Friday, April 30, 2010

Bealtaine, Yesterday & Today

The ancients celebrated the start of summer today, on Bealtaine.

First, I want to acknowledge a comment left by John D., a very sweet guy. He commented that his Dad is alive and well after surviving several health crisis's. Enjoy your father, John! It's refreshing to hear of men who are living well into their golden years! God Bless & keep you both.

Today marks one of the two most revered ancient Sabbats, Bealtaine. I prescribe to the Celtic tradition, in which the spelling and pronunciation of this Sabbat differ from the commonly used versions. The common, anglicized spelling Beltane, is pronounced Bell (short e) tane (long a).
The Irish Gaelic pronunciation, which I employ, is closer to ba (short a) yol (long O) tinnuh, which approximately rhymes with "dinner."It is the name for the month of May.
The Scottish Gaelic word is Bealtuinn, approximately ba-yal-ten, which means "May Day."
"Bel-fire," is the original meaning. This refers to the fire of the god known as Bel, Beli, Balor or Balar, etc. These names can be traced back to the Middle Eastern Baal, meaning "Lord."
There's that crazy thread again, running through all time and myriad cultures and belief systems!
This Sabbat focuses on the beginning of summer.
In ancient times, the Celtic tradition recognized only two seasons - summer, beginning at Bealtaine on April 30, and winter, beginning with Samhain on October 31.
The themes that dominate this May Eve/May Day Sabbat (in Celtic and British folklore) are fertility and fire. It's a time when the Great Father impregnates the Great Mother, leading to a bountiful harvest and prosperous lives.
Those who read the Spring Equinox entry may be thinking that Bealtaine is simply a repeat of the Equinox celebration. As observations, the Equinoxes are relative newcomers to Celtic tradition. The Equinoxes have grown to become vital parts of pagan tradition as it exists in modern times. The observance of the Equinoxes originated in the Mediterranean, and gradually traveled north. In the Celtic tradition, Bealtaine and Samhain both predate and are of greater importance than the Equinoxes.
Bel-fires were/are lit on hilltops, heralding the return of life and fertility.
In pagan Ireland, the first Bel-fire had to be lit by the Ard Ri - the High King - on Tara Hill.
It's interesting that these common themes of fire and fertility are evidenced in so many cultures, both ancient and modern. Vestal Virgins, Rome's guardians of the sacred fire, threw dolls (biddies) made of rushes into the Tiber River at May's full moon as symbolic human sacrifices.
Both St. Patrick and St. David ( a century after Patrick in Wales) made a point of lighting Bel-fires before the High King lit his, likely in an effort to usurp spiritual leadership.
Bealtaine boasts as many traditions and rituals (too many to detail here) as there are cultures and belief systems that observe the Sabbat, knowingly or unknowingly.
Among the more obvious are the Maypole, sunrise observations, and crowning May Queens.
The Maypole is a phallic symbol of Bealtaine. The English Parliament, driven by Puritans, outlawed the merry poles in 1644. The poles were targeted as symbols of and catalysts for unashamed human sexuality, which was freely practiced on Bealtaine.
The tradition of staying up to watch the first May sunrise, is, as any former hardy partier can surmise, a direct result of May Eve's over-indulgence, merriment and open sexuality.
More recently, and more purely and innocently, Catholic Churches often celebrate May with the crowning of the May Queen, the symbolic embodiment of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God.
I fondly recall a lovely picture of an aunt of mine; a young girl in a white dress, red hair flowing, with a wreath of flowers on her beautiful head. She had been "crowned" in a Catholic ceremony celebrating the Virgin Mary during the month of May.
Decorating and adorning homes and people with garlands and wreathes, hunting the hare, skimming the May-morning dew from the top of a well for luck, prosperity or washing in it for a fair face, dancing in the woods and fields, staying up to greet the sun, are just some of the traditions that have grown and blossomed from Bealtaine.
Today, as a monster of an oil slick laps at the beautiful, white sand shores of Mexico's Gulf (I've been to the shores of Alabama and Mississippi, the sand is like fine sugar, the water is a strikingly clear green-blue, the wildlife is abundant) perhaps it's time to become more outspoken in matters of government, the environment and of the welfare of all people.
It's definitely time to count your blessings, and to recognize them, to really appreciate them - the roof over your head, the food on your table, your healthy, bright children, your health and the health of those you love, surviving a health crisis to live to admire another sunrise, a good job, good friends, the beauty of the world and the fact that you are alive and well enough to revel in that beauty.
Put aside pettiness, hatred & self-importance. I personally knew a man who died because of pettiness, hatred, and self-importance.
Don't impose your views and beliefs on others, simply enjoy others for who they are. You may just learn something new and enlightening.
There are too many problems in this world, it's time for solutions.
For centuries, humankind has pretty much been employing the same tired, greedy, us against them practices over and over - that my friends, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity.
Blessed Bealtaine. Be well. Be happy. Be grateful. Be outspoken!
What do you think?

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