The Sun is gathering warmth
Birds busy mating and nesting
Smell spring in the air
Honey perfume from the Tea Tree
The Sun slowly inching towards summer
Warmth burning the skin
Hay ready for cutting
Sheep to be shorn
Seeds in need of sowing
Currawongs lingering down from the mountains
Scorpions in the woodpile
Hounds, complaining, it’s too hot to be outdoors
North wind blowing a reminder
Long green grass waiting to be dropped
Trees calling us to join them
Spirit friends waiting patiently
Let us rejoice in the season to come
- Lady Cu, Beltaine, 2010
Our Beltane Celebration honours the place between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Astronomically, this midpoint falls in the first week of May in the Northern Hemisphere and the first week of November in the Southern but it can vary from year to year. It’s become a tradition to mark this occasion on May 1st/November 1st. Beltane is the last of 3 Spring Rites and the first of the Summer ones and both of these functions are acknowledged in our ceremony. As daylight overtakes darkness so spring passes the baton to summer.
Scholars debate the meaning of the word ‘Beltane’. Most agree that ‘taine’ means ‘fire’ because it is still used in Scots and Irish Gaelic. The first syllable might refer to the Celtic God ‘Bel’ and as such ‘Beltane’ would mean ‘Bel’s Fire’. Similarly, Beal is the Gaelic word for ‘shining’ or ‘brilliant’, either of which could be attached to the word fire. Bel seems to have had a female counterpart but she has mostly been forgotten over time. ‘The brilliant fire within the God and Goddess’ is congruent with the overall theme of this celebration. We are honouring the creative fire within us. This is the fire that moves things along from an idea to an actuality. It is the brilliant fire of our creativity and sexuality.
The source of this fire is the same for all of us – it’s the source from which we all came – yet somewhere in the process of manifestation, it tends to polarize. Hence our Rite begins in the Centre, acknowledging the One Fire, and then dividing this into two. It is then for each of us to approach this mystery and acknowledge the polarity within us and within our world: winter/summer, hot/cold, yin/yang, male/female, light/dark etc. We then stand in the Centre and feel these opposing forces moving through us – exciting and invigorating us – just as we witness similar energies in nature at this time of year.
Our Twin Fires of Beltane have a totally different quality to the candle flames of Imbolc. The candles lit to honour the start of spring, when we stand on the cold earth and in the face of chilly breezes, are more subdued than the fires lit to honour the time between the warm winds of late spring and the fieriness of summer. Similarly at The Melbourne Grove, we conduct our Imbolc ceremony in the early morning before things warm up, and our Beltane Rite closer to noon.
One of the symbols of Beltane is the ‘White Thorn’. In the Northern Hemisphere this refers to the flowers of the hawthorn tree. Their blaze of colour in our external world reflecting the ‘brilliant fire’ within: the fire that sparks our creative impulses. The fragrance of the white thorn is enticing; its thorns might cause us to hesitate but also make the challenge more exciting. What plant can we use here in Melbourne as our ‘White Thorn’? One possibility is Bursaria Spinoza, also known as ‘Sweet Bursaria’. This indigenous shrub is about the same size as the hawthorn tree and it has the requisite thorns. It also meets the criteria of small but fragrant flowers in late spring and early summer. And although you would describe them as creamy rather than white, its flowers are just as spectacular. Like the Hawthorn, Sweet Bursaria is a useful plant for screening and windbreaks, and just as the northern hemisphere plant is an important part of the life cycle of its ecosystem, so is the Sweet Bursaria an important part of the life cycles of butterflies, insects, and birds here.
Pilgrimages to holy wells are customary as this time of year, with offerings and prayers made to the spirits of the well. The Melbourne Grove has its own special ‘Green Man’s Spring’, which we visit at Beltane. To date, we have not found a ‘white thorn’ near the well but maybe one day we will. The spring is northeast of our sacred centre, between the peaks of two great mountains, and northeast is Beltane on the Wheel of Life in the Southern Hemisphere, just as southeast is Imbolc. A spring for Bridget to the southeast and a spring for the Green Man to the northeast provide us with anciently sacred sites etched into our landscape. We are blessed to honour the rising powers of spring at such sites. They assist our spiritual quest, encouraging us to listen, and to respond to, the forces that shape us.
Summer is waxing now and there’s a riot of colour and sound in the garden. The God and Goddess are outside playing in the fields. Their joyousness is coursing through the land and her peoples. You can ride with this joy if you dare.
From the OBOD booklet: Consider the creative process…how it moves in stages from dreaming and imagining to planning, building and making. Consider the nature of creativity generally, and look at creativity in your own life. Notice in what aspects of your life you are creative, and in what areas you’re not. Consider the ways you’d like to develop and enhance your creativity.