Ignite Your Beltane Fire
May 1 is the start of Beltane (pronounced bell’tane) and the start of summer in the Celtic calendar. Actually, summer begins at sundown on April 30th.
Back in November, I described the season Samhain (pronounced sow’en) and the celebration of thin times when the seasons change.
And the beginning of May, this week, is another one of those powerful thin times. A thin time is a period when the portals between the now and the universal world are more open. Celts believed that fairies moved more freely during thin times. Our intuitions are heightened, and you may find that you are more sensitive and empathetic this week. So, it’s a very good week to up your self care and to seek out delight and deliciousness to laugh and smile more.
When you live with an illness, these transitions of season are magnified because our sense of time and space alters in particular ways – making thin spaces and times more frequent in our lives. (Read my essay on how and why here.)
Halloween and All Saints’ Day at the beginning of November, the beginning of Samhain, reflects this ancient lineage in our own time.
Likewise, we enjoy remnants of Celtic culture this week. May Day celebrations and May pole dances rejoice in the start of summer. Celebration and anticipation is the mood. I’m very much anticipating summer and celebrating it as best I can within my physical constraints, and I’ve got some suggestions on how to do that below.
But first some background: in Celtic times actual fairies were believed to move among us. It was a time to be guarded against fairy mischief. And so the rituals marking the shifts of the year are emblematic of the mystical nature of the Celts.
Caitlín Matthews, a beautiful writer about these ancient traditions, described how the Celts celebrate the beginning of summer this way::
At twilight this evening, May Eve, the great festival of Beltane begins, a great communal celebration that excludes no one from its embrace. Ancient Celtic celebrations involved the kindling of bonfires at this time – indeed the name of the festival derives from “bright fire.” (1)
The fire signifies the beginning of new light. Beltane means the fire of Bel, who was a Celtic god believed to be associated with farming and fertility. The Gauls called this god Belenos, meaning the “Shining One.” Or Beltane could mean simply the “fortunate fire.”
Historians have discovered that the wood of the classic Beltane fire had to be of nine different kinds. And the wood had to be gathered by men who wore no metal (because the metal adversely affected the fairies and deterred their desired presence).
Nine teams of nine married first-born men would lite the bonfire and then dance around the fire in the direction of the sun. As the fire dwindled, the community moved farm animals through it to promote the animals’ fertility. And then embers were taken from the communal fire back home to each individual home fire.
The community worked together and invested in each other and gave each other fire.
The Greeks also greeted the sun’s longer and warmer rays in particular ways. Heliosis is therapeutic sun exposure that includes sunbathing and sun-gazing. The original Olympian athletes sunbathed because the sun was thought to strengthen their nerves and muscles. I understand why they believed that as the sun often alleviates my pain and helps me to feel better. Even on days when I can not get outside I try to sit in the sun that shines into my apartment.
In the early part of the 20th century, heliotherapy or sun therapy was also seen as an effective treatment for various sicknesses and wounds. Time magazine reported on August 6, 1923 that people with tuberculosis and other diseases could be completely cured by heliotherapy. (See Medicine: Heliotherapy.)
Florence Nightingale wrote in Notes on Nursing, “It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light...And that it is not only light but direct sun-light they want." (More here.)
Sanatoriums and hospitals incorporated and built “sunlight clinics” which featured an enormous solariums where patients could lay and recover in the sun.
Finally, ancient architecture often oriented structures to the sun in the sky. Gothic cathedrals always had their front door to the east because the direction from which the sun rose was deemed to be the most welcoming – to incoming people every day as well as for the second coming.
The sun is a ball of fire. As the sun returns to us in warmth and reach, the symbolism of fire can remind us of our own creativity. What can bring you alive this season? What can you create in your life?
In honor of Beltane and the beginning of summer and all things fire, I offer 10 ways you can kindle your spirit to live brightly and warmly, even if you’re sick in bed ::
1 / Ignite
You can embody joy no matter the condition of your body. In honor of the sacred nine, make a list of 9 things that bring you immediate delight so you can turn to your list and have a ready resource. My nine include – blowing bubbles, a bubble bath, Last Week Tonight, fresh flowers, playlist of college music, phone call with friend, a historical novel, a warm self-oil massage, and knitting.
2 / Dance
I can not dance like I used to be able. But even if we can’t even dance like the characters in Gregory’s Girl (on the ground), we can still move in rhythm to music and enjoy dancing. Be fearless, spontaneous and silly. Move in whatever way you physically can to express your connection to the earth.
