May Day (at least in the Northern hemisphere) heralds the delights of the coming warm season, with intoxicating fragrances of spring flowers and flowering trees to delight the senses. Warming days and shedding of coats signal more pleasures of the coming summer season. Time to celebrate, with a bit of romping outside, relishing the green grass, the sun, the flowers, the fresh breeze. The intensity of the lush flowering trees appears heightened against grey city buildings, a bursting vibrancy of life against more austere form. Flowers broadcast life force and the powers of natural attraction. They offer a magnificent adventure into beauty, diversity, color, and sensual pleasure. There is no denying the pleasures of May.
For Pagans, May Day is celebrated as the religious festival of Beltane. The burgeoning life force of this season balances winter's cold and death, and the wheel of the year turns. Many will gather to celebrate, wearing spring colors, adorned with flowers, ready to dance. The traditional maypole is central to many celebrations with long (perhaps 30 feet!) ribbons attached to a tall wooden pole. In some rituals a hole is prepared in advance, blessed and readied to receive, and the tree is also blessed, honored as a sign of life. Sometimes the joining is considered sacredly sexual, and other times simply functional and celebratory.
The dance around the maypole is a communal one, with dancers holding the long colored ribbons and weaving them over and under other ribbons. Around and around, carrying intention into the larger weaving of many strands of community. In some rituals, women and men dance in opposite directions, weaving the gender differences into the larger union. Other dances are more free form, playful and even chaotic. There's coherence in the pattern, with the inclusion of imperfections and fun, with areas of systematic weave and areas of unique design. Dancers old and young engage, often sharing ribbons and turns around the pole. Around and around, over and under, sometimes in step and sometimes out of phase, how like life. We may not see the overall pattern until the dance is over, so the main thing is to participate, and to do so as fully as possible.
Contemporary Pagans honor sexuality, and often consider the erotic sacred. It's not just about the pole and the hole, or the flowers and the bees, or the exuberance of May. For Goddess worshipers, "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." This phrase comes from the Charge of the Goddess, one of the few and more widely known texts in this earth-based religion.
In a small way I honor the Goddess and gifts of life as I stoop and smell the lush and fragrant hyacinths planted in buckets along New York City streets. The flowery exuberance is intense with multiple blossoms and strong scent, with it's own part in the dance of life. What's the flowery show all about? Attracting attention? Creating enough energy for the bulb to survive for another year? Rejoicing in the returning warmth and light? Is it an offering of the simple pleasures of fragrance? Is it an affirmation of hope in the powers of attraction? Of the pleasures of life that are free and available despite life's challenges? What does it mean to hold pleasure sacred? Surely at the very least I can pause and take in the flowers' intoxicating perfume. Surely I can appreciate the flower's fragrant offering of pleasure. Surely I can honor the gifts of May.
Perhaps it is honoring the balance of life, where we know there is loss and pain, and there is also pleasure and joy, all to be experienced as part of a life's journey. Just as Pagans hold the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit as sacred, not to be bought or sold, abused or hoarded, so too is May sacred, belonging to all, with fertility and exuberance bursting forth in flowers. With the power of the internet, Beltane celebrations and maypole dances are readily found. I'm ready to dance. Happy Beltane.