer connection to nature, having only seasonal food to eat, and a deeper acknowledgement of and interaction with folk lore and ancient ways as a means of survival. Which, at May Eve included dancing with the fairies and sprites, shapeshifting and walking between worlds, in league with the invisibles. May poles may have been involved.
While I am a core shamanic practitioner, not a Celtic shamanic practitioner solely, I do have knowledge both experiential and academic; you could say it's in my blood. So I do refer to May Day also as Beltane (BEL-tenn-ah). And I thought I'd use this timely blog post to tell you a bit about it, using information from Celtic experts John and Caitlin Matthews as well as the Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, without going nuts so I can get back out in the sun and frolic with Sir Galahad. That's my horse, not the Arthurian champion.
Basically, the Celtic sun god, Bel, the Shining One, returns officially on May Day, and everyone's greatly relieved to be through the dark cold lonely winter. Darling buds are blooming, clothes may be shed, birds are singing, and hey! we survived. You may be feeling much the same; I know I am. Hence, 'tis a fabulous time for celebrations with libation and dancing and a certain amount of bonhomie having to do with flowers and phallic pole symbols.
But there's more to it than party party party. Or driving cattle between two bonfires, or eating special foods like May Eve bannocks (cool rolls). There is heightened awareness, an atunement with the natural cycles and our being influenced as a living part of them, a reverent knowing of the power of prayer, love and gratitude, and the expression of these things to the invisible forces and their third dimensional counterparts. We're talking flora, fauna, trees, stones, clouds, waters, and dare we forget: bees! The bees need us to protect them, and we need them to, well, stay alive.
Beltane (and its many derivative spellings depending on location and date) is one of the four Celtic fire festivals, welcoming the sun god back to rule and all. Remember another track on Abbey Road, John Lennon's Sun King, a strangely dirge-like mash-up of May Day-esque feeling and stately Louis XVI pomp (and opening crickets)? It really was a long cold lonely winter recording Abbey Road. Then, the world got the Summer of Love. Woo-hoo!
May Day is the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, what is called a cross-quarter day. On these eight holi-days (spring and fall equinoxes, summer and winter solstices, Imbolc (February 1), Beltane (May 1), Lughnasadh (August 1), and Samhain (November 1), our connection with this world and the unseen is stronger. The Druidry.org site info hyperlinked here mentions that at Beltane the summer literally begins to buzz.
Just yesterday, on this fair and lovely emerald isle of Vashon, a local gardener mentioned that she's not yet hearing the familiar buzz of bees in her century-old apple trees. The blossoms are again returning, let's hope the bees do too. Maybe a little extra bee love would not go amiss this May Day.
While being outdoors, frolicking, giving thanks and tokens of love and gratitude to nature, for its beauty and sustenance and spirits, while enjoying being part of it all is apropos for Beltane, no matter what tradition or none guides your revelry, there's more to it, as previously mentioned.
The veil between the worlds is well known to be thin at these points in time. Beyond witchy superstitions and customs is the perhaps more shamanic appraisal of power times for the work. Shapeshifting is a very natural part of the work, which doesn't mean the raven you hear cawing from the wires, or the dragonfly on your hat is me. Necessarily.
Beltane is a 'work day' for me, and I'm grateful for it. I love my work in all its forms. The energy will be optimal for walking between worlds, within and without. And I love nature, especially the darling buds, and bees, and all the beauty of this world. May you enjoy and appreciate the natural and supernatural, visible and invisible forces that rule the universe, keep us alive and allow us to simply bee.
Four planets walk into a bar...
Yes, friends, here we are in the Grand Cross: can you feel it? While I'm not an astrologer, getting some info on alignments that might well be influencing your life right about now can be useful. Pam Younghans is an astrologer, and her take on the energies of the cross, April 20th (yesterday) through the 23rd, put me in mind of the classic start of a joke, which led to this post.
But this Grand Cross (or Square) ain't no joke! When Mars, Pluto, Uranus, and Jupiter square off at table 13 (each at 13º) in mutable signs, (Libra, Capricorn, Aries, and Cancer, respectively), it's sort of like those old black & white TV cowboy shows, when the poker game in the saloon gets tense and everyone stops talking. Even the phrase squaring off can mean that kind of tension; I mean these are two pairs of hefty planets in opposite signs all perfectly squaring each other. We're talking 90º angles, a shape with four sharp edges and four corners to negotiate, with massive force fields and agendas to go with them. Whether you're talking geometry, architecture, physics, astrology, or dramatized poker games, you're talking balance amid tension.
How we balance ourselves is the thing here. I hadn't yet read Pam's metaphor of the four planets sitting at a square table, Mars and Pluto opposite Jupiter and Uranus, yesterday, when the topic of tightrope walking came up spontaneously. Now I do the math, I get it: balance and tension. Without both of those, the tightrope walker's out of luck. If they're not kept in harmony, the tightrope walker's out of luck. Moreover, they must be kept in harmony under changing conditions and circumstances. Crosswinds, for instance, or their metaphysical counterpart: fear. Even the word crosswinds has a cross in it; the long balancing bar the tightrope walker carries makes a cross with the thin line in the sky.
Cross, square, opposites, tension: a golden opportunity to rebalance. To cross from one mindset to another, release in order to turn tension into real ease. To negotiate real ease out of the oppositions, within and without, may I suggest turning the square into a square dance? The old program would be a standoff, a tug of war, for and against. If you win, I lose. In a more mutable stance, with movement and fluidity, think of the square dance, when the caller calls the partners to make a star with their hands in the center and wheel around. Now that's reel ease!
And yes, I'm having fun with words. But what you can do with pairs in a square, with balance and tension and fluidity and ease is a beautiful thing. You can join hands and swing your partner round and round, you can release and turn to the left or right, do-see-do, make circles and stars and figure-8s and promenade. Like the Traveling Hoedowners do! Watching them, and hearing the caller do that cool thing of singing On the Road Again with the calls as part of the tune is a hoot. And in our personal square dance, it's good to remember you call your own tune. You are the caller of your dance, and like this guy it seems handy to have some practice, know what you want to sing and then sing it with style. Yiha
Whether you take up tightrope walking, square dancing, astrology or – as Pam suggests, "we may find that balance through meditation and dreamwork ... shamanic journeys and psychotherapies" – I hope imagining oppositional forces as a swingin' dance, set atwirl with flounce and bounce, wordplay and natural fun lightens the work of realizing, releasing and re-patterning old standoffs ready to blow.
May you instigate lightheartedness, affection, and optimism to balance the intensity, sensitivity, and vulnerability.
I'm going to take a new trail today and see where it leads. And leave you back where this post started, with the lines of a poem of mine that came up talking about something, that came up from something else, that came from something else.
If you find yourself
on a tightrope
so thin it can't be
seen above a world dropped
away in a stiff wind
think Chagall, Philippe Petit
© 2014 Susan Lynch