On first glance Bealtainn and May Day might not have very much in common. One a celebration and the other a political action but I don’t see them as different at all, sadly just the numbers they attract.
Bealtainn: The clarion call to a summer’s promise, the adversity of winter has come to an end and the promise of a warmer, easier and fitful time is upon us. Celebrating this festival is a highlight of the Edinburgh City “night life”, over 6000 people gathered together on Calton Hill (Calton is Gealic-ish for Hawthorn tree grove, which is most fitting and the site of the famous Fairy boy of Leith story) and sway and dance to the beat of the drums. they are there to bear witness to naked red-painted people charging down hills attempting to interrupt the May Queen’s arrival, her white-painted entourage fighting back and protecting the procession as it moves over the entire hill. At the processions climax the Green Man fights the Cailleach’s champion, a huge bonfire lights up the Edinburgh skyline, its smoke billowing all over the city from Leith to Morningside, the drum beats echoing off Arthur’s Seat to Crammond Island. I lost track of how many people I spoke to at this celebration of summer, from all walks of life from many different countries all together celebrating. Some were drunk and full of fun others more thoughtful in their activities but the key here is we are all together from different races, sexualities and class, all together for the May Queens dance.
On the Saturday there is a different story to tell. It’s the May Day March where around 600 people join together from all walks of life to march for solidarity with workers across the world, to end austerity and to protest Fasllane and the nuclear arms race. They speak of socialism and an equal world, to end fracking and climate change. Mummers weave between the procession crowd in their painted faces and bells on their shoes smiling and the songs of protest lift the spirits and add some mirth to what is a serous undertaking. The May Queen’s dance is still here, it’s just not so easy to spot.
Bealtainn has always had it renegades, for instance the battle of Angus the ever young against the Cailleach and her 8 hags of winter. Who the renegade is here is up for debate but what it is about is the changing face of the world, the dying off of an established order as a new one begins and onwards and around it goes. This is the power of Bealtainn and this is the power of the May Day Parade. The drum beats and smoke of the Bealtainn fire have their own magic that permeates through the city streets and I like to think as folk hear the heart beat rhythm of the drums and breathe in the heady smoke that a little spark of rebellion and lust is ignited in the souls of those wandering the streets below.
Beltane and Rebellion
The ember of lustful rebellion in all of us that is something we need to hang onto especially in the political climate we have today. These ideas are something that is very dear to my heart and my soul, my “anam”. As Pagans, traditional witches, deconstructionists or really whatever path you come from we must be ever mindful of the links of our thoughts, our way of life to social justice and other people on this planet and the planet itself. Walking these paths, or any path for that matter, isn’t just about the ritual and drama it’s about real human connection and what we can do to help (or hinder) others in this world. I’m lucky, (maybe unlucky depending on how you view it) the job I do day-to-day is to work alongside “others” in less fortunate situations. Since an early ethical crisis with my own praxis when I was much younger, I needed to really work out what was a right and wrong application of my own praxis and my own ethics. I dedicated my learning and time to reflect on these questions working with the homeless, mentally ill, dejected and abandoned through social work, psychology and direct action. This is perhaps a story for another time, but I see the effects of austerity first hand, and the effects of a world that abandons people who are “other”, who don’t contribute to a capitalist idea of worth, who are marginalised and suffer because of this. Even the media is portraying the most vulnerable people in our society as “scroungers, wasters, and a burden on society”, Bealtainn says another story is possible.
I guess this is the purpose of my writing this. As people who follow paths different from the mundane folk who live in our cities and countryside we need to make a difference in the lives of people that we meet, as we are that “other”. A few coins, a coffee or sandwich, or a conversation with a homeless person can make a huge difference. Volunteering a few hours a week wherever you can make a huge difference. It’s all well and good to ask for peace in ritual or in your praxis but getting out there and doing something is equally, if not more, important.
So please use this Bealtainn time to figure out where you are in regards some of these issues, what side of the divide do you stand on? and what you can to bring about a better happier community? What does your local politician have to say about these issues? Ask yourself and others and demand better. Perhaps one day we will see as many at the May Day March that we see at the Bealtainn celebration.
On the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble,
may the clay dance to balance you.
And when your eyes freeze behind the grey windows and the ghost of loss gets in to you,
may a flock of colours, indigo, red, green and azure blue come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays in the curach of thought and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters a path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you,
an invisible cloak to mind your life.
 John O’Dononhue.(1997) Anam Cara.