May 1st, called Beltane by the ancients, is a Cross-Quarter Day on the wheel of the year, which marks a joyful festival of growth and fecundity, heralding the promise of Summer.
Beltane means ‘Good Fire’ or ‘Bel-fire’, named after the solar deity Belenus – “Bright and Brilliant Regenerator”, “Protective Shepherd”, “The Fiercely Shining One”, a Pan-Celtic solar god, who was also known to be a rainbow rayed healer associated with curative springs.
Water has special properties on May Day. A Mother Goose rhyme tells us:
The fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree
Will ever after handsome be.
Other sources suggest using the dew found under oaks or on ivy leaves. Make a special wish as you wash your face or drink from a well before sunrise. The first Sunday and first Monday in May are traditional days for dressing (decorating and honoring) wells.
Rudolf Steiner, when lecturing about the Mystery Schools, speaks of this time as being ruled by the Mercurial Archangel Raphael, who holds the caduceus and brings healing in his wings.
Lighting a fire is customary at Beltane, and traditionally it was composed of wood from nine sacred trees. On Beltane Eve all hearth or house fires were extinguished and then rekindled from the sacred “need fires” lit on Beltane. People would leap through the flames and drive their cattle through them for purification, fertility, prosperity and protection.
There were other May Day customs; such as walking the circuit of one’s property, repairing fences and boundary markers, processions of all kinds, archery tournaments, sword play, And of course making merry with music and May wine…
May morning is a time when the veil between the worlds can easily be pushed aside; but instead of the spirits
coming into our realm from the other side, which is the case with Halloween, the polar opposite of Mayday on
the wheel of the year; the fairies can enchant us over into their mystical realms.
The tradition of the Maypole is a circle dance alternating male and female dancers, weaving in and out in a maze movement, plaiting ribbons as they go. Maypole dances fulfilled social and sacred functions. They helped people mingle socially. They also raised energy in a patterned and focused way.
When we acknowledge these creative forces in the dance of our lives, it takes us to our own personal, modern-day version of dancing around the maypole; where we weave and combine the opposing energies within ourselves; blending them into one balanced source.
What would it be like to – Work to unify the polarities of our being, by sparking the new fire of creative abundance and passion; and marrying it with the beautiful, healing waters of compassion and pure love; So we can truly celebrate the marriage feast of our lives, with a grounded, mindful joy…?
~Hazel Archer Ginsberg – Festivals Coordinator and Council Member of the Rudolf Steiner Branch of Chicago.