The Earth is a-bloom on Beltane (May 1 in the Northern Hemisphere). The days are getting warmer. Trees are budding and beginning to flower. Tulips are poking up through the soil and unfolding into color. Historically, in Gaelic communities this was a fire holiday. Bonfires were lit in celebration and for purification. Herds were taken to their summer pastures, and before they left, they were led between the Beltane bonfires to protect them. Beltane was also a time to celebrate new life emerging and growing. In Germanic tradition, this holiday is May Day and a celebration of fertility, when May Pole dances were held. Life on earth is in full swing, with flowers, buzzing insects, and chirping birds. Beltane celebrates the full regeneration of life and our own human sexuality.
Beltane and Samhain are considered perhaps the two most significant holidays of the Celtic year. If the year was divided into halves, Beltane marks the beginning of the warmer half of the year, and Samhain marks the beginning of the colder half of the year. The average temperature on these two dates is halfway between the hottest and the coldest: hence, they are the “equitherms.”
In terms of our Universe Story, the vibrant expansion of life in the Cambrian (~500 million years ago) fits well with Beltane, with both bountiful life as well as increasing use of sex in reproduction. At the same time, seeing allurement of many different types as the pull of our Universe itself provides another way to celebrate our Universe at Beltane. It is present in early sexual reproduction, the return of plentiful food, the symbiosis between flowers and insects, love humans and other mammals, etc.
Personal Modern Meaning: the meaning of Beltane varies dramatically across traditions. Many focus on fertility, especially human fertility. Others focus more on the non-human life establishing itself at this time of year. The focus is on what is needed to nurture emerging life and encourage its bountiful growth: the crops, the herds, ourselves. Beltane is a holiday where we feel a strong connection to the Earth and when it is a joy to do so. Coincidentally, it is a little over a week after Earth Day.
Family Practices: As mentioned earlier, many traditions focus on the May Pole dances and sexuality. Some traditions celebrate the marriage of the God and Goddess. Our family likes to focus on our connection to the Earth itself. If it is warm enough, we plant outside the seedlings that we have grown from the seeds planted on Ostara. This is greatly enjoyed and a lot of fun, especially wiggling muddy feet and gloppy fingers in the fresh soil. It does involve some preparation of the gardens for planting as well as the planting itself. A week before Beltane, we celebrate Earth Day and mark the beginning of the time to prepare the beds. Recycling projects, energy reduction products, recycling center volunteerism, and etc. are all great ways to celebrate both Earth Day as we lead up to Beltane. Then, on Beltane, it is time to plant and celebrate with cut-out flowers and real flowers, dancing, walks outside in the warm spring air.
So, Happy Beltane and Happy Earth Day to all of you!
Blessings of our living Earth —
Heather is a parent and a scientist raising her four children to explore the world through scientific understanding and with spiritual appreciation of the Universe. She has a Master of Science degree in Physics from Michigan State University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of the Arts degree in English Literature, also from the University of Michigan. She teaches physics as an adjunct instructor at Delta College, runs the Math Mania program at a local elementary school, has worked at Dow Corning as an engineer and at NASA as an intern, and she has led science outreach workshops for K-12 students through joint programs between NASA and the University of Michigan. She is a naturalistic non-theist, whose faith has been shaped by her childhood within the Episcopal Church, her adult membership in the Unitarian Universalist church, and through Buddhist meditation. She has a passion for bringing science and spirituality to everyone in a fun way, both for her own family and for the wider community of the Earth. She is a co-author with Jon Cleland-Host of Elemental Birthdays: How to Bring Science into Every Party.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.