May 1st is Beltane, the Gaelic holiday marking the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In pagan and pre-Christian traditions, it is one of seasonal festivals alongside Imbolc, Lughnasadh, and Samhain, the latter of which is currently being celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere. A celebration of fertility and the beginning of the warmer months, Beltane often included bonfires, trips to holy wells, and rituals for growth and abundance. For a lovely history of some of the folklore and traditions surround Beltane, I recommend the podcast Blúiríní Béaloidis, episode 2, “May Day Folklore” (available at the end of this post).
Knowing that we are unable to gather at this time, and that revelries are far from most people’s minds, I think there is still much to be said in marking this holiday. Yes, it feels strange to celebrate when there is so much grief, and particularly to focus on abundance when there are so many experiencing the very real fear of scarcity. But marking this holiday has felt more poignant and important to me this year.
With branches of my family tree in Scotland and Ireland, I’ve been reflecting on the power of ancestral magic. The knowledge that countless generations before have also marked the shifting of the seasons, through times of hardship and while far less resourced than myself, gives me comfort and perspective. Indeed, for these traditions to have developed during times of such hardship and scarcity, to celebrate and make a ritual of their hope, is humbling.
Knowing that it’s going to rain for the next couple days, last night we had a small pre-Beltane fire. Bay leaves are believed to attract abundance and prosperity, and growing up I was told by my mother to write on them before tossing them on a fire to manifest a wish. I have a lot of wishes right now, but I am also so aware of the abundance.
Happy Beltane to all who celebrate.