(originally published in an on-line religion's magazine called Creedible, 2012) and on this blog, 2014
Soon after the celebration of rebirth and resurrection of Easter, the springtime settles in comfortably. The flowers have bloomed and are thriving, the birds and animals wake up with the dawn to sing their mating songs, and though there may still be a chill to the air, it no longer carries the same bite it did a few weeks ago.
May Day marks the height of spring and takes note of the promise of the growing warmth. Known as Beltane to the Irish, this is a time to finally throw off the dark and cold of winter, and to embrace the bright and shining gifts of summer.
Beltane stands opposite of Samhain (Halloween) on the wheel of the year, and while Samhain marks death, this day celebrates life. Depending on when and where, celebrations for this holiday can take place any time in the month of May, though the first day of May is a common date.
German folk stories speak of Walpurgis Night, associated with Saint Walpurga. Images of this Saint show her holding a stalk of wheat, similar to old Pagan ideas of a Grain Mother. Her day, April 30, or May Eve, may have originally been seen as a witch’s holiday, and even Goethe writes about the witches who fly around the mountains on this night.
Catholics may also remember the crowing of the May Queen, parades in honor of Mother Mary, and maybe even dancing around the May pole. These celebrations are transplants from much older Pagan fertility rites. The May Pole can be seen as a phallic symbol, and the various May Day festivities are a celebration of the marriage of the God and Goddess. This is worship of the literal life-force.
To our ancestors, this was a time to bless the fields and livestock to ensure a good harvest later on in the year. They would light giant fires and herd their livestock between them, the fire being the spark of passion, fertility, growth and light. The fire was also seen to be transformative and purifying, a symbol of hope and good fortune for the lighter half of the year. It was a good time to choose a lover and to focus on growth and fertility for oneself and the community.
For modern folk, it’s a good time of year to put focus and energy into our own harvest – the projects at work that might need a little extra something, giving love to our families, or returning to our hobbies and passions that have set dormant over the cold of the winter. Make a wish and light a candle or even sit around a campfire and celebrate those things and people you love. Eat some spicy food and fancy chocolate and get your blood going. This is a season of fertility, after all!