Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Celebrating Beltane (May Day)

Since ancient times the May season has been a time of celebration and merriment. The appearance of flowers after a cold winter season signals the promise of warm summer days to come. Many of the modern celebrations of May are rooted in ancient pagan traditions that honored the earth and the forces that renewed life. In many pre-Christian European regions, Nature was perceived as a goddess and from this ancient concept evolved the modern "Mother Nature" personification.

May Day celebrations are a time to acknowledge the return of growth and the end of decline within the cycle of life. The rites of May are rooted in ancient fertility festivals that can be traced back to the Great mother festivals of the Hellenistic period of Greco-Roman religion. The Romans inherited the celebrations of May from earlier Latin tribes such as the Sabines. The ancientRoman festival of Floralia is one of the celebrations of this nature. This festival culminated on May 1 with offerings of flowers and garlands to the Roman goddesses Flora and Maia, for whom the month of May is named. Wreathes mounted on a pole which was adorned with a flowered garland, were carried in street processions in honor of the goddess Maia. Various aspects of May celebrations such as the blessing of holy wells are traceable to the ancient Roman festival of Fontinalia, which focused upon offerings to spirits that revived wells and streams. Even the Maypole itself is derived from archaic Roman religion.

The Maypole is traditionally a tall pole garlanded with greenery of flowers and often hung with ribbons that are woven into complex patterns by a group of dancers. Such performances are the echoes of ancient dances around a living tree in spring rites designed to ensure fertility. Tradition varies as to the type of wood used for the maypole. In some accounts the traditional wood is ash or birch, and in others it is cypress or elm.

May festivals commonly incorporate elements of pre-Christian worship related to agricultural themes. In ancient times a young male was chosen to symbolize the spirit of the plant kingdom. Known by such names as Jack-in-the-Green, Green George, and the Green Man, he walked in a procession through the villages symbolizing his return as spring moves toward summer. Typically a pretty young woman bearing the title "Queen of the May" led the procession. She was accompanied by a young man selected as the May King, typically symbolized by Jack-in-the-Green. The woman and man, also known as the May Bride and Bridegroom, carried flowers and other symbols of fertility related to agriculture.

Among the Celtic people, the celebration of May was called Beltane, meaning "right fire," due to the bonfires associated with the ancient rites of this season. This festival occasion was designed as a celebration of the return of life and fertility to a world that has passed through the winter season. Many modern Wicca Traditions celebrate Beltane on May 1st or May Eve. Along with its counterpart of Samhain, Beltane divided the Celtic year into it's two primary seasons, summer and winter. Beltane marked the beginning of summer's half and the pastoral growing season.

The Maypole Dance

In the traditional Maypole dance, men and women form an alternating circle around the Maypole. Red and white ribbons hang loosely from the top of the pole. Each person takes a ribbon--the men holding the white and the women red. Then, everyone stands facing the Maypole. On cue, the women turn to their right and remain in place. The men then turn facing left and take one step out away from the pole, thereby creating two circles of dancers facing one another. As the music begins, the dancers move forward, starting a weaving dance. Each person positions their ribbons to cross over and then under each person they meet next in the dance. The alternation of weaving ribbons over and under continues until the ribbons are too short to allow the dance to continue.

The Beltane Fire

In ancient times, it was reportedly the Celtic custom to light bonfires on the first of May. In the central Highlands of Scotland, such fires were known as the Beltane fires. The Beltane festival included feasting and lighting bonfires on hills or eminences. On May Eve, all the fires in the country were extinguished. The people of each hamlet arose on May morning and prepared the materials for igniting the sacred fire of the new Beltane. The people dug out a trench and placed a pile of wood in the middle, which they kindled with need-fire. One of the oldest traditions involved using a well-seasoned plank of oak with a hole bored in the center. A wimple ( a hand tool used for boring or drilling holes), also made of oak, was then fitted to the hole and furiously manipulated to cause heat friction. As soon as sparks appeared, handfuls of agaric gathered from old birch trees were tossed in. This material is reportedly extremely combustible and the fire burst forth as if by magic. According to lore, the Beltane fire prevented or cured malignant diseases, particularly in cattle. It was also said to neutralize any poisons.

Money Drawing Spell

3 green candles
1 Aventurine stone
1 Lodestone
Patchouli incense
Patchouli oil
A small pouch containing cinnamon, peppermint, and comfrey

This spell should be worked when the waxing crescent of the moon can be seen in the night sky. Begin by anointing the candles with the patchouli oil. then place them in holders, setting them to form a triangle surrounding the aventurine stone and the lodestone. Next, anoint yourself on the solar plexus with patchouli oil. Light the candles and take three deep breaths through the closed herbal pouch. As you inhale, close your eyes and imagine a green sphere of energy pass into your solar plexus.

Now, pick up the lodestone in your left hand and the aventurine stone in your right. Then speak this affirmation:

All obstacles are gone and I draw prosperity to myself.
I attract gain and increase. I draw the abundance.
To me comes now the money that is needed and to spare.

Sit quietly in front of candles and visualize yourself looking into your purse or wallet and having lots of cash. Next, see yourself writing checks to cover your bills and having a nice balance left in your checkbook.

Extinguish the candles and incense. Repeat the spell for three days in a row.

All this information can be found in Raven Grimassi's book, "Beltane: Springtime Rituals, Lore & Celebration"