Friday, May 1, 2009

A Fun and Firey Fertility Frolic

Blessed Beltane! (More commonly called May Day nowadays...) Beltane marks the transition from spring to summer, the mid-point between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Beltane is one of eight Natural holydays that are points in the wheel of the year which remind us of the turning of the seasons. In honoring these holydays, we harmonize our lives with the rhythms and dances of Nature, the divinity that flows through all of creation.

Today is May Day, the first of May, when the ancients (as well as folks today) celebrate fertility -- of the land, of livestock, and of themselves. May Day is all about planting and planning the rich harvest and fertile animals that we count on to nourish us. It is also about celebrating fertility ourselves with flirtatious glances which lead to warm and firey relations.

The maypole anchors spring's spirited dance while a crackling Beltane fire promises deep transformation. We celebrate fertility and the coming of abundance individually, in pairs, and within community.

The tradition of maidens (supposedly virgins) dancing around the May Pole overtly represents the union of male and female. (I listed a recipe for May Wine earlier this month, which I'm sure the maidens and men enjoyed before their dance!) Beltane is certainly a favorite holyday of many folks, and with good reason!

Whenever I think of May Day, I remember the scene from Camelot that Guinevere and her maidens sang and danced to. Here are those joyous lyrics:

It's May! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when everyone goes
Blissfully astray.

It's here! It's here!
That shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts
Merrily appear!

It's May! It's May!
That gorgeous holiday
When every maiden
prays that her lad
Will be a cad!
It's mad!

It's gay! It's gay!
A libelous display!
Those dreary vows that everyone takes,
Everyone breaks.
Everyone makes divine mistakes.
The lusty month of May!

Lyrics by Alan J Lerner

(When I was in college in the 70s I dated a guy who looked like Richard Harris as Arthur... and he rode a motorcycle. But that's another story...)

Fires of passion and purification burn bright at Beltane. Peasants, in their celebrations, would build small fires for their livestock to jump over to ensure fertility and plenty. Couples who hoped to conceive would hold hands and jump together over the fire. Dancing, singing, chanting, and drumming around the fire are traditional activities that help celebrate the abundance of blessings in our lives and to come.

A few years ago, I hosted a Peace Feast to celebrate Beltane with a community of women. We celebrated with writing our prayers for peace on long ribbons, which we then danced around a tree in our yard. The ribbons danced in the wind for many months after that. Once they finally came to rest on the ground, we burned them in a ceremonial fire and released the prayers again.

I like the idea of a May Tree in place of a May Pole. To me, it celebrates the Ma-tri-archy with a living being, not one cut from the ground and shaved of limbs. I also love honoring trees, which have been important to cultures around the world for eons.

In Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles & Celebrations author and urban shaman Donna Henes, introduces her writing about the connection of trees and spring with a poem from a sixth grader:

Spring is life.
Life is trees.
Trees are oxygen.
They all come together in one place.
Make us breathe and live...
Spring is the giving of life.

--Chieu Tran
Grade 6, I.S. 145

"Mama Donna" continues to write about Mid-Spring:

The tree of life, with its roots deep in the earth and its branches reaching upward toward heaven, out toward eternity, is the prime symbol of midspring celebrations in many cultures. Trees have long been worshipped as beneficent spirits of bounty. Trees shade and feed us, supply and sustain us. They breathe life into our lungs. Possessing potent powers of fertility, growth, and longevity, trees are the progenitors of the world family tree.

You can't see the forest for the trees in world mythology. The Masai people claim their descent to be rom an original parent tree. The Mayas of Central America understand themselves to be part of a great celestial ceiba tree. This silk-cotton tree, which stands for all life, is the pole at the center of the earth and serves to hold up the heavens. The Zapotec Tree of Life is 2,000 years old, 131 feet tall, and 138 feet in girth. It grows in Santa Maria del Tule in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. This majestic, stately being large enough to offer shade to five hundred adults, whic hsurvived Columbus and survived the conquistadors and survived the Mexican Revolution, is now suffering the consequences of air polution and a near-depleted groundwater table. The health and prognosis of the Great Tree of Life now hang in precarious balance.

The Koran refers to the cosmos as a tree. Yggdrasil, the World Ash, is the tree goddess of the Scandinavian underworld who overreaches the human abode, touching the sky with her branches. Her roots reach to the very center of the earth where they wind around the sacred wells that impart wisdom. The World Tree is the symbol of all relationship and, as such, is the central philosophical image for the Slavs. The Hebrew goddess Asherah was associated with a sacred tree. The Greek goddess Athena was symbolized by an eternally flourishing olive tree. Helen was worlshiped as a tree on the Greek isle of Rhodes into the 19th century. The Buddha was born under a tree at Lumbini, attained Enlightenment under a tree at Gaya, and enerted Nirvana under a tree at Kusinagara.

The Bodhi Tree. The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The Egyptian Tree of Life. The biblical Tree of Knowledge. The Persian Tree Opposed to Harm. The Navaho Tree. The Iroquois Tree of Peace. The Cedar Tree of the Ghost Dance. The Witch Tree of the Ojibwa. The Yoruban Universal Tree of Life. The Taoist Paradise Tree. The Celtic Tree of Paradise. The Germanic World Tree, the Heavenly Pillar. The Greek Sacred Pine of Attis. The Tree of Liberty of the French Revolution. The Oaxacan Tule Tree. The Kabbalah Tree. The Cedar of Lebanon. The Christmas Tree.

So now we celebrate the halfway mark between the Equinox and the Solstice. Everyone is dancing, not only the two-leggeds! This past week, I've seen birds courting, bees buzzing, butterflies fluttering, leaves bursting, and buds blooming in a frenzy of fertility. The colors and activity are inspiring and breathtaking. My red azaleas are so brilliant they seem to glow, as do the red maple leaves. There goes that tickle above my heart again. And this time, it's not about allergies!

I hope you join in with Nature's dance today!