Beltane Vivification

by angeliska on May 1, 2014

Today is Beltane, the first day of May, and the world is bright and beautiful – at least, it is from where I’m sitting. Out my window, climbing roses twine over the gate, and my garden is coming along nicely with vegetables, flowers and herbs. My fruit trees were heavy with blossom, now heavy with ripening fruit. I took today to come back into my body – something I’ve been neglecting for far too long. Sometimes it feels like a lifelong habit, an ingrained way of being: my consciousness relegated to a balloon or bubble that floats above my corporeal form on an invisible tether. I learned how to disassociate early, as a young child, as a coping mechanism. To just go away from the intolerable here and now becomes so easy… How much better, just to drift… But, now, I want to come back, come back to earth, to my body, my pulse, my breath. The joy of movement, and the affirmation of what it is to be alive, to be truly human. I want to stay in my body, and to utilize it for all the wondrous purposes it was made for. Not just the basic tasks of getting from here to there, eating and digestion, sleeping and rising, propping one’s self up and simple ambulation – but to dance, to leap, to push further and harder and more joyously! I was raised to be sedentary, to be still – always reading and writing, but rarely moving around unless forced to. I woke up one night with a worrying thought about how much longer I might have on this planet, in this body. I intend to live long enough to be a very, very old woman – but you never do know, and anyway: if I do live that long, I’d like to be relatively fit, and have joints and muscles and things that actually function properly. So I’ve been trying. Back to walking around the lake, to yoga and dance classes, to remembering to breathe. I get furious sometimes when I hear people complain of being bored. It makes me want to slap them! How dare you get bored with this incredible life? My mother always told me that only boring people get bored, when I used to complain to her of ennui. I took her words to heart, and learned to live by them. My mother died of cancer long before her time, and I know for certain that she never got to do all the things she wanted to in this life. When I think of all the places I want to go and see, the books I want to read, the songs and instruments and languages and skills I want to learn, the people I want to meet, the foods I want to eat – well, it makes me want to live forever and never sleep. Never waste a day, a drop of life on being bored, on whining, on endless scrolling through the annals of the internet, on laziness. These words are an exhortation, an invocation, a vivification – to myself as much as to anyone reading this. When you are done here, with this little corner of life, these words and songs and pictures, promise me that you’ll go away from your computer, even just for a minute. I promise to do the same, to do all of this. Go outside. Stretch your arms up towards the heavens. Kick your shoes off and dig your toes into the dirt. Do a little dance. No one is watching. Or even if they are, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to take long, or, you can take as long as you like. But go outside and look around. Breathe deep, and welcome the fire back into your body. Come back to life, to your life. There is only this one time to experience it in just this way – so, dance while ye may!

Vivication from Rachel Gutknecht on Vimeo.

“When everything seems like it is over, one must only try a wee bit harder to find the beauty. We are very lucky to just be alive.” This little film is a very good reminder.
Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.
― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
Someone said that thirty was a significant birthday, and everyone around the table agreed. Someone else said it was the first time you heard the bell.
What bell? someone asked.
But they all knew what bell. It was like you’d already completed a few laps, observed another, but this was the first time you’d properly heard the bell. There had been one at seven, but you hadn’t heard it because you were so young; and then one at fourteen but you hadn’t heard it because you were too busy looking over your shoulder; then another at twenty-one but you hadn’t heard it because you were too busy talking; and then one at twenty-eight which for some reason took two years before you heard it. But they all agreed you did hear that one, eventually.
Your lousy career, said one guest. Babies, said one of the women. Lovers, friends, travel, said another. Parents aging. Bong. All the things you hadn’t done. Might not do. Bong.

― Graham Joyce, The Silent Land
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” is a poem written by Robert Herrick in the 17th century. The poem is in the genre of carpe diem, Latin for seize the day. It goes as follows:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry;
For, having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, John William Waterhouse – 1908

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, John William Waterhouse – 1909
In a little bit, I will go make ready for a small ceremony welcoming in the May, with a bel-fire, flower garlands, and traditional songs and ritual. No maypole yet this year, but one day I shall have one – and we shall sing the Summerisle song and Hal-an-tow and weave the sacred phallus tree all with ribbons and crown it with the Queen of May’s flower garland!

Maypole Dance (The Wicker Man 1973) from Artem Tyurin on Vimeo.

