Beltane: Fire And ‘An Geadh-Glas’, The Wild Goose: Some Thoughts

20190427 FIRE AND AN GEADH-GLAS THE WILD GOOSE

Beltane, that most wonderful time of the year and awesome festival, is almost upon us.

At Beltane, we open ourselves to the Source of All, and give thanks for youth, vitality, new life, fecundity and empowerment. Summer is here.

We too are remnants of the First Fire that ever since lights the heavens as well as the tiny fires that warm our brief lives. Our planet remembers this original heat deep within its core, as we do in our fashion.’ Peter London in ‘Drawing Closer To Nature.

It is the time of new beginnings. However old we are, this time of the year makes us feel young again, and at Beltane many will jump over the fires of vitality and youth and allow that life-force to enliven and heal them. Others. May, symbolically, use a candle, but nonetheless take part in that joyful celebration in groups and by themselves.

Commonly held on 1 May (or the closest Saturday or Sunday), it’s called ‘Calen Mai’ in Wales, that us, the ‘first day of May’.

Beltane is a fire festival.

And, for some, it is an opportunity to rekindle the Beltane bonfire ritual. This ritual goes back to early Ireland when the community would light a giant bonfire during the event and share burning logs with which to light their home. Similarly in Germany, during Beltane, German Pagans and others celebrate Walpurgisnacht, when a giant bonfire is lit, and celebrations take place much like May Day: dancing, ritual, bonfires, maypole dancing, drinking mead. Beltane is a good time for hand-fasting.

‘The day will come when after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for…. [the Source of All]… the energies of love. Then for the second time in history of the world [humankind[ will have discovered fire’. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I like to link Beltane with Pentecost Sunday (or Whitsunday), 9 June 2019. The New beginnings, empowerment, new hope, and fire of Beltane naturally lead onto my love of Pentecost Sunday.

There, some two thousand years ago a small group of rather insecure and confused men and women met in secret. Huddled together, afraid for their lives, this timid, disparate group would have all but disappeared into obscurity, except for an outpouring.

Suddenly the room, where that group had assembled, was ablaze with light and the noise of a mighty wind filled the place. Fire descended from heaven, we are told, and alighted on each person. To many, this was the birth of the early church is all its innocence and simplicity. It was certainly the start, a new beginning, a time of new hope and empowerment for this group and what followed, and the fiery metaphor could not be missed.

Yes, Pentecost Sunday is the Church’s very own fire festival.

It’s a time when we open ourselves to the Source of All, and give thanks for new life and new hope, for vitality, fecundity and empowerment. Whatever is the animating force of the universe – present in us and every living creature, and in water, wind, earth/rock and fire – this Living force was made manifest on that first Pentecost Sunday and continues to pervade all, today.

Abba (Father) Lot came to Abba Joseph (two desert monks) and said, ‘Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation, and contemplative silence, and according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what should I so?

The elder [monk]  rose up early and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said, ‘Why not become fire?’

The Church refers to this Force as the Holy Spirit. One other occasion this Spirit was said to descend like and dove, and literalist artists over the centuries have pained it as an actual dove. But, it’s a metaphor. Why, to the ancient Christian Celts the Spirit, this Personal, animating Force was known as ‘an geadh-glas’, the wild goose (or grey goose).

I once heard a sermon that had me ‘curling up’ with fremdschämen. [Fremdschämen is German term which describes the process of being vicariously embarrassed by someone else, especially when that other person is unaware that they have just embarrassed themselves]. I was embarrassed for the minister as he declared that those simple Celts had no awareness of a dove but knew all about wild geese in those windswept northern islands of Britain. Oh, how he had missed the point, I thought. It’s easy for us all to do that – as we gaze back at historical events wearing  ‘twenty-first spectacles’ it’s easy to assume and ‘get the wrong end of the stick’.

