An article by Jon Cree, FSA Director, FSA Ambassador
When I think back to my childhood I often see it through primrose tinted spectacles and put my mum at the forefront of my mind. In fact the women of my life present and past, loom large. Romance is in the air at this time of year, remembering armfuls of bluebells filling the house with spring fragrance, my first girlfriend who introduced me to primroses, and the book “the country diary of an Edwardian lady” and my grandma who showed me how to plant and nurture seeds. And then there is this week of Beltain 2020 which started for me with an informal plant meditation group that I am part of. It was facilitated by Heather so caringly, gently and yet quietly assertively…we are encouraged to muse on this week’s plant, the primrose, though it’s tea and the last of the flowers and leaves. Suddenly, it dawns on me that this time of year, that celebrates the union of masculine and feminine, it is the feminine energies that really mark Beltain for me. All right, I hear you all say what about the green man? And yes, the green man is the omnipresent being of this time but in these times of crisis, I feel it will be the feminine energies and strengths that will carry us through.
Beltain is a time to mark that union of masculine and feminine– it always has been, and to honour, in particular the flowering of this season – so pertinent for 2020. It celebrates the transition from spring to summer and secure a green summer full of fruiting and promise for the autumn harvesting…an ancient festival celebrated throughout Europe, particularly Celtic Europe.
This year, in particular, has felt abundant in these times of lockdown. Despite loss of work and diminished social face to face time it has been simple and abundant. I have been transported to childhood more than ever before. The skies seem full of skylark song spilling through the clouds and blue skies into my ears and I remember walking across the fields when I was 8 or 9 from my primary school to home, they were full of skylark, and, incidentally, elm trees. The flowers have been so vibrant…..red campion, alkanet, ransoms. Bluebells, anemones, dandelions, yellow archangel, white dead nettle, borage, grounder ivy, bugle, daffodil and of course primrose. Whilst musing on primrose in our meditation I was taken back to primary school days, walking a high beech lined lane, bedecked with the last of the primroses, to the vicarage. Here we danced round the maypole, me and Thomas intentionally hijacking the pattern, getting into so much trouble. Tasting the delicate primrose tea – it went straight to the heart and gently massaged my chest and then feeling the leaf probably for the first time in this meditative way. Heather was so right, it felt like a bats wing – strong and elastic yet in some ways fragile…amazing, a plant with a soft front and strong flexible back – resilience in action. And it occurred to me that this ‘female’ flower is the thing that represents what we need in this crisis – compassion and heart with a strong flexible back to carry us through, and right at the center of the flower is a yellow pentagon and stigma – a brave heart. Beltain is all this. And I hear outside the window the skylark and again I am taken to the maypole and dancing on vicarage lawn with a green man mask and hawthorn flowers on our heads and around a small shrine… this was my mum’s doing. You see, she is both a Christian and also secretly a bit of a pagan and liked to introduce to the school performances (she was an actress and drama teacher) some more of that earthly stuff.
And then there is Venus, female energy again, and is it a coincidence that this week of all weeks the evening star is shining its brightest, Venus is the symbol of love and Beltain. And even though we can’t get together and many are isolated and don’t have the privileges I have in terms of access to woods and fields we can all mark this time in our own special way. Bring a bit of wood or some hawthorn leaves and flowers into our homes and make decorations and talismans for Beltain to represent your intentions for the future. Make a maypole inside or in the garden…three people make a great team for dancing and weaving – improvise (we once made one with a class of 30 with cardboard tubes!). Have a fire in the garden and if small enough jump over it (risk assessing as we go!) making a wish for the year and these times and if there is no garden light a candle and symbolically jump through it.
This is one of the most important parts of Beltain – the fire. Bel-tene means goodly fire and is a significant fire in the Celtic year…the fire of need, and by jumping through it you are symbolically purifying and bringing fertility – try it and see what happens!!!!!
In these strange times anchoring ourselves to the seasons changes gives us strength and helps us realise that the natural systems we depend on are there to be celebrated. I started saying that I do look at the past through primrose tinted spectacles and so grateful for my life and present. Yes, many people are struggling and at times I have to face the shadow and grief in the world, and we need to acknowledge and honour this. And yet one way of relieving the DIS- stress is by moving, dancing and singing in celebration of the human and non-human connections which can really help and unify our communities – that is what festivals are for. Here is a hawthorn, tree of Beltain, song you may want to try, generously given to me by Anna Richardson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiXWBDEWhqc&feature=youtu.be . Or you could sing;
“Here we go gathering KNOTS (not nuts it was originally about the tying of knots signifying union in the maypole dance then got changed in history) in May, knots in May knots in May (repeat)
All on a summers morning.”
So, go ahead and do it even if it is a virtual meeting of people in your homes through the making and sharing of symbols and homemade ritual appropriate to this time, honouring the past and getting ready for a compassionate and fruitful future.
Big gratitude to my female descendants and present companions for holding the feminine in me and reminding me of the compassionate soft front, the strong back and brave heart that we all need to nurture and develop. Outwards expressions of unity and celebrating with each other and the natural world strengthen these attributes – Beltain truly helps healing.
If you want more information and sources regarding seasonal celebration and community building Glennie Kindreds books have always accompanied me – see particularly her books ‘Sacred Earth Celebrations’ and ‘Walking with Trees’ www.glenniekindred.co.uk
Also, for Forest School leaders the recently published book ‘The Children’s Forest’ – stories, songs, wild food, crafts and celebrations all year round written by Anna Richardson, Dawn Casey and Helen Ascoli is a great source for ideas. See www.hawthornpress.com
And I must make a mention of the Irish classic if you want to delve into the Irish Celtic tree traditions ‘Ireland’s Trees – myths, legends and folklore’ by Niall Mac Coitir (thanks to Ciara and Ciaran – two dear Irish friends for educating me in the Irish Celtic culture that we, English, have so often colonized)
If interested on the wild online Beltane festival see https://www.facebook.com/groups/in2wildonlinefestival/
Took me back to the ’90s and dancing in the May on the Peak with HKong Morris. Good times and memories.