May Day, or Beltane, is the last of the three spring fertility festivals [Imbolc (Candlemas) and Ostara (Eostar, or the Vernal Equinox)], and the second principal Celtic festival (besides Samhain, or Halloween). Celebrated approximately halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice, Beltane traditionally heralds summer’s arrival. Bonfires symbolize purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year, accompanied with protection rituals. Edinburgh has an annual fire festival at this time of year.
In ancient Ireland the Sacred Tree, the center of life, now survives as the Maypole, representing the connection between the people and the heavens. This tall pole is decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. The circle of dancers begins, holding the lengths of ribbon taut, with a roughly even number of young men, facing clockwise and women, facing counterclockwise. Each moves in their direction, weaving the ribbons over and under around the pole. Those passing on the inside go under, those on the outside raise their ribbons to slide over. The pattern created indicates the abundance of the harvest year.
Now, the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon, standing very low in the east-northeast sky. These seven closely-placed stars, the Seven Sisters, appear in the shoulder of the constellation of Taurus. Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and summer (Light Part). Samhain is about honoring death, Beltane honors life, when the sun is released from the bondage of winter. Both are times when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest, “no time,” when the worlds intermingle and unite, and magic is everywhere.
Magic also comes from uniting with like-minded community on May Day celebrations honoring the workers of the world, the fight to institute the eight-hour workday, and other protections we take for granted today; as well as protesting economic injustice worldwide. Find one near you!