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.
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.