I’ve understood Beltane in regards to fairies. I’ve understood Beltane in regards to sex. What I never understood was its nature of fire.
The pagan Wheel of the Year has eight holidays: four that correspond to the stations of the Sun: the Solstices and the Equinoxes. The other four are called Cross-Quarter days, the great Celtic Fire Festivals of Beltane, Lammas, Samhain, and Imbolc. They are the holidays that mark the arrival of each season. But even though I’ve been to rituals in which we both jumped a fire and danced around a Maypole, and even though bel-teine means ‘bright fire,’ or ‘goodly fire,’ I only just realized, just now, what a fire has to do with green.
It happened this year, when, after a tenacious winter, the green started roaring across the fields. This winter was so long that my eyes forgot how to process color, as though they lost their cones, as though New England had its own alien sun with a different spectrum of light. Since November my landscape has been only a palette of brown, black, white, and grey.
So when the green arrived, it blinded me. Literally dazzled my eyes. It burned to look at, this force of life. And then I knew about the fire of Beltane.
First, there are two fires. The fire of the Sun, and then there is the fire of the green.
The German mystic Hildegard von Bingen called this greenfire viriditas. ‘There is a power that has been since all eternity and that force and potentiality is green!… O ignis Spiritus Paracliti!,’ she cries, calling viriditas the Holy Ghost. The naturalist Aldo Leopold saw the greenfire burning defiantly in the eyes of a dying wolf.
The greenfire is Life. It answers the Sun, but it is made here: the fierce, relentless, determined light of creative life, the bell that peals the arrival of Summer and surges like wildfire throughout the land, engulfing trees, gardens, meadows in greenflame. The Earth, awakened by the Sun, sends back its own force. Fire leaps to fire.
Kabbalah says that in the creation of the Universe, in the birth-contractions of Time, one part of the Divine got separated from itself: the Shekinah, exiled to Earth. The two parts of the Tree of Life, the great pinwheeling Ferriswheeling sefirot of the upper realms are calling to their bride, to their sister, who is and lives in this manifest world below. And she is reaching up to them, like seeking like.
At Beltane, the Maypole is the axis mundi uniting Heaven and Earth. The energy of the sky descends, the energy of the earth ascends. The ribbons around the Maypole are a transcription of their conversation, in all the colors and refractions of light possible.
And one more: because religions are languages that we use to describe the ineffable, and each of them gets part of it right:
In Poland, the May feast of Pentecost is called the ‘Green Holiday,’ Zielone Świątki. The feast that marks the descent of the Holy Ghost into the Apostles, skyfire to earthfire, is celebrated by folk going into the woods to collect birch branches to bring home to their houses, to array around their windows. Green flame to celebrate orange flame. A pagan ritual not even bothering to change its name as it was absorbed into Catholicism, because it is wiser than labels, knowing that either way it celebrates the brightness of earth greeting the brilliance of the wider universe.
How many languages do faiths and practices need to tell this story? They are all Beltane, as long as we ride this rock and seasons occur. The ancient paradigm of Father Sky and Mother Earth, but we are the Earth, our life, our creativity, the throbbing life of all the plants and animals. We are the life of the Shekinah. And the Universe blazes down on us like the Sun, shoots a ray down like the Sefirot, folds its wings and dives like the Holy Ghost to crown Mary and the Apostles with flame. All the life that is within us, and us meaning all on Earth, rises up to meet that descent. We meet fire with fire.
What we do in our life’s activity is an interchange of life force, fluxing and dynamic, the photosynthesis of our creativity, which is why Beltane is a fertility holiday. What is created is a new, third energy between what is offered and what we offer back. We embody this fusion in acts of love between each other.
Life is a conjugal polarity, a dance between upper and lower worlds, however you might picture those. The Ones who help us can answer your wishes, prepare a situation for you, build an exit ramp for you, construct the doorway, but you have to take the action to go through. What is created for you requires your answer.
The rays of the Sun need the greenness of your heart.
That is Beltane. The Universe is so in love with you. It longs for you to dance with it. Meet it with your fire! Are you in?
Blessed be, and Love!
All photography by Megan E. LaBonte Photography.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta