May the blessed time of Beltane
Inflame the soul of all beings
From the depths to the heights
From the heights to be depths,
In the core of every soul.
May 1ST heralds the traditional Celtic summer season of Beltane. Celtic spirituality, like much of early Christianity, considers the good green earth and our natural selves infused through and through with divinity.
On May Eve, after feasting, decorating altars with flowers, dancing around a Maypole and enjoying the antics of Morris Dancers, young men and women run into the forest to make love, often for their very first time. The next morning they “bring in the May,” flowering branches from the hawthorn or mayflower tree.
The Queen of the May is a young woman selected to lead the procession into the forest. Clare, the hero of my novel The Marshlanders, is named Queen of the May twice at crucial phases of her growing up. The first time she is at the nadir of her fortunes- eight years old, collapsed in a ditch too exhausted to trail after the cart where her mother is being taken away in chains. It is the first of May and up the drove prance a company of Morris Dancers, all ajangle and ajingle, joking and jiving:
They were decent young men, for all they’d been up to with their darlings that night. They could not leave the muddy, tear-streaked, and – as became apparent when they peeked beneath her smelly cloak – small child behind. So the Morris men hoisted Clare to their shoulders, and they renewed their jouncing progress to Breck, composing extemporaneous verses about their unexpected adventure as the sun cast aside the darkness to bless Beltane with its splendor.
The second time comes at the end of Clare’s weaving apprenticeship, when she is chosen May Queen and dances into the woods to make love for her first time with her lover Daniel.
No longer a tattered waif, she was full of the fire of accomplishment and the fires of sensuality as well. This time, she was a true Queen of the May. The Rookery, Dunlin, Fox’s Earth, Crane Island, and the Tapestry House had braided their ribbons of love and fondness all around her heart, and now she was a woman grown.
In these days, when global warming threatens the very survival of our beloved planet, our souls are heartened by a spiritual tradition that celebrates nature in all its delights and complexities.