Of Beltane and May Wine

By Will Baker

It is springtime in Vermont. That which has lain dormant throughout the long winter is bursting forth, a testament to the cycle of life, of which we are all a part. During this time of year life literally explodes here, in the verdant mountains and the pastoral valleys and in the very hearts of the people. I imagine this ever-repeating flow of life as a great wheel. And as the wheel turns one can discern rhythms in its movement.

In ages past an awareness of the rhythms of life was essential to survival. When we were hunter-gatherers, this rhythm would suggest when, where and what to hunt and gather. Those that were able to understand and act upon this information were successful, and passed-on the information to their offspring. Those that did not have the wherewithal to fathom the world about them perished. With the advent of the agrarian revolution, planting cycles tied to Earth’s rhythms became intertwined with daily life. But with the passing of time much has changed.

I recently lit a fire in celebration of Beltane, an ancient Celtic cross-quarter day, which is simply the mid-point between an equinox and the subsequent solstice, honoring the sun god Bel. If you have ever danced around a May Pole, or sipped May wine or observed May Day festivities, you have taken part, at least tangentially, in a Beltane celebration. The Celts were very much in tune to the rhythms of life. For them, Beltane was a time to celebrate spring and to take steps to ensure fertility, not only of growing crops, but also of their progeny. For me, my Beltane celebration was an opportunity to try to strip away from my eyes the scales that life in modern society has placed before them. It seems to me that these days, to varying degrees most of us are blinded to our basic sense of our place in the world. It strikes me as quite ironic that we can not see that which is probably innate. I also believe that there is value in questioning our perspectives.

We sometimes forget that we are all children of the sun. When we think about our place in the world we think of our families, and our communities. Things like what we do for a living or what kind of car we drive help to define who we are. But this is a limited view. Technological advancements in every area effect our daily lives. For example, we can now be made aware, in an instant, of the goings on of folks on the other side of the globe. How interesting it is then, that most folks in the developed world could not say whether the moon is waxing or waning. But we are children of the sun! At this very instant we are all journeying together on this space ship earth. We are all brothers and sisters, but is this significant, and if so…what does it mean?

With a small group of friends I sat around the Beltane fire and watched the moon rise. She was full, and tinged with red. The planet Mars was burning brightly, high in the eastern sky but as we sipped our May wine, fragrant with wood-ruff, we watched the moon overtake it. Our fire cast a circle of light, illuminating our little company. Beyond the circle it was night, yet the full moon cast just enough light to make feeble shadow play. We talked quietly of this and that, as bats on the wing dipped as they flew, catching up their prey. We watched the sky move…and we continued to talk and sip our heady wine. And in doing so we affirmed that, out in the open, in the darkness we were not interlopers, but rather players. It has been said before, so much better than by me, that "all the world is a stage." I have come to believe that as eloquent as this may be, it does not quite hit the mark. It seems to me that the universe is our stage.

When confronted with this notion, we must not feel like interlopers or actors being forced to perform. Ultimately, the wide world is a part of us and we are a part of it. In sharing this stage we become sisters and brothers. I take comfort in the fact that even though we may have skewed our perspectives by creating an artificial existence, mostly indoors, the reality of the matter is unchanged. In the darkness, under the immense and ever changing canopy that is our sky, we are all the same, yet we are each very different. The simple, startling fact is that our heritage is the leavings of all of our sisters and brothers that came before us. And what we do, who we are and what we leave, added to what was left to us, will be the inheritance of those who will someday walk this earth after we are gone. We have made much progress since the Celts celebrated Beltane. We have time for higher thought and all the good that comes from it. But it does not have to be an either or proposition. It seems to me that we should be able to advance society without alienating ourselves from the world in which we live.




(Essay Collection)