May Day: Rekindling the Heart of Beltane

For those of us who lean toward the pagan end of the spiritual spectrum, Beltane or May Day occurs this weekend as April turns to May. It's the mid-way point between spring and summer, and for many pagan practitioners, it's a time to celebrate the abundance of nature. But this year, I'm just not feeling it. Maybe it's holiday burnout. After all, I just completed a whirlwind Easter holiday with family, and now Beltane is here. Maybe that's just the way it goes when you try to observe two different sets of holidays.

But I think the real problem is that I've yet to find or identify the spiritual center of the Beltane holiday. This exercise is something I've done for years with every holiday, whether pagan, Christian or even a civic holiday like Memorial Day. I ask myself, "What is the essence of this holiday and why should I honor it?" Call me crazy, but I believe holidays are more than just a day off work or an excuse to drink more alcohol; after all, holidays are "holy" days.

Other holidays on the pagan calendar are easier for me to grasp. I understand the emphasis on nature's balance on the first day of spring and fall, and I find inspiration on both the summer and winter solstice, when the earth is tilted closest and farthest, respectively, from our sun. Maybe these holidays are easy for me because they're obvious reminders of the cycles of nature. But Beltane feels more abstract to me, sort of like Flag Day in June (I mean, seriously, does anyone notice Flag Day?).

As a good pagan, I want to care about Beltane (and Flag Day, too). After all, a holiday traditionally given to colorful maypoles and whispers of lovers' trysts in the woods sounds exciting, right? These May celebrations were once so exciting that the Puritans -- those guardians of all that was decent -- banned maypoles in many places. Today, some Beltane celebrations crown a May Queen with flowers, have participants jump over a fire for good luck or employ Morris Dancers to awaken spring with their lively steps. Maybe I drew the short stick because, here where I live, that sort of thing just doesn't happen.

In other words, if I want to celebrate Beltane, I gotta do it myself (even Flag Day gets some attention locally!). I need to find the spiritual soul of Beltane, at least the one that makes sense to me. Taking someone else's word on any spiritual exercise is never a healthy thing, in my opinion.

No matter if it's Beltane or another celebration on the pagan calendar, I believe each holiday should reconnect me somehow to the natural world and its cycles. Sure, I get that Beltane is all about the fertility of nature, but all the typical "lover/maiden" talk just makes me giggle and feels slightly juvenile. Taking the growth theme a step further by focusing on what I want to "plant" or "nurture" in my own life just seems pedestrian and uninspiring.

So what does inspire me about Beltane? Running throughout all of these May Day traditions is a sense of unbridled joy, of youth sprinting across a flower-covered meadow beneath the warmth of the sun, with a mischievous and happy gleam in his (or her) eye. It speaks not of planting or consummating or doing anything -- but of simply being alive in that moment, with a hint of bright tomorrows to come. Can I bottle that feeling and hold it forever? That's what I want from Beltane this year, and I don't think you can manufacture that spirit out of anything organized.

For me, Beltane simply is. Anyone got a maypole I can borrow?