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Sunday celebrates Beltane, or May Day, the third and last of the ancient Pagan fertility festivals. The first, Imbolc, is the first stirrings of the new season. The second, Ostara, celebrated at the spring equinox, recognizes spring has arrived. In many northern climates it is still too early to plant. Beltane would be the time when northern communities would be getting ready for their planting season.
Beltane is one of the two most important Sabbats, or Holy Days, of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It is the equal and opposite of its sister, Samhain, which is celebrated Oct. 31. Samhain is a somber occasion, where believers reflect on the end of life and honor those who have come before.
In contrast, Beltane recognizes the beginning of life. All of nature is renewing itself. The Earth is warming, turning green, fruit trees are blooming and animals are giving birth to their young.
Beltane, like Samhain, is a time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. At Samhain, it is believed that communication with the departed is easier. At Beltane, communication with the world of Faerie is possible.
The ancients saw the world around them awakening, wildflowers popping up all over, high spirits in everyone and felt the Faerie Folk were responsible, although stories and myths of interaction between humans and the fey were filled with adventure and frequently danger.
The origins of Beltane are Gaelic, although it was celebrated in most areas populated by the Celts, marking the beginning of the pastoral summer. Beltane is one of the Cross Quarters between the solstices and equinoxes.
One of the traditions is the lighting of bonfires, also known as balefires. Cattle and other livestock would be driven between two fires for purification and luck in the coming year.
Another old Pagan tradition is dancing the Maypole. A large pole is placed into the ground, topped with flowers and long ribbons held at the ends by dancers. As they dance around the Maypole the ribbons are woven into intricate designs. Others may add fresh flowers into the weaving.
There is also a tradition of having a May Queen and King to preside over the festivities. They may be chosen as a couple, selected by popular acclaim, elected or are the winners of some sort of competition.
Whichever method is used, they represent the male and female generative powers of nature. In Arthurian legend, depending on which one is being refered to, Arthur was born of a liaison of this sort. This may have accounted for his legendary, sometimes seemingly magical accomplishments.
With farming and livestock not having the importance they once had on a personal level, the focus of the celebration has evolved. Many times the energy of Beltane is directed at personal growth, starting a new project, a new career or any of a number of new beginnings.
Our Lady of the Woods will celebrate the Sabbat of Beltane at 2 p.m. Sunday at North Mesa Park. This event is free and open to the public. There will be a potluck after the festivities.