may day: under the beltane sun
England celebrates May Day today, 1st May. Related to the Celtic festival of Beltaine, May Day is a celebration to mark the banishment of the cold, dark winter and to welcome in the summer. It was a time when the cattle were turned out to their pastures. Fertility was important, and the Beltaine celebrations were centered around blessing the earth and making offerings for a good harvest later in the year. May Day was traditionally the day that saw renewal, rebirth, re-awakening and regrowth begin. Hearth fires are extinguished–marking the start of summer in the home.
Villages all over England have their own May Day traditions, often built around maypole dances, Morris men, the crowning of a Queen of the May and the revels of the Green Man or Jack-in-the-Green, an ancient woodland spirit. The tradition goes back to the 17th century and centres on a magical procession of a May Queen and her court along with many fantastical characters in the form of painted and costumed performers and acrobats and accompanying drummers.
The Green Man is “killed” by the May Queen, stripped of his winter guise and resurrected in a dramatic ritual performance, before they light the traditional Beltane bonfire to welcome summer.
The Gaelic calendar recognised the natural seasons of the earth with four main festivals, Imbolc (spring),Beltane (Summer), Lughnasadh (Harvest season also known as Lammas), and Samhain (the onset of winter).
My shackled feet they long to be free from,
This modern Rome.
The ancient moors and the granite shores they are,
Calling me home.
Sometimes this city is too much to bear,
I hear a calling in my soul,
The Mother’s waterways will take me,
Where life has begun,
Under a Beltaine Sun.
Morris Dancing is common on May Day and in true English style, there are many different styles of dress and dancing. They are broadly similar and since the 1970s have enjoyed a big revival all over the country. Forms of this type of folk dance can claim pre-Christian origins and may have developed as a means of ensuring fertility of the soil, crops and animals when the survival of whole communities depended on the fortune of the crops. The ritual elements of its origins can still be seen in the dances today the clockwise circle to represent the sun, crouching down, leaping in the air and banging sticks on the ground to encourage the crops to grow. Handkerchiefs are waved, bells ring and sticks are clashed to ward off evil spirits.
Vassar College Plaiting the May Pole
May 1911 U. of Missouri
Many years ago, one Easter Sunday morning when my husband and I lived in Barboursville, W.Va., and had a small three year old son, a young neighbor girl of ours paid us a Sunday visit. She was dressed in a simple pastel dress, was wearing matching heels and short white gloves. She was also carrying her Bible and had just come from church.
She came by to wish us a happy Easter. She was warm and her intentions filled our life with her sweetness for a while on that Spring day. We were away from family and friends, having moved to a new home in a faraway place. We were touched and reassured by her gentle presence.
I have often wondered, if I could do my life over again, just what one thing would I change? My answer, and it always remains the same as I ponder the thought: I would learn to be more of a “lady.” To have more manners, to be more thoughtful, more serene, and polite.
I would enjoy even more the feminine things: dresses, babies, flowers, scents, giggles, and a lightness of being. I’d want to be softer and lighter, more serene and gracious than I am, like the young girl that Easter morning.
These days I enjoy seeing my granddaughters develop these traits in the encouraging presence of their mother. She carefully does their nails and puts the matching bows in their hair. She has taught them to mind their manners and learn to share. She speaks well of them and offers a gentle embrace. Today’s blog is to honor young ladies, their beauty, innocence and joy of life.
I pray that the world will become safer for them all.
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
To-morrow ’ill be of all the year the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
Wreaths for the May! for happy Spring
To-day shall all her dowry bring, The love of kind, the joy, the grace,
Hymen of element and race,
Knowing well to celebrate
With song and hue and star and state,
With tender light and youthful cheer,
The spousals of the new-born year.
Spring is strong and virtuous,
Broad-sowing, cheerful, plenteous,
Quickening underneath the mould
Grains beyond the price of gold.
So deep and large her bounties are,
That one broad, long midsummer day
Shall to the planet overpay
The ravage of a year of war.