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.