My feeling of fremdschämen sprung from the fact that those ancient Celts knew about doves, and knew about wild geese, and wanted to change the metaphor to something they could see daily in their environment, something they could relate to, and be reminded of as they went about their business. ‘An geadh-glas’, the wild goose, to them was a wonderful metaphor for this animating Personal Life force – wild, flying wherever it wanted, strong and powerful, and full of surprises. A wild goose ‘fitted the bill’ wonderfully in that environment. These ancients knew much more than we give them credit for.

Stole NEW IMG_3202

The Wild Goose Stole

And so, in some Churches, at this time, you will see walls and tables festooned with the colour red (red for fire, a fire festival), bedecked with dove symbolism, and in some, yes, in a few you will see ‘an geadh-glas’, the wild goose (animating Life-Force). And, it’s at this time – and you know I love ritual and symbolism – that I will enjoy wearing the red, ‘an geadh-glas’, the wild goose stole at some rituals and services at this time. Though it’s quite versatile and can be worn at other events and festivals. [As regards the stole, think of it as a (clerical) scarf where the two ends drape at the front of your body].

Wearing the wild goose stole, then, is an opportunity to remind people, graphically, metaphorically, as they look on (and a reminder to me, too), that this is a fire festival, and the wild goose is a metaphor for the embodiment of new life, new hope and new beginning, of Life itself.

And, this, very neatly brings us back to Beltane, that wonderful fire festival of empowerment.

May you and those whom you love have a wonderfully rich Beltane and/or Pentecost Sunday fire festival and celebration, and be blessed with new starts, new beginnings and empowered by the Fire-Giver, the Source of All, Tadhg.

20190427 FIRE AND AN GEADH-GLAS THE WILD GOOSE

Summertime & The Livin’ Is Easy: With Beltane In Mind: 1 May 2018

20180429 SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVING IS EASY WITH BELTANE IN MINDThe start of summer is almost upon us. I know for many in the UK, the question might be ‘Was that Spring?’ But, it’s true, summer is almost upon us (in the northern hemisphere).

On 1 May our hearts and minds dwell upon May Day, or Calan Mai (as it is known in Wales). Down the centuries it is has always been a sacred day, and in latter centuries it has been a holy day by the Church, but now its celebration is somewhat ‘muted’. Such is modern life where much has become ‘vanilla’, and this seems acceptable to many. But, not you.

To the Celts and latter-day Druids it is known as Beltane, a dynamic day, and is the start of the season of summer, as the circle turns. It is a time for giving thanks and for celebration. It was a time of May Fair days where farmers and traders all gather in towns to sell their wares.

’Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’. William Shakespeare

In previous years in the UK many household fires would be doused and ceremoniously re-lit on Beltane. Special bonfires were kindled on this day. Rituals would be performed to protect people and cattle. Yellow flowers, such as primrose, rowan, hawthorn and gorse would be used to decorate houses, and would be especially placed at doorways and over windows.

Even today, in the UK some villages celebrate with fairs, Morris-dancers etc, and I remember at school (not that many years ago) seeing the May Pole in use. In some villages Jack-In-Green and others would march through the village, a representation of the Green Man, a symbol of fertility (whose face appears in some Churches throughout the UK and elsewhere).

[For a recounting of my green angel/green man dream of some years ago, please see here.]

The traditional name for 1 May for those in Ireland, Isle of Man, and Scotland etc translate as ‘bright day’ or ‘shining fire’.

Sweet May hath come to love us.
Flowers, trees, their blossoms don;
And through the blue heavens above us
the very clouds move on.

(Heinrich Heine)

Ah fire. In days of old some would jump through the fire. Didn’t we do that as children, young men, as a dare, just for fun, for the thrill? Or was that just me? To latter day Celts ‘jumping through the fire’ meant purification and protection. [But, please don’t try this yourself]. Some would walk around the fire or bonfire sun-wise (or deosil, pronounced ‘joss-all (though pronunciations vary)), that is clockwise. In so doing they would send out well-wishes as they walked, or prayers for nature, the greening of the country, for food and a future good harvest.

Beltane, then is one of the four fire festivals marked the turning of the seasons. Two of the fire festivals, Samhain and Beltane, were considered to be male, and Imbolc and Lughnasadh were female. Each was celebrated for three days – before, during and after the actual day.