3 / Invite
This thin time is a time to set work aside and celebrate life. We gather to laugh and cultivate joy. So invite your friends over, the people who love you and really make you laugh. Break out of that isolation that your illness tends to create and decide to reach out. And do NOT worry about if your home is messy, cluttered or dirty. Your true friends do not care. And may even offer to help!
4 / Dream
This season is a time of hope. I know it can be hard to dream and anticipate, when day to day we don’t know how we are going to feel and what we can do. I get that. I gave up on formulating five year plans decades ago because continuous failures were so painful. But don’t completely forsake your aspirations. Dream differently. Look for heroes and heroines who can inspire and light your pathway. Who are the people that can make you come alive now and how can you be creative so you can emulate them in your own life now?
5 / Grow
Grow something. Grow anything. You could water a house plant. Or take care of a pet. Also, ask yourself – where do you need to allow growth in your life or in yourself? What can you unfold and open yourself to? What’s broken in your life and needs mending? What feeds and fertilizes you and go get more of that. For me, it’s my girlfriends, music and meditation.
6 / Nurture
Nurture yourself with self-care. Where are you overextended? Are you getting enough rest? How can you improve your evening routine to support better rest?
Do you honor recreation time? Or do you, like me, feel like you don’t really have any because if you feel well and able, you focus exclusively on your overwhelming to-do list. Set aside a day or a half day to play and have fun, regardless of how your body is and adapt as necessary.
Don’t use that sacred time to slay your to-do list. If you are having a good day on that day, go enjoy some activity you love that you’ve not usually been able to do because of your illness.
7 / Breathe
Fire needs oxygen. Create the space you need with your breath. Because of the breath’s connection to the nervous system, we can modify our breath to help us calm down, alter our moods, and ride out intense emotions. Sometimes, quieting ourselves with our breath can shift our perspectives and provide insights. Breath also connects us to the source of life within each of us, so honor your breath to celebrate life at the start of summer. Find a guided meditation or download a meditation app such as Insight Timer or Calm.
8 / Lite
Lite a fire. Or a candle. Or some incense. Or sage. Honor the fire within you that keeps you going despite everything. Because the fact that you’re still here is a big deal! You are the keeper of the flame. Cultivate your courage because I know it takes immense bravery to keep going when there’s no light at the end of that tunnel. Honor your courage. Light something special and honor you.
9 / Shed
Snakes lay in the sun and shed their skin. Cats, foxes, birds and dogs moult and shed their fur or feathers. See this cool BBC Nature summary. They do this to promote new growth. They do this to change their plumage.
Last spring I cleaned my kitchen and shed a lot of unused items and managed to clear my countertops. I created lightness by shedding the unnecessary and created good feng shui in my kitchen. I was inspired by this video. I haven’t been well enough to tackle another area in my home (my office really needs a shedding!), but I hope to be able to sometime soon. Where can you do this in your own life so you can promote the growth you aspire to? Are there relationships that are harming you that you are ready to shed?
10 / Spark
Revive your motivation. What gives you purpose? What is your why? Explore and investigate how you offer meaning to others. So long as we lift the burden of another, even if it’s as simple as being quiet to listen or bearing witness, we have purpose. How can you connect your spirit to others? Find that spark that still gets you excited. Examine the gift of your life and how can you make it even more meaningful? Write out your purpose. What do you value now in the wake of your illness and how can you promote those values?
Explore ways to blend the fire of summer into your every day life. The start of summer is a perfect time to celebrate and embody our creative fire and to give oxygen to our delight so that the fire can burn brighter and higher. Let me know how you aspire to kindle your spirit this May.
LET’S DISCUSS ::
How can you glean the benefits of sun therapy? Can you set aside time to enjoy sun shine?
What can you shed?
What are your values and what is your purpose?
Where are you trying too hard in your life?
How can you incorporate more play and fun in your life?
Who in your community of friends and family help you live joyfully and lightly?
How can you invested in another and gave him or her fire, delight, a laugh?
EXTRA ELEMENTS OF INTEREST ::
Florence Nightingale & ME/CFS
A lovely PBS Masterpiece drama about how a community of women supported each other during World War II.
(1) Matthews, Caitlín. The Celtic Spirit : Daily Meditations for the Turning of the Year. New York: HarperCollins, 1998, p. 192.