In the tiny ole Gaelic village of Cannibri, two powerful forces were hard at work. The May Queen, who represents the growth and renewal of Spring, and the Queen of Winter, who represents the death and destruction of Winter, had long been at odds, and the year 476 AD was no exception. You see, the May Queen, or Flora, as she is known to her closest allies, is the favoured one. The goddess of flowers creates strong connections to the organic energy of the earth and represents purity. Under her loving gaze, the earth comes to life. Her adversary, Cailleach the Crone, aka Queen of Winter, is the polar opposite. Carrying a sickle and scythe, Cailleach brings dark skies and winter storms. Under her tutelage, the earth turns cold and barren, and life slows to a halt as the earth’s inhabitants enter a deep slumber.
Will things be different this year? Will the forces of purity win over the forces of darkness? Will Flora defeat Cailleach?
The day was May 1. Flora was rudely awoken from a deep winter’s sleep by the sound of howling winds and bone-chilling cold. She slowly shook out her long golden tresses and opened her eyes. The six-month nap had left her feeling sluggish and off-kilter. She arose from her bed of wilted leaves and blossoms and came face to face with the penetrating, bottomless, dark eyes of Cailleach, who was looking vengeful and menacing despite the frosty air. “How dare you arise to interrupt my fun! I love turning this earth into a frigid mass of useless dirt!” roared the Chrone. “Go back to sleep, I command you!” Flora’s songlike voice broke through the icy, thick air. “I won’t go back to sleep. You’ve had your fun; now it is time for me to bring life back to the earth,” she sang. “It’s time for you to give it over and let me rescue the crops. Beauty will soon replace the darkness and decay you have created.”
Suddenly, a blast of cold winter air enveloped the two queens. It threatened to immobilize Flora and only served to make Cailleach grow taller and mightier. “Ahahah!” she screamed. “Take that, you weakling!”
“No, I won’t succumb to your evil.” “Take this!” cried Flora as a ray of sunshine bounced off her fingertips, breaking through the darkness and melting the ice surrounding the Queens.
“Noooooooo,” moaned Cailleach, as the ground began to thaw, the wind began to flutter as a harmless breeze, and colourful flowers began to poke their way through the decayed leaves left lying on the ground from the past year. “Nooooooooo,” she groaned, as her strong and mighty figure began to pool in a mass of black on the ground. “Noooo. Please save me.”
Flora, being the sweet, angelic spirit that she was, took pity on Cailleach and offered her a glimmer of hope. “Let us end this war between us. Neither of us needs to reign supreme. Let us work together for the good of the earth and those humans who call it their home. You’ve worked hard for the last few months. Now it’s time to rest while I come forth and bring light, restoring balance and fertility to the ground. Go, go in peace and rest.”
“I don’t like your idea, but I am tired and see that I need to recharge my powers. I will go and rest, but be assured, I will return. I will rejoin this world in six months.” And with that, Cailleach disappeared into the ground, taking with her the darkness and cold surrounding her and the earth. Flora rose triumphantly and watched as new life began to appear. She knew, though, that Cailleach would keep her word and return. Perhaps they could work together this time.
Beltane, pronounced Bellyell-teh-neh, is one of the four main festivals or quarters on the pagan Wheel of the Year. If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ve already read about Samhain and Imbolc. (Don’t worry, after Beltane, the next celebration is not until August.)
Beltane is also known as May Day and is celebrated at the beginning of spring to bring forth good weather and fertile land. There are many different stories and rituals associated with Beltane, but the main underlying theme is the honouring of the warmth, passion, fertility, and blessings of the coming season. And it’s no wonder. This is when spring blossoms bloom, the air is filled with fresh scents, and many little creatures are making their way above ground.
As I’ve said in the past, I’m neither a pagan nor a Wiccan, but I do enjoy learning about other festivals. Since these all seem to honour nature, it only seems natural to celebrate them to some extent in a way that feels right and, of course, is easy to do nowadays.
So how did I celebrate Beltane this year? One of the easiest things I can do is build a bonfire in the backyard fire pit. And of course, food is very important. I call it deconstructed medieval food: maple hearth bread, chicken barley stew, spring vegetables, and lavender-infused cakes. And just a little Irish whisky to wash it down. I didn’t create a floral wreath or a fairy garden, but I did get a few seedlings ready for warmer days and put some yellow flowers on the table.
We also threw into the fire the twig creature we made at our Samhain celebration. It’s been keeping my Dieffenbachia house plant company for the last six months.
Here’s something I found interesting while reading about Beltane and the Maypole: It was originally considered a phallic symbol, built to pierce the earth and represent blessings from the gods above. A wreath of flowers would be placed at the top of the pole to symbolize fertility. The dance was usually performed by young men and women, holding different coloured ribbons as they circled and interweaved around the pole. The spun ribbons would create a sheath encircling the maypole, symbolizing the womb of the earth.
And so it goes: when Beltane arrives each spring, the May Queen wakes from her winter’s sleep, battles with the Crone, and sends her away for six months. The Crone returns in time for the festival known as Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the coming of winter and darkness. The cycle continues.
Huh. Who knew? Today, dancing around the maypole with colourful ribbons is usually done as a fun activity for kids—and some adults, as evident in the recent Saskatoon Unitarian service! What fun!
It’s never too late to celebrate! Wow, how poetic. Whatever your thing is, do it with passion and joy.
Interesting Reads & Things
History of Pagan Beltane (learnreligions.com)
Beltane Food: 13 Modern and Traditional for the Fire Festival (otherworldlyoracle.com)
How To Celebrate Beltane (May Day): Rituals, Traditions, & Ideas (teaandrosemary.com)
How to celebrate Beltane | Magical ideas for Walpurgisnacht celebration – YouTube