Welcome bonny May! Beltane (May 1) blessings to all! Outside my window the trailing branches of two weeping cherry trees in full bloom sway in the breeze. On the radio, Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” breaks like sunshine into the room to celebrate the day as the orchestra evokes the hum of growth and the cuckoo’s song.
The seasonal cycles of the earth as it tilts back and forth on its journey around the sun mirror a larger cycle of life and death. The rebirth of spring, growth, and fertility in the northern hemisphere is an antidote to the pall of disease as the parasitic corona virus wreaks havoc with human life.
In Germany and Scandinavia on April 30 Walpurgis Night bonfires are lit to banish the dregs of winter and forces of disease that threaten the first pubescent ripening of summer. Ritually the hag of winter arrives at Samhain and is driven away on Beltane Eve. But life and death are flip sides of one breath. Mother Gaia momently inhales and exhales life into being and dissolution. It is only in fearing death that we allow it to blight the joy of living. Everything exists but for a time.
We might hope that this seasonal shift driven by the sun can symbolize a paradigm shift in our global thinking. Stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of Covid-19 have drastically limited oil consumption, eliminated the cloud of smog that hangs over many large cities, and given us all access to bluer skies. Can we heed the lessons of the pandemic and begin to reduce the impact of climate change? Wouldn’t healthcare for all, free college, and the Green New Deal make everyone’s lives in the United States healthier and more prosperous? Exploitation of human capital is put on notice. The false boundaries erected between “us” and “them” serve death. Acknowledging our shared vulnerability and interconnection serves life.
During my stay-at-home time, I’m re-reading the novels of my favorite author, Charlotte Bronte. In less than one year, three of Charlotte’s siblings—Branwell, Emily, and Anne—died of tuberculosis. Writing her second novel, Shirley, after the success of Jane Eyre, gave Charlotte something to live for in the wake of her desolating losses. When death shakes the foundations of our lives, we need to dig deeper for our connection to life and find reasons to live.
For what do we live? That is a good question to ask as we greet the May. We cannot dance together around the May Pole, or leap over a fire, or gather with friends and family to join in the earth’s chorus of awakening, but we can declare that this day we walk in joy. Beltane is an opportunity for self-discovery, a time to commune with our maiden selves. How do we older women embrace life with zest and vitality?
In “Kubla Khan” a poem based on an opium-induced dream, Coleridge describes three locations: a chasm, a walled garden, and caverns of ice. Connecting the three is the sacred water of life which bursts from a fountain in the chasm, flows into a river which meanders through a walled pleasure dome, and tumults down through “measureless” caves to a lifeless ocean. Coleridge writes,
“The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.”
This poem is a metaphor for our lives as crones. Life is sustained and protected in the walled pleasure dome of earth, but in our ears resonate both the roar of beginnings from the fountain and the silence of endings from the caves.
I imagine, although Coleridge does not, that a transformation occurs in the lifeless sea, and it becomes a great stream of potential containing such force that as it flows beneath the chasm it must re-emerge in the seething energy of the fountain. The sacred river of life flows on and on cycling through one lifetime and into another.
As a crone I see more of life’s river behind me than ahead, but I am in no hurry to leave the pleasure dome. I prefer to linger where I am for a while, to stroll through the flush of rose and yellow-green that softens the garden path in spring. I want to suck the sweetness out of the precious minutes, hours, and days left to me as if I were again a child free to roam and discover a world of honeysuckle flowers, four-leaf clovers, daisy chains, and an occasional bite into a crab apple.
Outside my window at some point between three and four AM, I hear a bird impatiently trilling to the sun, “Wake up and play with me!” Arise all living souls, in body or spirit as you are able, awake, and join the dance of life.
In hope and joy,