Oh, the summer night,
has a smile of light
and she sits on a sapphire throne.

(Barry Cornwall)

So, how will you celebrate Beltane, this year?

There is no time to plan, but maybe that’s a positive thing. Enjoy what you’re doing even if you’re working that day. Find time to pause and meditate upon nature, its bounty and give thanks – even slowing down and purposefully eating part of your lunch is ideal. Maybe light a candle and send out a well-wish, light, love, gratitude or say a prayer for a few minutes? Such events need not be long or complex. How about sharing a bottle of fruit juice, wine or a mineral water with a friend in the cool of the evening that day? Maybe, pouring out the first small amount on the earth as a sign of thankfulness, a libation to That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves. Or saying a few heartfelt words or words written by others, see below.

I am sure you can find some form of short and profound celebration to usher in this wonderful season of summer, Beltane.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Beltane, Tadhg

 

Appendix:

Bless, O threefold true and bountiful,
Myself, my spouse, my children.
Bless everything within my dwelling and in my possession,
Bless the kine* and crops, the flocks and corn,
From Samhain Eve to Beltane Eve,
With goodly progress and gentle blessing,
From sea to sea, and every river mouth,
From wave to wave, and base of waterfall.

[The Beltane Blessing (part), Carmina Gadelica
(*old word for cows)

Or

Praise to you, [Whitsun] fire,
leaping and sweeping through this unjust world of mankind,
purifying with a passionate Spirit,
and warming us like that fiery orb above us.
Your fiery power rising upon each of us, blesses us,
and alights on us, declaring we are not alone.
You whisper that we are one.
Blessed are you [Whitsun] fire,
desiring life in all its fullness for the whole earth.

[Adapted, but based on a prayer by Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year]

Cosmic Fire [Within]: A Poem & Liturgy For Beltane.

20170425 COSMIC FIRE WITHIN POEMBeltane, celebrated on 1 May, is fast approaching.

The wheel turns, as the Earth continues to circle the sun. As it turns, and east is represented by the element of the wind (and we’re moving away from that), then due south is represented by fire, and we’re moving toward that.

Due south, the time of the summer solstice is the height of that season and element, so Beltane is south-east. Not quite east, not quite south. It’s a ‘moving into’ time’, as we move south-ward. In Wales and Ireland, and other Celtic countries Beltane is the beginning of summer, or at least the summer season represented by fire (even if, weather-wise, it doesn’t quite feel that way), and so many – perhaps yourself – will light candles and bonfires to welcome the wonderful event of Beltane, and usher in a new season.

Beltane is the time for dancing around maypoles (a popular event at primary school, but maybe not so now). It is the season of maturing life and deep found love, and the time of making vows, handfastings and other commitments. In Wales, Beltane is also known as Calan Mai. I’m afraid those words, themselves, don’t have a deep meaning, and they just mean the first day of May. However, the event itself is very significant and is a wonderful time of celebration.

My encouragement to you, then, is the celebrate the event in large ways or small, but to celebrate it is some significant way (that is unique to you).

With Beltane and fire in mind, here’s a poem, a Beltane liturgy that may be of use. It will form part of my Beltane celebrations.

Cosmic Fire [Within]

Before time itself,
when matter was but a dream in the Divine mind,
in the cosmic explosive crucible
of the furthest reaches of space,
fire roared.

Before life was formed,
when cosmic radiation coalesced
into a myriad of starry forms,
as the universe expanded,
fire grew.

Before humanity arose,
when the universe was oh-so-young and innocent,
the Source of All
planned that you should be here, and
fire moved.

Before this present time,
before you even knew that you are ‘you’,
energy was planted in all the elements.
Visible only to those who have eyes to see.
Fire hid.

From the very start,
it was ordained, that one place for the element of fire
to reside, to enliven and to empower,
was deep in the very core of humanity’s being, in your
heart.

Praise be to you Brother Sun, Sister fire.
Visible and invisible are you.
Felt and yet unknown.
Through you we can shine like a myriad stars in the sky.
A return to the beginning.