Tomorrow, apart from being the anniversary of my dad’s birthday, is Beltane and/or Walpurgisnacht. “Wait”, you say. “Isn’t that May first?” Well, yes, except that you have to remember that the ancients started their day at sundown. So sundown on April 30th (by our calendar) starts the first day of May.
Both Beltane and Walpurgisnacht have their roots in antiquity, celebrating the arrival of Spring weather-wise. To the Celts, Beltane was the beginning of the pastoral season when livestock were herded to their summer pastures. It is a fire festival, and bonfires were/are used in purification rites. It’s a time when the veil between the worlds is thin (being opposite Samhain) and bonfires were also thought to keep the Otherworld at bay.
Walpurgisnacht has similar roots in the Germanic areas of Europe, although it is named after Saint Walpurga, whose holy day coincided with the Vikings’ spring festival. (Christians of old had a tendency to combine their holidays with the existing pagan ones. This is no exception.) They, too, built bonfires to keep the Otherworldly spirits away (or on a more practical note, to keep predators from livestock).
It’s interesting (at least to me) that this celebration seems to have more in common with Bacchanalia than a solemn ritual. In many areas of Europe it was a day for fertility rites – c’mon, think about the significance of the “May Pole” ;)! Nowadays it’s an excuse for a huge party. As a matter of fact, in Estonia, May 1st is known as “Hangover Day”. I’ve read historical books whose accounts state that after dipping into the proverbial keg one too many times, the party turned into an orgy and a lot of babies were born right around Imbolc!
If you choose to do a ritual acknowledging this night, be sure to incorporate herbs associated with the fire element. Some of the more readily-available are: Onion, Garlic, Cashew, Pineapple, Angelica, Wormwood, Frankincense, Copal, Calendula, Cinnamon, Dragon’s Blood, Asafoetida, Witch Hazel, St. John’s Wort, Mandrake, Peppermint, Olive, Rosemary, Rue, Ginger … the list goes on (2 pages in my notebook – contact me if you need a more complete listing). You can burn them as incense, passing both yourself and ritual items through the smoke as purification, make a “tea” and use it as a wash for the same purpose, or drink your “tea” for internal purification.
If you really want to celebrate, drink gin, which is made from Juniper berries. Juniper is also a Fire herb! (Since I don’t live in Estonia meaning I’ll have to work on Friday, I think I’ll pass.)
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