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What is Bealtaine?



Bealtaine, otherwise known as May Day, is the Gaelic festival celebrating the return of Summer usually falling on May 1st or halfway between the Spring and Summer Equinoxes. It is a joyful time to celebrate life, growth, love, and fertility of the landscape as we bear witness to life unfurling.


In this blog post you will find:


Introduction


Dear friend, can you feel it? The inner opening available to us now as the days lengthen and how the warming sun invites us to soften and expand toward the ever-increasing stream of light? How the flowers and the insects and the birds are showing us what it means to embrace this sensual time of the year with vibrant expressions of sweetness, song and jubilee?


It's incredible how quickly the landscape changes once the energy of Spring arrives. Every single day tiny miracles abound. I especially love watching tight buds slowly unfurl and expand into majestic light-catching leaves. The landscape has magically transformed from grey and barren to a sea of green teaming with life. Now as I step outside my door and go meandering through the woods, it's as though I'm entering a whole new world... and indeed I am!


As time spirals through the cycles of life/death/rebirth, who we are as we approach the height of Summer is not who we were this time last year. The same is true for place & landscape. Everything is shifting and changing as old versions of self get composted and digested into the greater wholeness of who we are becoming. As I witness the beauty of life all around me, I celebrate all past versions of myself that have led me to this moment of expansion.


For this reason, Bealtane is an opportunity to celebrate the wholeness of who we are and the cycle of growth that is currently underway. Nature reflects the vitality of life that inevitably arises after a time of dormancy and digestion. The energy of these early Summer days calls us to sing, dance, make love, create, and delight in the pleasure of our sensuous aliveness; to express our joy in bold new ways. It's a time of year that also reminds us to give thanks and to honor the beauty and gifts of our unique expression; how necessary we are as part of the vast web of life.



What is Bealtaine?


"For much of the course of human history the 1 st of May has been honored and celebrated with ceremonies and rituals of fire and heat, love and ecstasy, enacting the sacred union of the sun and earth whose fruits ripen and last the year long... Rituals of gratitude and celebration abound. There’s wild feasting, revelry, dancing, and stealing away in the dark to participate in the oldest fertility rite of all, without which life simply does not go on." - Hope Horton


Bealtaine is an old indigenous Gaelic festival celebrating the Summer's return and with it the fertility and vitality of LIFE. The early Celts divided their year into halves, Gam (winter) and Sam (summer). This cultural orientation has a resonance of meaning with dark/light, similar to that of yin and yang.


Bealtaine was the festival that marked the beginning of Summer, or the lighter half of the year. It was during this time when cattle were driven out to the pastures and rituals were performed to protect the animals, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers.


According to Mara Freeman in her book Kindling the Celtic Spirit...


"On Bealtaine Eve the druids and their successors assembled on high hills with a view of the rising sun. They came to raise the great fires that would bring the power of the sun to Earth and to sanctify and purify the whole community and their lifestock in readiness for the new cycle. Fire was an interface between the human race and the divine, in particular, elemental powers of the Upperworld who would determine the fate of the herds, the flocks, and the growing harvest. Sacrifical offerings were cast into the fire to gain their goodwill, borne skyward on flames like hands uplifted in prayer." [1]


Historically, this Sabbath was one of the most important festivals in the Wheel Of The Year (and continues to be) widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. There are different names, spellings and pronunciations depending on the language and culture one is orienting from:


Chart depicting festival names in different languages with pronunciations

Bealtaine is one of the four Gaelic fire festivals (also known as Sabbaths) —along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh. The word 'Bealtane' means "bright fire" and comes from Bel or Beal which is the Old Irish word for 'light'. The Celtic sun god, who was associated with healing, was called Belanus. The suffix 'taine' is a Gaelic word that means 'fire.' [2]


In Irish mythology events that mark the end of an old order and the beginning of a new frequently fall on Bealtaine. This is illustrated in a story about the Tuatha Dé Danann (a race of gods) who arrived in Ireland one Bealtaine riding through the air on dark clouds. According to Mara Freeman, another legend maintains that "Saint Patrick lit a fire on the Hill of Slane near Tara at Bealtaine to proclaim the triumph of Christianity over the old religion." [3]



Wheel of the Year


The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of eight festivals (known as Sabbats) which includes four solar festivals (Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Fall Equinox) and four seasonal festivals (celebrating or marking a significant seasonal change). The symbol for the concept illustrates a circle divided into eight equal sections. Although this depiction is relatively new and was developed in the 1800's as part of the Neo-Pagan movement, it closely reflects the nature of the holy days that were celebrated by Celts thousands of years ago, even if these celebrations were known by another name now long lost.


