Heritage of Beltane

by Lark

Come out to the witches' dance. Come in your spring finery with flower wreaths in your hair. Search the woods for rowan and hawthorn blossoms. Wash your face in the dew from the May tree. Make a wish in the dew from ivy and oak. Come through the fields bringing honey cakes, new-made cheese, and cream. Run to the mountain as swift as a hare. Come out to the witches' dance

Do you remember this? The crops are planted and the herds ready to move to summer pasture in the hills. For weeks the women have been baking. The men have cut a tall tree and set it up in the meadow. The girls have woven wreaths of wildflowers. The boys have gathered kindling from nine kinds of trees. The doorway of every house is hung with rowan. Summer will begin with the call of the first cuckoo. Do you remember dancing by firelight among the witches

Women gather to dance in town squares, celebrating Walpurgisnacht on April 30. Walpurga is the German Earth Mother whom Christians revere as a saint. It is said that once when a hump-backed fiddler played for the witches' dance, the women rewarded him by healing his back. Hares run through the fields to the Brocken, taking back their human shapes as they gather on the mountain. The first spring after German reunification, women once again gathered on the Brocken on Walpurgisnacht

In the north, Freyja the Earth Goddess draws buds from each root and stem. In the south, Aphrodite Antheia, the flowering one, opens the buds. The Welsh star Goddess Elen of the Roads opens the season of travel. Olwen of the White Track leaves a white flowering trefoil in every footprint; rose and hawthorn blossom at her touch. Gwynn, God of light, and Gwyrthyr, God of darkness, do battle for Creiddlylad or Cordelia, daughter of Cerridwen, on May Day. Thorn trees and healing wells are dressed in ribbons

Robin Hood and Maid Marian lead games all over Britain. Chimney sweeps hold parades, carrying effigies of the Green Man decked with flowers through the streets. Hobby horse dances and Morris dances take place from May 1 through May 8, the last day of Beltane. Children born in the week "between the Beltanes" have second sight and the powers and skills of all creatures. Taliesin was found in the salmon trap of his foster-father Elphin on May Day, a magical Beltane child who became chief bard of Britain

The Sabine flower Goddess Flora holds games when the flowers bloom. Chloris the green Goddess and her followers dance costumed as animals. At the May festival of the sea God Poseidon, flowers were thrown into salt or running water. On May Day by the old-style Julian calendar in Spain, Mary of Fatima appeared above an oak tree, wearing a crown of roses. Old May Day is Garland Day in England. Passing a child through a garland of flowers heals any illness

Blodeuwedd, the original Queen of the May, was created from nine flowers: trefoil, meadowsweet, broom, primrose, bean, oak, cockle, nettle, and chestnut. Transformed into an owl, she is rearing her hatchlings by May Day. Lilith, the owl Goddess of women and wisdom, is celebrated on April 30

The Phoenician moon Goddess Tanit was honored at a bare tree woven all around with ribbons. For her Sabbat in May, the great Goddess Ishtar wears a tall conical hat with a wide brim, covered over with flowers. The bonnet of Ishtar became the traditional witch's hat

This is the dark of the moon, a time for healing and for sharing secret knowledge. Hekate was celebrated the last three days of each lunar month. On May 1, Roman women honored her as Bona Dea, the Good Goddess. They met in secret by night to invoke her names: Fauna of the animals, Damia lady of wild places, Ops giver of abundance, Fatua speaker of prophecies, Tarentia of the underworld, Rhea the sky mother, Maia Majestas Queen of the May

The Goddess Bendis held a dark-of-the-moon May festival near Athens, with torchlight races and processions. Bendis taught the art of drawing down the moon to the witches who worshipped her in Thrace. In The Golden Ass, Lucius Apuleius tells of a young man who was turned into an ass for spying on the rites of Bendis. Isis restored him to human form during her spring ritual a year later

The sixth day of the new moon of May is the birthday of Artemis, Goddess of birth and protector of wild creatures. The seventh day of the May moon is the birthday of her brother Apollo, for whom one-day-old Artemis acted as midwife

In many countries, workers are honored with a day off on May Day. In Europe, families decorate the graves of their ancestors with flowers. In the Celtic lands, humans offer milk and cheese to the faery folk. In Rome, three Lemuralia festivals were held in May, when ancestors returned to visit their families

On the ides of May, the priestesses of the Goddess Vesta worked magic for rain, carrying water from the spring of the nymph Egeria in a widdershins procession through Rome and casting reed puppets into the Tiber River. In March, they led a sunwise procession by the same route to strengthen the sun

Hermes and his mother, Maia, were worshipped on the ides of May. Triple-headed Hermes, inventor of all the arts, leads souls through life and birth and death. Cattle rustler, guide, carrier of dreams, secret agent, prowler, guardian, he made the lyre from a turtle shell. He is a computer wizard and a beekeeper and an entrepreneur, the original Prince of Thieves who says he was "just born yesterday." Called Kriophoros, the Ram-Bearer, he carries divine children to birth. He is Coyote and St. Christopher and the Man in Black who summons the witches to dance. He is the lover of both Hekate and Aphrodite

After the rains of April, Iris brings the rainbow. Fleet-footed messenger of the gods, she exceeds Hermes in speed and grace. Daughter of Wonder, sister of the Harpies, mother of Love by the West Wind, she displays the colors of the seven planets. Iris is the Angelos, the messenger who speaks directly to the soul, the bright aspect of Hekate. She prepares Hera's bridal bed. She is the color of your eyes. She is Maya, the source of waters from on high. She is Kore and Shakti and Strength in the Tarot deck, binding the Nemean lion with her girdle of flowers. Swift as thought, she binds earth to sky with ribbons of light.

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