WriteSpa #69 – Beltaine

The first day of May falls at the height of spring and is most familiar to us as the ancient Celtic holiday known as Beltaine…  Bel is the Celtic god of  light, and in the northern hemisphere it is at this time of the year that the light is strongest. The farther north you go, the longer the twilight – that murky, dim, silvery brilliance that imbues the world till late into the night.


In ancient times, when we were closely connected to the rhythm of the seasons, on the eve of Beltane, we lit bonfires to Bel to call back the sun. We jumped over the fires to purify ourselves, and we blessed our all-important animals by leading them from winter barns to summer pastures between those bonfires. Celebrations were filled with merriment – dancing, tournaments, feasting, and love-making. Flowers were abundant and even the mysterious Green Man was sometimes visible.

There are many celebrations honoring mid-spring. At the school I went to in Sussex, we left baskets anonymously on the doorstep of an elderly or unwell neighbor. Girls woke before dawn and we bathed our faces in the dew (although it was usually soft rain). We danced around a maypole, the girls wearing wreaths and garlands and the boys covered (or so it seemed) in bells. At the end of the complex, varied, joyous dancing, the maypole was colorfully braided with the ribbons we had been dancing with.

Taine means fire and Beltaine was the celebration of Light and Fire. This is the time of year when the energy of the earth and our bodies is the strongest. Fiery Aries has moved into earthy Taurus and if you’re friends with a farmer, you’ll rarely find them socializing now – there is so much work to be done.  We’re now into the summer half of the year, a time when the sun rises early and sets late, and when everything is growing hard.

There’s good reason why the Druids honored the sun above all else: the sun is our earth’s heart. It beats now, at this time of year, with the most passion. It is in love with the earth and with the people on it. Take off your hat at sunrise and sunset, as the people of the Highlands in Scotland used to do, in honor and appreciation of our marvelous Sun.

The Elfin May May Pole

People all over the world mark the circling seasons with festivals, as they have from time immemorial, but sometimes we forget the origin of these festivals. Festivals connect us to our earthly, physical cycles of light and dark, sowing and reaping, birth and death. As a writer or any creative person, you know this intimately: you cannot create art without living and experiencing life. There’s a time to experience and a time to create.


Writing Practice – Fertility and Creativity

The quickening life forces of this time of year are most evident in the new-born lambs, bear cubs and kid goats, and a general sense of new birth. Listen to the birds outside your window: it seems as though they are chirping and trilling in sheer unbridled merrymaking. Beltaine epitomizes love and making love. In days long ago, if you weren’t already pregnant, this was when you and your lover would wander to the green wood and make love in a fertile, flowery bower.

But we’re not talking about young teenagers in love. We’re talking about any age, any sex, and any form of creativity: this is the time to take your heart’s work to a new level of love-making. It’s time to be passionate about what you’re doing and how you’re living.

Use this light-filled energy to grow your creation with an intensity that is unmatched the rest of the year. Wake at dawn, wash your face in morning dew, and sit outside in the early morning sunshine to write a poem. It was said that the man who washes his hands in May-dew would become particularly skillful with knots and nets. Turn that ancient skill into knotting words together or imagine your piece of writing as a beautiful silvery net to catch fish with.

And you can prepare a bountiful May basket by filling it with your favorite words, a poem you’ve written that you love, inspirational fragrance or crystals, perhaps even some delicious may-cakes. Keep it near your workspace for inspiration. Treat your writing spirit as a beloved neighbor who needs a gift of sustenance.

Here are more activities to quicken the life force of your creativity: Light a candle and jump over it (symbol of the great bonfire of Beltaine – do this with attention and care). Wander to a stream or lake or the ocean and bless the water spirits. Listen and listen even more: the words you need to write are there, ready to leap from the sparkling ripples onto your pages. If you have a small garden, or even a window box, or live on the edge of the woods, keep in mind that – like Samhain in the middle of autumn – Beltane is the time of the year when the veil between this world and the invisible world is thin and can be parted. This is when you might see or sense fairies, elves, or other elemental beings – spirits who nourish your creativity even if you can’t see them. (If you want to try to see them, wait till late in the evening, then bend a rowan or willow branch into a ring and gaze through it.)

Or keep a Maibowle of fruity May wine beside your creative work space. Traditionally, a May bowl was made with fragrant woodruff flavoring sweet white wine – but you can use any fresh fruit juice and soak buttercups, dandelions, violets or other blossoms in it. Then celebrate: share the drink with the one you love – your Writing Self.

Basket of Flowers by Delacroix

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