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.
I feel like I've just been reborn. That's what happens when you get your connect with the Spirits of Place. And particularly when, like me, you've just moved somewhere and it's extremely magical, and you discover a path you can walk to from your new home that leads through the woods to the Sound. Living on an island, as I now do, water is an important part of the place. I knew I would be doing a lot with the water, but I didn't know I could simply walk down the lane and through the madrone and maple forest on this lovely little footpath and be immersed in a magical connection that feels timeless.
The lady at the honor farm stand on the road mentioned the path when I picked up some organic greens the other day, or I might not have noticed it. It's an easy saunter out the gravel lane, past some more horses besides mine and his two newfound friends, and across Vashon Highway, which most of the time has no cars visible upon it. The footpath then winds around through the woods, sloping gently down as the sound of the creek increases, the world falls away, and the view of the water grows more visible. Birds and water sounds lull you into an attentiveness that signals the Spirits of Place are aware of your presence. The trees begin to signal, the budding mallow and currants catch the light. Someone, as you can see in the photo, even planted daffodils near the trail by the Sound.
I'm settling in after the chaotic and strenuous labor of moving. My workroom is ready, but I was not. This morning I journeyed for myself, to connect and ground, and was told in no uncertain terms to chill and ground and go connect with the Spirits of Place. I was also advised to renew faith. So I did. I didn't know what I would find, or even if I had the strength for the walk. I've been pretty knackered, as the English say.
But the Spirits of Place fixed that. I don't even remember what the other worn-out feeling felt like now; a feeling of exhaustion I've had for weeks. Instead, I feel deeply connected to exactly where on this incredible Emerald Isle I live. I now know I have the perfect place to wander, for myself, and in which to work with clients who want to heal, train in shamanic practices, or both, to find their connect in nature and learn the ins and outs of interactions with Spirits of Place, nature spirits, water work, tree and flower lore, etc etc.
There's so much shamanic work to do in nature. It performs miracles for the human beings and the nature spirits love it too. They sure rebooted me. I'd be delighted to introduce you, and was so inspired by the trail and where you arrive at the end that I created a new service: the half day island visit. Or heck, come for a daylong intensive and build it into your studies and healing work, a fabulous dinner and deep dreaming sleep.
I wish I had a readout of my energy, happiness and groundedness levels before and after today's meeting with Spirits of Place to illustrate the power of such nature work. And it's not even work. It's a stroll with a natural heightened awareness. It's a giving and receiving of love and gratitude and beauty and delight. There's lots of oxygen involved, sun and shade and clean air, greenery and circulation. And the invisibles do their thing through the natural wonders all around.
For example, I was walking along, discovering it all for the first time, and I thought of a line that I couldn't place right away. Now the way leads to the hill... faintly recognizable, why did it pop up just then, just that little scrap? I knew it, but couldn't place it right away. The path didn't even lead to a hill, it was leading down a hill, but there was something just at that moment that popped it into my mind, so I explored. Then I got it.
It's a line from a very old Joni Mitchell song, one of her early ethereal ones. The song is called I Think I Understand, and I used to play it in my teenaged acoustic folk singer days as well as love to hear her recording. Then I got why it popped up now that I'm on the island. It was a gift from the Spirits of Place. Here's the full verse and chorus:
Now the way leads to the hill
above the steeple's chime
Below me sleepy rooftops round the harbor.
It's there I'll take my thirsty fill
of friendship over wine
Forgetting fear but never disregarding her.
I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones on sinking sand.
Feel free to hear it by clicking on the title link to a YouTube. I haven't thought of that song for decades, nor had I truly tuned into to the level of disconnect and, yes, fear that had sapped my energy for some time. As the Spirits of Place arranged for all of that to coalesce in my mind, body and spirit, the lyrics and melody came back to me and I got the reboot. Boom! Instant, delicate, gentle, complete. Aha. I don't believe that would have occurred were I not in that place.
A hummingbird is swooping and chirping and popping in agreement as I write this. it's another Spirit of Place happening. And I think I understand.