Sadly much of the details of what took place in ancient Celtic culture has been lost, but what still remains is available to us from the source culture's of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Something that we are learning as people of the disapora who are reclaiming our cultural heritage is that it's critically important to be learning from and in direct relationship with the source culture, otherwise we are perpetuating cultural appropriation within our own cultural lineage which perpetuates colonial violence.


Under industrial growth society, we follow the concept of linear time, however in the past, when we lived in close relationship to nature, time was perceived as cyclical. The Wheel of the Year is a calendar focused on this cyclical journey of the seasons:


Orienting to Cyclical Time


If you are in the beginning stages of disentangling yourself from the death-grip of industrial growth society, shifting from linear time to cyclical time can seem quite foreign and unfamiliar at first. We become so used to perceiving time as a never-ending accumulation of one event after the other... a building of sorts, or perhaps you might visualize it as a straight line with a starting point and an ending (life/death). Be gentle with yourself as you begin to open your mind and body to your natural biorhythmic movement. Disorientation, dislocation and disassociation are all manifestations of the trauma of separation from nature.


Beginning to make the shift toward nature's cycles will take time. The best thing you can do to support this shift is to spend more time immersed in nature. Whatever you're doing in your life now, simply add 10-15 min of intentional time in nature to your day. This time should be slow and mindful, or in stillness as you take in your surroundings while staying connected to your inner landscape.




Nature's Wisdom

The Pleasure of Sensuality


If the message of Spring Equinox is about breaking free from what is confining, then Bealtaine is about claiming freedom and taking it into the realms of embodied fulfillment and ecstacy.


Through the turning of the wheel, nature teaches us that the basic pattern of life is one of oscillation and contrast; a pulsating dance and tension between polarities. The rhythm of creation throbs with erotic life force energy and it is through this dynamic of hide and seek that we experience the pleasure of aliveness. The energy of Spring is arousing and builds as the days lengthen and the warming light penetrates Earth. We too are being aroused as light penetrates our bodies and this happens through our senses.


Here we are given the opportunity to join in on the seasonal frolicking and to commune with the vitality of life. It's all about releasing your inhibitions, letting go of the things that hold you back, and allowing yourself to express what comes naturally!


Sounds simple, no?


Well it's not surprising that this seasonal initiation can bring up a lot of for people. Under the ongoing traumatic influence of industrial growth society, we constantly have to reckon with systems of oppression that are imbedded within the cultural fabric of racial capitalism (and how we internalize it). This means that for many of us, it often doesn't feel safe enough to access pleasure. So it's no wonder that accessing freedom can prove to be a challenge. But that is exactly what we must do. Our divinity is entangled with the flesh of who we are, so coming back to our bodies, awakening our senses and giving ourselves permission to prioritize safety and what feels good is how we access the flowing nectar of life.


As earthen creatures, vitality is our birthright and we experience this through the pleasure of aliveness and the sensuality of being ensouled matter. When Christianity took hold, certain elements of the old religion were overlaid with new concepts, while others were entirely suppressed and demonized, in particular the wild earth, the sensuous body, sexual vitality and the power of embodying erotic energy. Audre Lorde proclaimed this in her influential essay, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power ...


"In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives." [4]


This is what Bealtaine evokes! Coming into wholeness means embracing our wildness, becoming untamed, and expressing the fullness of our erotic nature. We are perfectly designed to receive pleasure and enjoyment from the ecological ebb and flow of life. Under the death-grip of industrial growth society however (and with a repressive history that reaches back to the middle ages), many of our bodies carry trauma which block us from receiving the most subtle sensational pleasures. Fear creates constriction and limits our capacity to experience aliveness.


Spring arouses us while early summer lures us out from hiding, drawing us into the lovemaking that is life itself! When we are receptive to the power of the erotic we have an increased capacity to shape change and ride the waves of oscillation with greater ease and ecstasy.



Bealtaine Journal Prompts


The following journal prompts relate to the theme of pleasure, sensuality and aliveness. Explore your relationship to this seasonal energy by reflecting on these questions:

  • How does my body like to experience pleasure? When do I feel most alive?

  • How does my pleasure and vitality serve to disrupt systems of oppression?

  • What gets in the way of prioritizing the cultivation of my erotic power?

  • What beliefs or attitude do I hold around sexuality? Sensuality? How are they different?

  • What does nature reveal to me about pleasure, rhythm and relationship?



Closing


The seasonal energy of Bealtaine is arousing and invites you to delight in your sensuous expression, soften into pleasure, express your love for the world, follow your curiosities/attractions, reclaim what sets you free, what brings you joy, and what supports your vitality.


By embracing the seasonal is a powerful way to reclaim your ancestral connection to radical joy and embodied aliveness. Leaning into the invitations that nature brings will help you to THRIVE during this time.



Did you like this post?


We'd love to hear from you!

  • How are you celebrating Bealtaine or May Day?

  • What miracles are you bearing witness to?

  • How is nature teaching you?

Leave a comment below :)



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