Here in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, we are in the middle of what I call magic week; spring comes to the mountain in a flush of rapid greening, and in the span of about a week all the leaves and blossoms begin to unfurl, transforming the bare trees into a fuzz of pastel greens, pinks and blush whites. The grass is suddenly resurgent and green, and the woods and fields are dotted with violets and the bright gold of dandelion flowers.
During this transitional span of days, the world looks different than at any other time. If you look closely, you'll see that it's brimming with the strange and almost alien shapes of unfurling buds and sharp new shoots. If you aren't paying attention, you'll miss the opening of spring.
Most years, the peak of magic week falls on Beltane.
Beltane is an ancient holiday that marks the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It's a celebration of the return of growing green things, of fertility, warmth and prosperity. Bonfires were lit, a symbol of the spark of life. Songs were sung, and herds of cattle were blessed by sacred smoke. Lore goes that on this day the goddess manifests herself as the May Queen, and the god as the Greenman; their union brought fertility to the land, ushering in the season of growing seeds and ripening fruit.
The focus of Beltane is fertility. Couples often spent the night outdoors, collecting flowers and greenery for their doorways, and just enjoying the warm spring night (*ahem*...a round of "beltane babies" born about nine months from this day was not uncommon...).
As an herbalist and plant person, I tend to think of this fertility in terms of my garden and the wild things that will soon flourish. I plant the final veggie seeds in my little patch of earth and mark the growth of the yarrow, motherwort and skullcap that grow in my yard.
I think this fertility and growth could also be interpreted on a more metta-level; maybe it's a good time to plant and foster your dreams, ideas, and goals for the coming year. Or, you could even do something as simple as dreaming up and planning out what fun things you want to do during the warm months - places you want to go, delicious foods you want to cook, friends you want to visit.
Although Beltane is most often celebrated on May 1st, my celtic ancestors almost certainly celebrated at the nearest full moon, the Flower Moon, which this year falls on May 18th. Where I live, the full moon in May is when the hawthorn trees blossom, and that feels to me like the real beginning of summer. (But, I see no reason not to celebrate on both occasions, because hey, life is short.)
If you do a quick search for Beltane rituals, you'll find a ton of really interesting ideas and traditions, so I'll skip mentioning those here. Over the years, though, I've cultivated my own little rituals - some of them borrowed, some of them dreamed up out of what felt right. Mostly, I like to keep things simple. So, here are just a few of the things I like to do to celebrate:
Make a Bonfire
Beltane is primarily about fire, the spark of life. I'm really lucky in that I have a yard where I can have a fire, so I love to build a big one on Beltane. It's tradition to jump over the fire (yep, I have done this in the past, but given that I now have a somewhat large firepit, I've rearranged my views slightly...). Sometimes, I will light a candle from the Beltane flames while making a wish or setting an intention. You can also write down dreams or goals on a little piece of paper, and then toss that into the flames. The main thing, I think, is to just bask in glow of the fire and dream about the coming summer.
I mean, any excuse to bake, I'll take it... I think Beltane is a lovely time to experiment. Mix some violets, lilacs, or rose petals into your favorite shortbread recipe, bake a loaf of sweetbread filled with lemon and berries, toss together a few delicious, oversize scones and serve them with a delicious jam... The key is to get creative and use what's growing around you, if you can.
Cook a Big Wild Spring Feast
...or a small one! My absolute favorite thing to do on Beltane is make a meal from what is growing outside my door. Some years it's a pesto made with wild greens and tossed with pasta, others a it's pizza topped with nettle leaves or a risotto with mushrooms and wild onions. Anything involving fresh greens and seasonal spring foods is perfect, and even better if eaten in the company of friends.
Make Flower Wine
This is so simple, and so much fun to do. Just get a bottle of your favorite white wine (or red!), pour it into a clean mason jar, and add a few edible flowers and herbs. Some ideas; mugwort, lilac petals, forsythia, violets, dandelions, ground ivy (or henbit deadnettle, or deadnettle...), etc. (Of course, always do your research before you eat anything you forage, and never eat anything you aren't sure about!) Let the wine sit for a few days, then strain and enjoy. If you're good at life (like, better than I am), you can even make the wine ahead of time and enjoy it on Beltane.
Whatever you choose to do, the idea is to focus on the energy returning to the world. Take a minute to feel gratitude for the warm abundant months ahead. Look closely at the buds, enjoy the ephemeral spring flowers and gradually warming nights. Plant the seeds, tend the garden, and enjoy this magic time of new life.
Merry Beltane, and be well,