Celebrating Beltane: Courage in Hard Times

This year, as the festival of Beltane (April 30th) approached, I was aware of feeling anxious. Our community celebrates by leaping bonfires, dancing the May Pole, then gathering boughs and literally bringing in the May. We festoon the rafters of a barn with blossoming branches, and then we crown each other with ribbon, adding violets, periwinkles and daffodils wherever they can be tucked in. Use your imagination. We've been celebrating the holiday at High Valley for fifteen years, and I always watch closely and eagerly as Spring unfolds from the first snowdrops and crocuses, to the shadblow, the forsythia, daffodils, quince, and then tulips and the first bloom of apple and dogwood. This Spring everything bloomed three to four weeks early. I kept wondering, what May will be left to gather in?

This might not sound like cause for angst. As I fretted, I discovered many people do not keep such close track of when this or that plant blooms. And isn't an early Spring (fast turning into an early summer) cause for rejoicing? Perhaps, if it was just an anomaly. But I can't help feeling that this early Spring is connected to the climate change that is bringing us melting icecaps, disappearing islands and coasts, changes in monsoon patterns, violent freak storms. This year, for whatever reason, there have been five earthquakes and a volcanic eruption. The recent coalmine disaster and the ongoing oil spill serve as immediate and dramatic reminders of the havoc our human dependency on fossil fuel is wreaking. The greenest of us is part of this juggernaut.

On May Eve, we managed to find some dogwood still blooming as well as narcissus, a few tulips and plenty of violets. It was a beautiful, warm, clear day. As my husband and I gathered boughs and flowers and set up the bonfires and the Maypole, I pondered how to acknowledge grief, not just personal grief of which there is always plenty, but planetary grief and yet also open to joy, to possibility, to surprise. Spring, even when it is not early and connected to ominous change, can break your heart. Spring challenges us to begin again, open again, risk coming to life again.

For me celebrating the Wheel of the Year is about connecting with my community, human and non-human, aligning with the rhythms of waxing and waning light, cycles of fecundity and death and regeneration. It is about remembering that we are the earth, we are made of earth, air, water, and the fire of the sun. If I am earth, there is no shame in feeling earth's sorrow in my body. But it is also important to know joy, to embody joy.

On Beltane morning I wrote a tanka (a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern):

The Beltane moment
~forsythia, shadblow, quince~
passed some weeks ago
still we gather this May Eve,
blossoming boughs of courage.

And that evening we did gather, some seventy strong. We acknowledged sorrow, then danced with joy. We brought in the May and as we crowned each other we made the last line of the tanka into an improvised chant. Over and over, till everyone was radiant and festooned with flowers, we sang:

"We are the blossoming boughs of courage."

May our courage bear good fruit.

Coming next week, a post on Cristina Eisenberg's new book The Wolf's Tooth: Keystone Predator's, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity