Bringing in the May

Summer sweeps in accompanied by the night of mischief that is Beltane.  Beltane, or May Eve, is the second hinge of the year (after Halloween), representing an important turning point in the seasons.  Whereas Halloween marks the beginning of winter and the start of a new year, Beltane is the transition from spring to summer.  The veil between worlds is thin on both festivals, but whereas Halloween is a time to remember your ancestors, at Beltane the spirits around us are more mischievous and it was said to be a time when the door to the fairy realm stood open. Traditionally, Beltane is celebrated when the Hawthorn, or May tree, blossoms, but there are no May blossoms making an appearance yet.  Spring has barely sprung so it’s difficult to recognise that summer is about to begin.

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Beltane heralds an abundance of life and fertility.  The sun warms the earth and nature is in full force, flowers are blooming, trees full of blossom, lush greenery abounds.  At this time, we celebrate unfettered vitality, passion and self expression.  Finally, after the dark of winter and the fragile beginnings of spring, we can revel in the joy and power of life and love.  It’s a celebration of union, community and sensuality, but also commitment, as this is a time when handfastings would take place.

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At Beltane, the Goddess transforms from maiden to mother, often symbolised by the crowning of a May Queen.  She is at the beginning of the pregnancy that will result in her giving birth to herself at Yule.  Maypoles were, and in some places still are, used to celebrate the exuberant life and fertility of the season, with the weaving of red and white ribbons by dancers, beneath a sinking crown of flowers.

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Beltane is a fire festival, when beacons would be lit on hill tops to welcome the return of the sun.  People would jump over the fires to attract fertility and other wishes and cattle would be driven through the smoke before being taken to their summer pastures.  Old hearth fires were put out and re-lit from the Bel-fire.  Symbolically, you can absorb the light and life of summer by lighting a candle, just before sunset on May Eve and leaping the flame.

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In earlier times, people would go a-Maying in the woods, spending the night there taking advantage of the freedom and mischief of Beltane.  At dawn, they would bring back greenery they had collected to decorate doors and lintels for protection and good luck.   If you aren’t a witch, this is the only time of year when Hawthorn blossoms can be brought safely across the threshold.  I have already made my trip to the woods and brought back spring treasures to bring blessings to the house for the summer to come.

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Don’t be introspective on this festival – celebrate.  Enjoy the sensual pleasures of creating: get caught up in spreading paint on a canvas, try writing in longhand with an elegant pen and paper, do some sculpting or collage, make something physical with your photographs instead of just uploading them digitally, create a crown of flowers.  Work outdoors if you can, absorbing the energy of the returning sun.  Draw on the power of your own fertility of imagination as a creative spring.

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Or celebrate the abundance of your creativity.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t had any objective success, celebrate the fact that you have inspiration, imagination and a creative talent.  If you can, get together with other people and use the dawn of summer to begin a project together, or to simply celebrate the power of collaboration.  Have your celebration outdoors, in a wood, an orchard, or a garden filled with flowers.

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Summer has had a slothful start this year, teasing us with the promise of warmth to come.  Beltane will be accompanied, not by the land in full provocative bloom, but by a more languid waking of the earth.  Still, the suggestion of summer is there in the lengthening days and a lightening of mood.  Our ancestors had faith that summer would return and lit fires on the highest hills to affirm this.  With all our science, we still doubt that the season will be all we want it to be.  But the magic of Beltane is to remind us that, whatever the weather now, summer always begins, life and creativity always persevere.  All that’s needed from us is to believe it.

The courage to press the button

She is often viewed as a goddess of death, witchcraft and the underworld, but to me, Hecate is also a goddess of choice, courage and transformation. Hecate is with us for the most important moments of our lives: she is the midwife that brings us into life, the Crone who guides us into death and the protectress watching over every crucial choice we make. She is a triple goddess, representing the phases of the moon and the major stages in women’s lives. And she is a goddess of the in-between: of crossroads, gates, borders and boundaries. She holds torches to illuminate the unconscious, protects us on journeys and from the chaos we sense outside.

When I visualise Hecate, I see a dark figure standing at the side of a lonely road. She is waiting to guide me on a journey.

For years, I wrote. My first memory of writing is sitting in a bus shelter in rainy darkness, re-writing the Nancy Drew mystery I’d just read. After that, I remember writing as a compulsion: stories, diaries, letters to pen-friends. I wrote constantly, but never had the confidence to call myself a writer.

I carried on writing as I went to university, trained as a librarian, set up my first home with my partner. And eventually, I wrote a novel. That was my first turning point as a writer, when I realised I had it in me to finish a novel. I began to submit stories to competitions and for publication, and though I wasn’t successful, I was taking myself seriously now. I became an ‘aspiring writer’, but still didn’t quite have the confidence to call myself a writer.

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Seven years ago, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We began a long journey of caring for her until her death in a hospice four years later. Those years blurred into one long round of endless visits, whether to hospitals, rehabilitation centres, hospices, or trying to care for her in her own home, while still working full-time and trying to have something of a life. During that time, I lost the ability to concentrate. Whereas previously, I lived with a book in my hand, I found that I didn’t have the concentration to read. My compulsion to write vanished, as I no longer had the concentration to put words together. I discovered a love of painting in place of words.

It’s just over two years since my mother died and I feel Hecate waiting for me at another of those crossroads. Very slowly, I’ve started to write again. I’ve had my first small writing successes, winning prizes in competitions. It’s time to return to the serious business of being a writer: to polish my novel after years of neglect, to write more short stories, to simply write. I now try to fit both writing and painting around a full-time job. Writing isn’t my primary job, but I do see it as my true work. And I finally have the confidence to call myself a writer.

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But it’s one thing to call myself a writer, and quite another to have the confidence to show my writing to the world – to have the courage to hit the ‘publish’ button. And this is where Hecate comes in: helping me to find the courage to cross the boundary between anonymity and owning myself. Harvesting Hecate is about harnessing a little of Hecate’s wisdom to illuminate the journey ahead of me.