Beltaine

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Beltaine: Festival of Fertility and Union (End of April/Beginning of May).

hawthorn leafTraditionally this Celtic celebration would have been on the 12th of May, before the changing of the calendar, and was a time when the Gaelic farmers took their cattle to their summer pastures. In Ireland the cattle were first driven between fires and had their backs singed with burning Hazel wands to protect them from mischievous faeries and bad luck.

Hawthorn played a large part in the celebrations as a tree that flowers in May, though now the date has been changed it is often not in flower in time. The rhyme ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May’ should read ‘knots of’ rather than ‘nuts in’ and refers to the knots and garlands of Hawthorn (often called May Blossom) that decorated the Maypole. The Maypole itself was originally a living Hawthorn that people would have danced around to seek the dryad’s blessing for the fertility of themselves and the land.

Hawthorn is much used in herbal medicine still today and is a traditional remedy of the heart: both physically and emotionally. It’s flowers leaves and berries can be used as a heart tonic, to improve circulation, treat high blood pressure, reduce anxiety and promote restful sleep. Here is herbalist Susun Weed talking about how to make a tincture of the berries and how she uses it to nourish her heart in older age: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFG9RFCXd-0

A flower essence can be used to heal broken hearts, and reduce emotional extremes and anger. The leaves can be nibbled and added to salads, and also the flowers. Hawthorn is a cousin of Rose and as we can see it has all the relaxing and nourishing benefits of the Rose family – ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’!

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There is much folklore surrounding Hawthorn, which Glennie Kindred talks about. Both Hawthorn and Elder are guardians to the faerie world, and sitting underneath them at Beltaine may mean you become enchanted or taken away by the faerie folk! Both trees are sacred and not cut down without very good reason so paths would wind around them, and they made traditional meeting places, including for weddings. Garlands of the blossoms of these trees were placed in the hair of young maidens who had become women, and many married at this time of year.

The word Beltaine comes from an ancient Sumerian Goddess called Belili, who was the Goddess of trees, especially willow (used at this time for making ‘wicker men’). The Willow God Bel superceded her and in Europe the Celts worshipped him as Belin the Sun God, hence Belin’s Feast Day of Beltaine, when great fires were lit in his honour.

As always there are many ways for us to still celebrate Beltaine today, and enjoy seeing the Earth become alive with birdsong and flowers and fresh green leaves. Here are a few ideas:

  • Collect some spring flowers on a sunny day and make a flower essence to use throughout the year.
  • Walk a labyrinth or sit in meditation early in the morning and enjoy the dawn chorus.
  • Enjoy nibbling on the fresh green leaves of Hawthorn, Chickweed and Dandelion.
  • Light a fire and sit and watch the flames, remembering all the fires that have been lit over the years at this time.

Have a wonderful Beltaine, whatever you decide to do. I’d love to hear how you chose to celebrate it.DSCN6801

be well

simone melanie, April 2016

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