Not just a distress call used to signal a life-threatening emergency; May Day takes on different meanings and symbolism across cultures, context, and location.
Culture is ceremonial; connection to community happens best when we practice life together in ritual.
If you’re a Hoosier, you likely associate May Day with the beginning of race month in Indianapolis as the city begins preparations for the Indy 500, which races over Memorial Day Weekend at the end of May.
May Day historically, traditionally, and culturally has taken on deeply, interwoven connections to Earth and Nature’s cycle. There is a rich history of lore and symbolism associated with these earth-based practices.
A Rose by Any Other Name -Shakespeare
The Celts called this celebration Beltane, roughly translated as bright light,and was known as a fire festival. Such practices were observed in places such as Ireland, Scotland, England and Germany, however, no matter the origin or place of practice, May Day or Beltane was celebrated in communion.
May 1 marks a day of ritual and ceremony honoring traditional practices to greet the peak of Spring and welcome the coming abundance of Summer.
Ceremony practices typically begin the last night of April with bonfires and last until dawn of May first, where celebration and ceremony continue throughout the day.
May Day is the midpoint between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice, which honors the blooming of Spring, but also marks the true preparations for the return of Summer.
Many earth-based observances follow the path of the sun, and take cues from Nature.
Leaves of Grass -Walt Whitman
It is time in Earth’s cycle, and thus our own, to explore our connection to Divine Feminine Energy through dance, ritual, and ceremony to welcome the growing season.
Plants are in full growth and in harmony with the environment and Beltane is known as an agricultural celebration because it marks a key moment for sowing seeds, and growing crops in abundance.
Earth, during Spring, is still shedding layers of winter, while also stepping into the power of Summer. Our last frost has passed and we can turn our attention to Peak Spring, which invites us to plant the seeds of fertility, harmony, and abundance; the time is ripe with fertility for you to seek abundance in all creativity and aspects of life.
Nature reminds us of who we are, it is the greatest of love stories. Within ourselves and within Nature we assign symbols and meaning to our traditions, to our ritual, to our connection to Nature and self.
Man and His Symbols -Carl Jung
Beltane and May Day Lore have evolved over centuries and with more modern practices taking place all over the world. Traditionally this celebration has been known as the Mystical Union or Divine Marriage.
It represents harmony of the feminine and masculine energies, and of life and death forces. Beltane celebrates love and sexual energy as an honor to the God and Goddess of marriage. Historically, no marriages between humans could take place during the month of May, because of this Divine Marriage of Energy.
Symbols and rituals tend to blend across practices, and some have slight variations. Common practices generally include the following –
Fire is a symbol of purity and healing, and ultimately the power of the growing Sun; these fires aid in the cleansing of old, stagnant energy and welcoming the power of abundance, and hence giant bonfires became the leading role of ritual. As a communal practice of renewal, chanting, drumming, and dance are key aspects to any May Day celebration. Dance and music have always been an important element to ceremonies. Moving our bodies in conjunction with the transition of nature brings us into alignment with nature and each other.
May Day Pole is a token to the Beltane practices of marrying feminine and masculine energy. Traditionally the pole, a phallic symbol and of male divinity, is a fir tree, or wooden pole. Around the top are 6 to 8 alternating ribbons of two different colors; generally red and white, and a crown of flowers, representing the maiden
The ribbons are taken by two groups of dancers, one set male and the other, female; one color of ribbons dancing or moving clockwise (life force) and the other counter-clockwise (death force) to seal together these two forces.
Summer is equivalent to life force and winter to that of death force. These ceremonies are practiced to bridge the two energies together, in one final marriage of feminine and masculine divinity, as the Sun passes into a higher position in the sky.
These ceremonies, rituals, and practices create harmony in life through nature-aligned practices and a beautiful nourishment in witness to the transition of nature’s cycle; the path through birth, life, death, and rebirth, the honoring is a choice.
Beltane, May Day, serves as an invitation for connection, release, and renewal.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream -Shakespeare
May speeds by, especially if you’re a race fan AND live in Indianapolis.
Without much warning the height of Summer arrives; our days grow longer, more active, and full; our gardens, ourbellies, and our hearts will be in abundance. Midsummer is welcomed in June at the Summer Equinox, in the Northern Hemisphere.
Walking Each Other Home -Ram Dass
May Day! May Day! May Day! This is not a distress call, but an invitation.As Mother Earth sheds layers of seasons past, we too shed layers as we fully emerge from our hibernation, our time of introspection and rest.
Peak Spring serves as a time for cleansing, and renewal within the community as collectively we are coming out of the dark months and back into the power of the Sun, our collective and individual power.
At Beltane, May Day, we hope for vitality, abundance, fertility and growth. The growth we seek can be transferred to our biology, our ideas and dreams, in our creativity and within our community.
Just as nature evolves, we too thrive when we cut out the layers weighing us down, we are just a walk in nature away from being back home within ourselves and our deeper connection to Divine energy.