I’ve always loved Beltane. For me it is a festival of celebration, a marking of the return of the light after the dark and barren days of Winter to a light and fertile spring, where once more the earth and the animals sustain us and give new life.
Traditionally it has been known as a fertility and fire festival, cattle where driven between the Beltane fire and men and women jumped over them to purify and ensure fertility. Late at night as the fires died down, young couples would go into the wood, away from the life and light of the Beltane celebrations and go courting.
I’m not an orthodox follower of the Sabbats. To me, the eight Sabbats commonly referred to in some Pagan traditions are man made divisions of time, but I have always celebrated the return of the warmth and life giving fertility that comes with the beginning of Spring. Each year I read out this poem for my Beltane rite. It remains one of my favourites – all the more so because of the Poet’s links to my home County of Sussex, England.
Of all the trees that grow so fair, Old England to adorn, Greater is none beneath the sun, Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn. Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs, (All of a Midsummer morn!) Surely we sing of no little thing, In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! Oak of the Clay lived many a day, Or ever Aeneas began. Ash of the Loam was a Lady at home, When Brut was an outlaw man. Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town (From which was London born); Witness hereby the ancientry Of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! Yew that is old in churchyard-mould, He breedeth a mighty bow. Alder for shoes do wise men choose, And beech for cups also. But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled, And your shoes are clean outworn, Back ye must speed for all that ye need, To Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth Till every gust be laid, To drop a limb on the head of him That any way trusts her shade. But whether a lad be sober or sad, Or mellow with wine from the horn, He will take no wrong when he lieth along 'Neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, Or he would call it a sin; But we have been out in the woods all night, A-conjuring Summer in! And we bring you good news by word of mouth Good news for cattle and corn Now is the Sun come up from the south, With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs (All of a Midsummer morn)! England shall bide till Judgement Tide, By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! A Tree Song - Rudyard Kipling
The whole poem is pure literary beauty to me, but in particular I am fond of the verse
Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth
Good news for cattle and corn
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
That verse for me describes the magic, beauty and tradition of Beltane in eight divine lines. No syllable to few or too many, nothing needs to be added or taken away from the verse.
I suppose as a writer it is inevitable that at least some of ourselves are expressed in our writing, and perhaps that is the reason that my current novel Beyond the Mist begins with my favourite of all the Pagan Sabbats. I hesitated greatly before adding in the threat of ritual sacrifice of my main Male Character Rowan at the end of the Beltane rite for fear of it being taken all too literally as the way that Pagans today celebrate the rite. Of course there is no concrete evidence that ritual human sacrifice ever occurred at Beltane, except from Sources that are less than reliable due to their extremely biased agenda. In the end I decided that anyone with half their wits about them would recognise fiction from fact, and the other half either wouldn’t want to or wouldn’t be able to read the book when it comes out this Christmas. I hope what comes out through out the book is the underlying theme through out my faith of a connection with the earth, the life upon it and the direct and divine link we have with the changing of the seasons and the changing seasons of our lives from maiden to mother to crone. From birth to death, we are of the universe and a part of the cycles of this Earth.
Blessed Beltane everyone