“Tra la, it's May, it’s May, the lusty Month of May
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray
Tra la, it's here, it’s here, that shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear
Whence this fragrance wafting through the air?
What sweet feelings does its scent transmute?
Whence this perfume floating everywhere?
Don't you know, it's that dear forbidden fruit,
It's May! It's May!
The month of "yes you may,"
The time for ev'ry frivolous whim,
Proper or "im."
It's wild! It's gay!
A blot in ev'ry way.
The birds and bees with all of their vast
Gaze at the human race aghast,
The lusty month of May. “
From Camelot ~ Lerner & Loewe
I first became aware of the importance of the Beltane fires in my life through a dream. I awoke one morning, in the arms of my husband and he looked at me in surprise and asked me about the fires. “What fires “ I said… and then I remembered. I guess that I’d been talking in my sleep. In my dream we had been standing together in a place that seemed to be a castle of sorts. I was wearing some sort of linen night dress and he had come up behind me. I knew that it was him in the way that time and place meld together in the dream state, but he was ruddier with longer flaxen hair that was flowing back in the wind.
He looked at me with the same deep blue eyes that he has now with a gaze that at that moment transcended lifetimes and said “they are lighting the fires and are in the fields, but he wants the fires to be gone, he is sending them”. All I remember is the night falling and hearing passionate sighs from the plowed fields beyond.
I remember saying “Tell him that I said that he WILL allow the fires to burn” and shortly after that I remember falling into his arms and wandering hand in hand out towards the fields. I woke up naked and in a cold sweat. I knew that the mysterious “he” was someone of the church, who was trying to destroy my beloved “old ways”. I knew then that I’d known my husband in some other time or place where we’d been bound together by a spirituality that had its roots planted deep within the earth. I promised myself at that moment that for as long as it was in my power, the fires would never be allowed to go out.
Beltane or Beltaine as the Irish speak of it is a lusty and passionate holiday full of surprises and all kinds of wonderful. None of us know what the Goddess has in store for us today, but I can promise you that if you are open to her magic you will enjoy every minute of it. Do be careful though…lots of sweet little babies are conceived today. That’s my only warning, but you'd be wise to heed it....not that you'll really be able to control the outcome. Trust me she will always have her way!
Beltane is the time that marks the beginning of the most fertile season of the year. Cattle were driven up to higher, greener grounds and passions burned on May the 1st like the ancient ritual fires that were lit to celebrate the sowing of seed, both physically in the newly plowed fields and during the times of the old religions through an ecstatic sexual union of the sacred feminine and her masculine counterpart, the great horned God. Every year on this day, the great wheel of the year would turn once more towards summer and massive bonfires would be built.
Men and women lay together in the fields cloaked only in the smoke, exhausting their passions over and over again with the intention of creating a potent ritual that would ensure an abundant harvest. There would be feasting as well as dancing around a beautifully beribboned May Pole and it was a time of celebrating all forms of fertility, love and lust. Babies conceived during the sacred Beltane union were considered blessed by the goddess herself.
Centuries later we really haven't changed all that much. Bonfires, gardens and woodsmoke can still stoke our passions as well as insure our very survival. We still plant our vegetables every spring and wish for enough rain and sun to help our gardens grow. Although we have long since harnessed the power of the flame and made it manageable, I've yet to find any oven that stirs my food lust like the warmth of an open flame. I long for a wood burning clay oven in my kitchen where I can bake fresh crusty bread, clafoutis aux cerises and fresh pizza!
This is the time of year when all the trees are blooming, flowers and wild potherbs are appearing all over the fields and forests as if by magic. The honeybees have reappeared and are busy making love to the fragrant blossoms and with luck we will find our trees filled with ripe fruits come fall. We till our gardens and plant the seed that we’ve saved from last year’s harvest and we take long walks outside, grateful that the sun has finally come again and brought with it a deep rich warmth.
You needn’t go too far back into your imagination to see that centuries ago, these simple things would have seemed deeply magical to our ancestors. Sometimes, I think that it would serve us well to embrace the same simple wonder that they did, an excitement that comes from enjoying a life of following the seasons simply and passionately. For me, springtime is marked by so many things that I look forward to, knowing that they will not pass through my life until the wheel comes full circle again. The beautiful fragrant violets, the precious lilacs and viburnums…wild ramps with their deep oniony flavor and fiddlehead ferns! Fresh pea tendrils, daffodils and the very first dandelion greens that I love to harvest for salads.
In a class by itself comes the freshest spring asparagus. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than a meal of steamed asparagus and a silky tarragon laced béarnaise sauce. Living as locally as possible and respecting the seasons and the presents that each one brings is not only a healthy way to eat, but a holistic way to live.
The first thing I did when we bought our home in Cleveland Heights was put in an asparagus bed. An asparagus bed is one of natures most useful clocks. When my first thick shoots of asparagus come up, I know that spring is truly and finally here. Several years ago all of my asparagus came up in March and I knew that we were in for a very interesting year. Even in this interesting Spring, it’s right on time. Nature has a magic all her own and for the ancients Beltane was a reminder to stop and pay attention to those thundering rhythms.
For me one of the greatest joys of the merry month of May were always the flowers that would bloom in my parents’ gardens. They grew many beautiful flowers but none were more precious to me than the beautiful patch of lilies of the valley that grew behind the terrace in a secret place that only a few knew about. I’d wait and wait and then every year on the 1st of May I would run into the back and there they would be, pure little bells of white with strong green leaves just begging me to bury my face into their flowers and inhale their sweet green scent.
All of these beautiful greens and flowers come but once a year in a fashion that is fleeting and beautiful. I think that if I could have them all year round it would be a disappointment to me, because the yearning for them is every bit as delightful. Besides, every season has its pleasures and treasures. Crabapple trees and their fragrant blooms can only come in May, but their fruits are late August’s treasures. The old-fashioned roses in my gardens that bloom so abundantly will produce generous rose hips for my tea in September. To everything there is a season, and to every time a purpose. The joy that May Day brings is the abundant renewal of life and passion. Make love and give love generously on this day. Gifts of flowers and bright May Baskets are traditional gifts of love that are perfect. Make paper cones with your children, fill them with flowers, put them on your neighbor’s front door and let them guess! If it’s a beautiful evening spread a blanket outside, light lots of candles and have a picnic!
Then put the children to bed and go back outside if you dare….
Today is the day that we light the ritual fires once again with the intent to create life, celebrate our passion and ensure the fertile harvest not only of our fields, but of our souls. Feed each other juicy fruits, other luscious things and make love with abandon, spend time in the fields, wander into the wilderness of your hearts and get lost there for more than a little while. Keep a little magic with you always and more than a touch of mystery. Remember that it’s the very things that we don’t really know that can bring us the most joy and above all remember to be glad...very glad to be alive , especially this year. Life is juicy, fragrant and sometimes bittersweet. Life is also all about taking risks with your passions. Be a little naughty, enjoy your wildness, but remember what I said, because the Goddess WILL always have her way……..
Natures Embrace- By Josephine Wall
Asparagus- Beth Schreibman Gehring