Today – May 1 – is the start of Beltane (pronounced bell’tane) and the start of summer in the Celtic calendar. Actually, summer began at sundown on April 30th. In November 2016, I described Samhain (pronounced sow’en) and the celebration of thin times at the changes of seasons. The beginning of May is another one of those powerful thin times. When you live with an illness, these transitions are magnified as our sense of time and space alters in particular ways – making thin spaces and times more frequent in our lives. (Learn more here.)
Halloween and All Saints Day at the beginning of November is a reflection in our own time of this ancient holy lineage. Likewise, May day celebrations and May pole dances today celebrate the traditional start of summer. The mood is of celebration and anticipation. And after a wintery spring with more snow falls in April than any other month, I’m very much anticipating summer and celebrating it!
In Celtic fairy tales, actual fairies move among us. It was a time to be guarded against fairy mischief. The rituals are emblematic of the primal and mystical nature of Celtic traditions.
Caitlín Matthews describes how the Celts celebrate the beginning of summer ::
At twilight this evening, May Eve, the great festival of Beltane begins, a great communal celebration that excludes no one from its embrace. Ancient Celtic celebrations involved the kindling of bonfires at this time – indeed the name of the festival derives from “bright fire.” 1
The fire signifies the beginning of new light. Beltane means the fire of Bel, who was a Celtic god believed to be associated with farming and fertility. The Gauls called this god Belenos, meaning the “Shining One.” Or Beltane could mean simply the “fortunate fire.”
Historians discovered that the wood of the Beltane fire had to be of nine different kinds. And the wood had to be gathered by men who wore no metal, because the metal adversely affected the fairies and deterred their desired presence. Once lit by 9 teams of 9 married first-born men, the dance around the fire went in the direction of the sun. As the fire dwindled, the community moved farm animals through it to promote the animals’ fertility. And the embers were taken from the communal fire back home to each individual home fire.
The Greeks and the Egyptians also greeted the sun’s longer and warmer rays in particular ways. Heliosis is therapeutic sun exposure that includes sunbathing and sun-gazing. The original Olympian athletes sunbathed because the sun was thought to strengthen their nerves and muscles.
Ancient architecture was oriented to the sun as well. Cathedrals always had their front door to the east because the direction from which the sun rose was deemed to be the most welcoming – to the people and the second coming.
Heliotherapy or sun therapy was also seen as an effective treatment for various sicknesses and wounds. Time magazine reported on August 6, 1923 that some with tuberculosis and other diseases could be completely cured by heliotherapy. (See Medicine: Heliotherapy.)
In honor of Beltane and the beginning of summer, I offer a checklist with 10 ways you can kindle your courage to live brightly and warmly, even if you’re sick in bed ::
You can embody joy no matter the condition of your body. Make a list of 9 things that bring you
immediate delight so you can turn to your list as a ready resource.
My nine include – blowing bubbles, a bubble bath, Last Week Tonight, fresh flowers, playlist of college music,
phone call with friend, a historical novel, a Love Rub, and knitting.
I can not dance like I used to be able. But even if we dance like the characters in Gregory’s Girl,
we can still move in rhythm to music and enjoy dancing. Be fearless, spontaneous and silly.
Move in whatever way you physically can to express your connection to the earth.
This thin time is a time to set work aside and celebrate life.
We gather to laugh and cultivate joy. So invite your friends over, the people who love you and really make you laugh.
Break out of that isolation that your illness tends to create and decide to reach out.
This season is a time of hope.
I know it can be hard to dream and anticipate, when day to day we don’t know how we are going to feel and what we can do.
I get that. I gave up on formulating 5 year plans decades ago because continuous failure was so painful.
But don’t completely forsake your aspirations. Dream differently.
Look for heroes and heroines who can inspire and light your pathway.
Who are the people that can make you come alive now and how can you emulate them in your own life now?
Grow something. Grow anything. You could water a house plant. Or take care of a pet.
Also, ask yourself – where do you need to allow growth in your life or in yourself?
What can you unfold and open yourself to? What’s broken in your life and needs mending?
What feeds and fertilizes you and go get more of that. For me, it’s my girlfriends, music and meditation.
Nurture yourself with self-care. Where are you overextended?
Are you getting enough rest? Do you honor recreation time?
Or do you, like me, feel like you don’t really have any because if you feel well and able,
you focus exclusively on your overwhelming to-do list.
Set aside a day or a half day to play and have fun, regardless of how your body is and adapt as necessary.
Don’t use that sacred time to slay your to-do list though.
If you are having a good day on that day, go enjoy some activity you love
that you’ve not been able to do because of your illness.
Create space with your breath.
Because of the breath’s connection to the nervous system, we can modify our breath to help us calm down,
alter our moods, and ride out intense emotions.
Sometimes, quieting ourselves with our breath can shift our perspectives and provide insights.
Breath also connects us to the source of life within each of us, so honor your breath to celebrate life at the start of summer.
Find a guided meditation or a meditation app or enjoy our’s here.
Lite a fire. Or a candle. Or some incense. Or sage.
Honor the fire within you that keeps you going despite everything.
Because the fact that you’re still here is a big deal!
You are the keeper of the flame, and the courage it takes to keep going is immense.
Honor that. Light something special and honor you.
Also, the sun is a ball of fire.
As the sun returns to us in warmth and reach, the symbolism of fire can remind us of our own creativity.
What can you bring alive and create in this season? How can you be and feel more alive?
Snakes lay in the sun and shed their skin. Cats, foxes, birds and dogs moult and shed their fur or feathers.
See this cool BBC Nature summary.
They do this to promote new growth. They do this to change their plumage.
I recently spring cleaned my kitchen and shed a lot of unused items and managed to clear my countertops.
I created lightness by shedding the unnecessary and created good feng shui in my kitchen.
I was inspired by this video.
Where can you do this in your own life so you can promote the growth you aspire to?
Revive your motivation. What gives you purpose? What is your why?
Explore and investigate how you offer meaning to others.
So long as we lift the burden of another, even if it’s as simple as being quiet to listen or bearing witness, we have purpose.
How can you connect your spirit to others?
Find that spark that still gets you excited. Examine the gift of your life and how can you make it even more meaningful?
(If you’d like a lock screen for your phone to remind you of your purpose, you can download one here.)
Explore ways to blend the fire of summer into your every day life. The start of summer is a perfect time to celebrate and embody our creative fire and to give oxygen to our delight so that the fire can burn brighter and higher.
1 Matthews, Caitlín. The Celtic Spirit : Daily Meditations for the Turning of the Year. New York: HarperCollins, 1998, p. 192.
The sun has been my faithful lover
For millions of years.
Whenever I offer my body to him
Brilliant light pours from his heart.