submitted by Derfel, a UK member of OMS/RDG)
30th April - 1st May: A time when the veil between the worlds is thin and the ancestors ride. Associated with Walburga, and the Goddesses and mysteries they can reveal. A night for the Wild Hunt to ride, led now by the Goddesses.
The above is the Asatru equivalent of Beltane. At first sight, the very suggestion of a wild hunt (e.g. a major storm/typhoon) in the month of May seems crazy but then again, if you had spent the last month in the UK it would seem more than plausible. The last couple of weeks have brought us Brits sleet, snow, ice, blistering heat, bright sunshine and pouring rain – quite a mix – a wild hunt indeed!
When we think of Beltane we usually think of bonfires, maypoles, fertility rites, weddings and rituals honouring Bel the shining Gallic God of the Sun. And for me that is exactly what Beltane should be – a great big excuse for a party. But like its fire festival cousin Samhain, Beltane as a festival of nature herself is often overlooked.
At the Spring Equinox we think of (and can visibly see) a change of season, the first bluebells and the first lambs – it is very much a festival of Mother Nature’s gifts but Beltane is rarely viewed in that way. Partly because the natural changes are less easily observed. Partly because May 1st is not one of those genuinely religious cross-quarter days that grab all of the headlines. Well maybe it is time to change all of that and so this year I am going to look at Beltane/Walpurgisnacht in another way. I am going to look at it as a celebration of nature herself.
I live in one of Britain’s best-known National Parks. It is a truly beautiful place and is one of the very few parts of the UK that remain unspoilt by human “progress”. It is though a working place and the trees, plants and animals are very much a part of a natural but also partially man-managed eco-system. The seasons are easy to spot hereabouts. Not just in the natural way but also because different events mark the turning of the wheel. For example at Imbolc the dead Gorse is burned off and at the Spring Equinox the wild ponies are rounded up for their yearly health checks.
Beltane is a particularly exciting time as it is now that the first newborn foals appear and the next generation of ponies enter the world. As if to emphasise this, it is now that the Forest Rangers and the Commoners release the stallions onto the Forest so that the mares can be quickly returned to their pregnant state - thus ensuring next Beltane’s foals.
It is a wonderful time to be out on the Forest – almost every day brings a cute new foal to go all gooey eyed over – the new born calves are also making an appearance and everywhere one turns natures gift of fertility can be seen and not just imagined. The stallions make life interesting too. When they are not busy harassing some poor mare they are fighting one another and that makes for some fascinating insights into natures darker side – Beltane brings not just the fluffy bunny but also the tooth and claw and when the later occurs you would be wise to watch from a safe distance – the stallions are not adverse to taking on a human if an equine opponent is less than forthcoming! (We get more injuries to tourists at this time of year than any at any other!)
Throughout the land the breeding season is at its height and maybe that’s what inspired our ancestors to choose Beltane as a time of weddings and engagements. Birds are singing and flowers are blooming. With the temperature at last beginning to rise there is soon to be an abundance of nectar and pollen on offer. This means that the insects begin to emerge from their winter sleep and they in turn will provide the food for broods of chicks and baby mammals.
Beltane is the time to enjoy the dawn chorus in full swing. Reed and Sedge Warblers provide a constant chattering noise in the reed beds, occasionally punctuated by the loud yet liquid song of Cetti’s Warbler or the foghorn boom of the Bittern. May is also the time we hear that ultimate songstress the Nightingale – an all too short-lived visitor to these wonderful woodlands.
The Hawthorn is often called “May Blossom” so it is no surprise to find that the hedgerows turn white at this time. The roads become flanked by the frothy flower heads of Cow Parsley, while the Forest heaths become resplendent with golden Gorse and purple Heather. It is a time for butterflies too, the Pearl-Bordered Fritillary can be spotted as one rides through the woods and the Cockchafers and Maybugs are everywhere.
It is also a fine time to look out for the Roe deer. Unlike the Red and Fallow Deer, the Roe tends to be a solitary animal, retreating into the woods at night and only coming out in the very early morning to feed on the heath land. It is a fine time to look for the bucks too, as by now their antlers are hard and fully grown and soon, very soon, those antlers will be clashing with other antlers as, just like the stallions, the deer begin to “fight for the right to party!”
It is a very special time of the year whatever species you happen to be – heck, even middle aged folks like me get frisky when Beltane comes around – there is quite literally “something in the air.” So, as you hold your Rituals and leap your fires, as you toast to Bel and offer him your praise, try this year to think of what Beltane is also about. It is about Bel – yes of course it is – but it is also about fertility, regeneration, new-life, new beginnings and birth. Pagans everywhere talk of the birth, death and re-birth cycle. Well, Beltane is the re-birth bit of that cycle and that has just got to be worth celebrating.