We awake to May Day dawn fresh from the valley of the shadows of sleep. In the northern hemisphere, the earth is stretching itself into green and shaking itself into bloom. May is a time of joy but also of uncertainty. As the song “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” from Carousel, reminds us, May can be full of promises, but she doesn’t keep them quick enough for some. This year in New England, when spring is lagging two weeks behind usual, those lyrics seem particularly apropos. That got me thinking about April 30, May Eve, or Walpurgisnacht as it is known in Germany, which is the darker side of this annual hinge between winter and spring.
Coming exactly six months after Halloween, April 30, Walpurgisnacht, has a similar reputation. On this night the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thin. Ghosts walk, witches ride through the air, and now that spring has come, fairies dance in rings. On May 1, Beltane, the joyous dancing, singing and celebration of new life begin. But first the forces of destruction must be acknowledged. Traditionally people feared that a hex might be put on a cow’s milk, or a challenging substituted for a human child. All sorts of mischief, which would threaten new growth, and the survival of the community into the next year, were possible. Witches and fairies represent forces antithetical to growth and all the potentially harmful accidents of life. May is a tender time during which young plants and animals need protection. Herbs and flowers were gathered for their magical properties to decorate houses and barns. Hawthorne blossoms, known as may flowers, were particularly efficacious. And, bonfires were lit. Cattle, being moved from their winter quarters in the barn to their summer pastures, were driven through the purifying smoke.
Walpurgisnacht was so ingrained in the spiritual life of northern European communities that Walburga, a Christian missionary from Britain was named a saint in the 700s and her day commemorated on May 1. The holiday has had a revival as Hexennacht (Witches’ Night) which celebrates witches. I’ve included links to You Tube videos of the Witches’ Dance, which is done on April 30. Representations of the stereotypical witch with a green face, long nose, and pointed hat are part of the regalia and fun. Women of all ages wiggle and jiggle what they’ve got as they dance in a ring with their broomsticks.
On a personal level, to honor the two sides of Beltane—Walpurgisnacht mischief and May Day joy—you might want to do some psychic spring cleaning. Explore what inner detritus from years gone by is clogging the free-flowing life force within your own psyche. You might listen to your dreams, write down your frustrations in a journal, or gripe to a friend. Listen for the negativity and own up to it. Peek in at your own underbelly and find the gremlins hiding out there. To release them and banish your pent-up anger, envy, grudges, resentments, and fears, do a Witches’ Dance. Turn up the music loud and boogey. Shout, scream, howl, drum, let your witchy self be free. Wiggle your bum and bare your boobs to the moon. Release it all! Life is short and difficult; we lose those we love; we lose our youth; we lose our dreams. Sometimes it is a desperate struggle just to survive. Scream with all the force of your former adolescent, idealistic self – UNFAIR!
Then, when you are exhausted, emptied, and cleansed of the sludge of pent up frustrations, feel gratitude seeping in. Allow it to struggle into your consciousness like hope fighting to get out of Pandora’s box now emptied of its evils. Breathe deeply, experience gratitude for being alive, gratitude for all the material, intellectual, and spiritual riches of your life, gratitude for friends, family, and unseen spirit guardians who protect, guide, and love you through your disasters, triumphs, and tender times.
Then go walking in the fresh May air, in the woods where the green and red tipped trees create an impressionistic haze, or in meadows where hedgerows of forsythia shout the joy of yellow, or by streams where daffodils dance for us as surely as they once did for Wordsworth. Lie under a tree in its “snowy virginity of bloom” which pricks the heart “like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again” (Z. N. Hurston, Our Eyes Were Watching God, Chapter 2). Inhale the fragrance of spring perfumes that awakens bees and quickens our love for the earth, one another, and ourselves. Discern your own green growing edge. Give energy and attention to the sprouts pushing toward the light in the fertile soil of your soul.
Write a poem, sing a song, paint a picture, make a sculpture, or a collage to welcome in the May. Play peek-a-boo with your impish, creative, irreverent self! Dance around a May pole and drink deep of your measure of human happiness.
Save the date: “Discerning the Season of your Life,” May 10, 2018, day-long retreat at Rolling Ridge Conference Center in N. Andover, MA. www.rollingridge.org
The workshop is designed to help recognize and accept our season of life and discern the aims and desires most appropriate for us now, in the company of others on a path of Wisdom.
Watch YouTube videos of the Walpurgishnacht Witches’ Dance. You’ll fine the links at the bottom of this email. Crones make the world a safer and happier place.