Women of Wisdom

Marking the Passage into the Crone Years
tree roots

Beltane 2021

Welcome Merry May!

Beltane Blessings! At this midpoint of spring in the northern hemisphere, known traditionally as Beltane in the British Isles and Walpurgis Night in Germany and Scandinavia, the land explodes into new life with boldness and courage. Beltane fills us with a delicious frisson of anticipatory delight.

Named for a Celtic sun god, Belenus, combined with the Celtic word “need fire” (tein-eigin)–a new fire kindled in times of crisis or annually on the first of May—this day marks the beginning of the summer growing season.  In the Scottish Highlands up until the end of the 19th century, household fires banked each night all year to protect the embers, were extinguished on April 30 and relit on May 1, perhaps with the flame from a sacred fire kindled on a nearby hilltop.

A large oat cake was prepared over the new fire and divided among all in the household. One piece of cake was marked with charcoal and designated the Beltane Hag. The unlucky person who drew this portion became the designated scapegoat who had to jump over the bonfire or get pelted with eggshells as the family drove the forces of winter and death away (John Matthews, Summer Solstice, 66-8).  In this time of tender growth great care must be taken to protect nascent life quivering as it unfurls to the sun. However, the crone plays a more positive role when viewed as one whose wisdom serves to support not only the young but their parents and the entire community.

This spring my attention has been captivated by a huge beech tree in the Ropes Garden in Salem, MA. Holding centuries of wisdom in its massive trunk, muscular roots, and tall thick branches, it is a crone deeply rooted in the past while still sending forth slender new branches from its mighty girth. I want to find the human equivalent of such strength and resilience in myself.

I begin to dream of new possibilities and of redirecting the flow of my scattered energies into a single riverbed, a confluence, which can power new growth. Prudence may lie in spending less money and doing less paid work so that I will have more time to discover and map my inner landscape in words. This demands a shift in my priorities.

For me writing demands solitude in which to chew the cud of my life experiences mulling them over in the pages of my journal day by day without judgment allowing, as Mary Margaret Funk writes in her wise book, Humility, “myself to be naked to myself” (61). This process enables me to write from my own ground of truth. It keeps me honest and humble. I know that am still learning from life and in the process growing new branches like the beech tree.

Letting go of the secure, well-worn path which no longer feeds us to explore the unknown is the spiritual work of Beltane. By taking risks and stretching ourselves beyond our comfort level, we revitalize our growing edge. The moment of leave taking, of jumping off, seems impossibly daring, but once we face the risk of the unknown and cross the threshold into a new chapter of our lives, the fear dissipates and our attention shifts to the course ahead. New possibilities arise and what seemed so difficult to leave behind fades into memory. Without our full engagement in life, no seed is produced and no tomorrows born.

Even as new beginnings produce an up swell of energy and hope, we desire talismans of protection to keep our fears at bay. Nature provides her own cushion of support in spring’s riotous growth. It is okay to fail; if we all try some will make it to the finish line to keep the circle of life spinning. Making the effort, trying our best is important. If we lose our balance, we can get up and try again. Our future can build on our past without letting it define or limit us. To keep our soul nubile and alive we need to grow. Beltane musters us into action and summons us to risk birthing new branches from our seasoned roots.

In the spirit of growth and delight,

Passing through the Portal of Beltane

Beltane is a portal leading us out of the stasis of winter into the abundant life of spring. To mark this shift, I invite you to perform this ritual:
  1. On small slips of paper write down the negative attitudes that impede your growth. Then burn or rip up the paper, banishing these impediments.
  2. State your intention to welcome new growth and change into your life in a specific way.
  3. Imagine yourself walking through a portal into a new world of possibility where your desire will manifest.

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