If you’ve never seen the original Wicker Man (hush, we shall never speak of the remake…) I suggest you hie yourself to a video store and remedy that! It is a folk-horror classic! I love this exchange between the square copper and the suave Lord Summerisle, (played by Christopher Lee!)
Sergeant Howie: Your lordship seems strangely… unconcerned.
Lord Summerisle: Well I’m confident your suspicions are wrong, Sergeant. We don’t commit murder here. We’re a deeply religious people.
Sergeant Howie: Religious? With ruined churches, no ministers, no priests… and children dancing naked!
Lord Summerisle: They do love their divinity lessons.
Sergeant Howie: [outraged] But they are… are *naked*!
Lord Summerisle: Naturally! It’s much too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on!
Sergeant Howie: What religion can they possibly be learning jumping over bonfires?
Lord Summerisle: Parthenogenesis.
Sergeant Howie: What?
Lord Summerisle: Literally, as Miss Rose would doubtless say in her assiduous way, reproduction without sexual union.
Sergeant Howie: Oh, what is all this? I mean, you’ve got fake biology, fake religion… Sir, have these children never heard of Jesus?
Lord Summerisle: Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost…
Lord Summerisle: [singing] Summer is icumen in, loudly sing cuckoo. Grows the seed and blows the mead, and springs the wood anew. Sing, cuckoo! Ewe bleats harshly after lamb, cows after calves make moo.

Mediaeval Baebes – Summerisle (The Maypole Song)

A springtime wedding procession of the sistren bridesmaids – from Dana Sherwood and Mark Dion‘s wedding in a beautiful New Orleans cemetery, which I had the honor of officiating.
Wedding at Lafayette Cemetery, 2008, NOLA – photograph by Dawn Martin McFall
I loved this piece on honoring the sacred holiday by Byron Ballard:
I love Beltane. I often say that it is always Beltane in my heart. Which is not quite true because it is also often Samhain in my heart these days, as we lurch through this Grand Cross thingy and this Tower Time.
But I relish the history of Beltane and the trappings and the way it was so stealthy going from a lusty Pagan rite to the perfectly lovely May Day of the Victorians. All pretty dresses and flower crowns. And now we try to manage a bit of both, as we can.
When my daughter was in elementary school, many of the teachers would put up a maypole in the school yard and celebrate the May. I came into several classes each year and taught them about the transition from Beltane to May Day. We’d have little cakes and sing songs. We’d go outside and wash our faces in the morning dew and then dance the circle round. It was always a bit of a challenge to get us going in the right direction but we got pretty good at it after all those years.
Beltane is almost here and it is time to think of maying, going a-maying. The apple trees on our land are in full blossom right now and that puts me in mind of hawthorn blossom.
Sorry, reverie.
If you have littles, you can teach them the bright activity of making May baskets out of cornets of paper with a pretty ribbon handles. Fill them with flowers from the yard and take them to your good neighbors or to your Gran. Come home to wash your face in that fresh dew to guarantee your perpetual good looks. Eat fruits for breakfast–strawberries and razzleberries and blueberries with cream.
Dress for the day in something light and summery.
Wear a flower crown, even if you are going to work.
Wear glitter, and ditto.
Give flowers to people you don’t know.
Find time to dance the Great Ring with a few or with many. With or without a maypole.
Whistle a tune.
Remember Thomas Morton and the utopia of Merrymount.
In the evening, if you are old enough, have a cold glass of Maywine and toast the new life of the season and the old life you are living.
Sleep near a faery mound that night.
Give yourself over to the greening of the year and the brightening of the light. For the holy day after Beltane is Midsummer and after that…the Long Dying of the Year commences. Again. And we begin to wind down the path that leads inevitably to Samhain.
So soon it comes. And Spring is tardy in making Her appearance this year.
We fight against the destruction and dishonesty by embracing the living Earth that we’ve been given. Let Beltane this year bring you home to the comfort and joy of that.
And, as always, fear not. Fear not.

Byron Ballard, from The Village Witch
Moth friend resting on my bike lock...
Moth friend resting on my bike lock… Harbinger of transformations.
Hello, apricot tree! I totally thought you were dead - but no! One of my favorite things about spring is walking around making discoveries in my garden - seeing what survived the brutal summer and long winter freezes... To survive in my garden, you gotta
Hello, apricot tree! I totally thought you were dead – but no! One of my favorite things about spring is walking around making discoveries in my garden – seeing what survived the brutal summer and long winter freezes… To survive in my garden, you gotta be tough and hardy – the survivors stick it out and inspire me endlessly…
Pear blossoms kickin' it too...
Lookin' good, baby peaches...
I have three peach trees, but this little volunteer is the happiest one! It grew from an errant pit, and is now twice the size of its older siblings.
I have three peach trees, but this little volunteer is the happiest one! It grew from an errant pit, and is now twice the size of its older siblings.
The nectarine blossoms are out in full force!
The nectarine blossoms are out in full force. I hope your May Day is glorious and filled with singing and dancing!
Beltanes and moons of yore:


wonderful and needed words. thank you as always, my friends.

by lau on May 2, 2014 at 3:14 pm. Reply #

friend, too. derp. <3

by lau on May 2, 2014 at 3:15 pm. Reply #

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