Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
— John M. C. Crum, in the Oxford Book of Carols, 1928
Like most springtime festivals, Beltane is largely about rebirth. Life returns to the earth and springs anew. We light a bonfire, to burn and release the dead things that have passed. Fire is a force of unstoppable, powerful change; you cannot hold on to anything. You must discard it in the fire, and let the flames turn it to dust, returning it to a prima materia (Latin: first matter) state. Alchemical transformation is not imposed by an external force, nor is it borne in secret within the individual; it requires a marriage of self to nature. We bend fire to our will—but we respect its power as we do. We align ourselves with the season and use it to work change in our own hearts.
Do you want to have love? You must not only seek love, but also relinquish hate. Do you want life? You must not only embrace your life, but also release what is dead.
This is particularly difficult for me right now, as I lost my dear little cat, Pwca, only a week and a half ago. She sickened and died pretty quickly, and I still haven’t acclimated to her absence. As our festivities took place on the eve of Beltane, I found that there was plenty of quiet time in the evening—and moments of clarity in conversation—for me to try to sort out some of my feelings surrounding her death. I had a cyclical brain process that went something like this:
I am sad Pwca is gone.
But that’s completely selfish of me. She’s not in pain anymore, and that’s better.
But she died so young. (She was 8 years old.)
But she had a happy life. She was loved and cared for, very well.
But is that enough?
To love, be loved; to grow; to experience the world; what more is there in life?
If that is not enough, then nothing is enough, because that is all there is.
Still, I am sad.
I have no cure for grief, and I still feel her absence in my heart, her soft weight missing from my bed, and mourn the silence that does not bear her purring mini-rumble to me. But my grief is a part of my growth; it is an emotional winter that will give way to spring. In that sense, it does not weigh on me as depression and anxiety have in the past. There is nothing I could have done to make her life better than it was.
One of the most well-known traditions of Beltane (also called May Day) is that of the Maypole. My housemate cut down a small, dead tree in our backyard a few months ago, and its trunk formed the heart of our Maypole this year. I used a staple gun to attach the ribbons to a wooden disc, and then nailed that to the end of the Maypole. I’m not sure that’s the preferred method, but it’s pretty secure.
Jo-ann was having a sale, so I bought several of those rainbow spinners for the backyard, too. They are just plastic, but they catch the sunlight in some pretty hypnotic ways. We dropped a few bills on a spread: cheese, strawberries, bread, hummus, salami, cider, beer, soda, juice, and made a pot roast… And we had a bunch of friends over for a big party. People brought yet-more drinks and yet-more food. We had a bonfire. We stayed up all night, eating and imbibing and rejoicing. People slept on our floor, on our couches.
We do these huge parties twice a year (usually on the solstices; but we couldn’t, this year). I love them, because they allow me to enjoy my friends, to learn new things about them, to share bits of our lives that don’t always fit into the shorter gatherings we have. And that, by itself, is incredibly life-affirming. Despite my grief over Pwca and the weight of her death on my mind, I had an amazing evening of discussing matters serious and jovial, drinking apple cider and watching Rick and Morty, and watching the lovely faces of my friends by firelight and the light of the full moon.
a Small Note on my celebration of Celtic Holidays
I have essential no training (excepting what I’ve read) in celebrating the Sabbats, and do not count myself as Wiccan, Celtic NeoPagan, Celtic Reconstructionist, or a member of any of the traditions which tend to claim Beltane and other Sabbats as their own. That being said, I love the Wheel of the Year. It makes emotional sense to me, and I like that it works with the seasons, so as to keep one aware and attuned to nature.