Blessed Beltane and Happy Orthodox Easter!

Blessings bright on this beautiful, summery (here in Chicago, we’re looking at bright sunshine and temps in the mid-80s again!) Beltane and Eastern Orthodox Easter Sunday! As my friend Szmeralda observed, “You’ve got double the magic!” in my household as dual-faith observances, begun on Friday, continue. 

Summer is a-comin’ in!

As I relayed to my coven mates last night, the Sun’s annual transit through Taurus (especially when Venus is also transiting Her Sign of Fixed Earth) is my favorite time of year, even overtaking the love I have for the period leading up to Samhain. This season expresses Empress card energy: the joy of the greening earth and the celebration of the abundance that is here and the abundance that is to come. My favorite public rituals have been Beltane ones; the occasion just demands outdoor seasonal celebrating, and I have racked up decades worth of memories of beautiful Beltanes in both Hawaii and here in Illinois.

I’ll never forget erecting a massive bamboo Maypole in Honolulu’s Kapiolani Park for a massive public Beltane ritual in 2006. My High Priest for the ritual, a wonderful fellow named Kevin who just happened to be a renowned English Morris Dancer, brought an English-Hawaiian fusion to the Sabbat celebration. May 1 in Hawaii is Lei Day, so the profusion of flowers as symbols of potent Goddesses of Spring takes on a lovely Hawaiian flavor (in case you didn’t already know: a chaplet of lei flowers has to be placed upon you by someone else as an expression of aloha; you don’t place the lei upon yourself).

If you’ve never danced around a Maypole before, it’s something to be experienced: a delightful mix of chaos and order, symbolized by the intertwining ribbons and the unsure feet of the dancers. Raucous laughter is inevitable!

magick afoot

One of my favorite songs to sing together as a group just prior to the commencement of this dance is this traditional English ballad called “The Maying Song”:

ALL:
Unite and unite

And let us all unite

For Summer’s a-comin’ today

And whither we are going, we all will unite

In the merry morning of May

WOMEN:
I warn you, young men,

Every one:
For Summer’s a-comin’ today

To go to the Greenwood and fetch you May home

In the merry morning of May

MEN:
O rise up, our Queen,

All in Your gown of silk,

For Summer’s a-comin’ today

And all Your body under’s as white as any milk

In the merry morning of May

WOMEN:
O rise up, our King,

And joy You betide

For Summer’s a-comin’ today

And bright is the Bride Who sits by Your side

In the merry morning of May

ALL:
Now fare you well

We bid you all good cheer

For Summer’s a-comin’ today

We’ll call your house once more, before another year

In the merry morning of May!

Beltane, of course, is considered in Wiccan belief going back to Gerald Gardner to be one of the Four Greater Sabbats. Its Celtic origins as a fire festival (the festival’s name derives from a Celtic Fire or Solar Deity named Belenus or Belenos) mark it to be the traditional reckoning of the start of Summer. (This is why June 21 is known as “Midsummer.”) The opposite pole of the axis on this Year-Wheel paradigm is Samhain, the traditional Celtic date of the start of Winter.

This two-season calendar of the ancient Celts is something the ancient Slavs held in common, strangely enough: Summer begins in early May and winter begins in early November. Both cultures traditionally were pastoral societies before the industrialization of agriculture, so the two-season calendar definitely had vital importance for the releasing of livestock to pasture for the summer months and the gathering and the culling of herds in early November to ensure communities’ survival through the long, dark winters of meagre resources. 

In the Serbian calendar (it follows the older Julian one instead of the Gregorian calendar most of the Western world has adhered to since 1582, which is why its calendar dates for Christmas and Easter diverge for at least two weeks from Western Christendom) since Eastern Orthodox Christianity was adopted in the 10th century CE (Common Era), the year is divided between St. George’s Day (May 6) as the start of summer and St. Demetrios’ Day (November 8) as the start of winter. I’ve written extensively on the parallels or cultural overlap between certain aspects of Celtic Pagan observances of Beltane and contemporary Serbian observances of St. George’s Day, so I will not dive into that content again here, but suffice it to say the echoes between the two cultures resonate very strongly today, May 2, 2021, because the date of Eastern Orthodox Easter happens to fall upon the Celtic Feast of Beltane! So yes, in my house, we’ve got our eggs dyed red and have ensured the faeries/our beloved dead have been fed!

 

The Beltane-Samhain Axis: Sex and Death and the Loosening of the Boundaries Between the Mortal Realm and the Otherworld

The Beltane-Samhain axis, astrologically, is the Zodiacal opposition between the energies of Taurus and Scorpio. When the Sun transits Taurus in late April to early May, the full moon that occurs during that period is a Scorpio full moon (a full moon in a given month is always the exact opposite of the Sign the Sun is transiting). The full moon we had last Monday night, the 26th of April, was a Scorpio Full Moon, which brought to the forefront of our consciousness all the Scorpio-ruled, intense-to-the-point-of-being-obsessive (a Scorpionic trait if ever there was one!) 8th House themes of sex and death, destruction and rebirth. The Scorpio full moon energy during the Sun’s transit of Taurus reminds us that amidst the 5th House Taurus-ruled pleasures of romance, partying, and taking it easy, death is ever amongst us, shadowing Life Force energy.

Conversely, Samhain occurs, of course, during the time of year when the Sun transits Scorpio, and the full moon during those late October or early November days is a Taurus full moon, bringing to mind the fact that amidst the Death energy that is dominant in the waning of the year, life stirs in the Cauldron of Renewal. It’s symbolized, in Irish myth, by the fact that the dreaded War Goddess, the Morrighan, wades into the Boyne River (a place that is not a place) at Samhain (a time that is not a time, poised between the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new) to mate with the Dagdha, the club-wielding “Good God” (meaning that He is good at everything He does!). Amidst the season of slaughter (again, livestock were butchered to ensure communities’ survival in the lean winter months), sex happens. 

You can’t have death without Life Force energy.

You can’t have Life Force energy without death energy.

That interconnectedness fueling All That Is resonates powerfully not just at Samhain, but at Beltane, too.

 

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Curiously, going back to Serbian St. George’s Day customs, the dead have to be appeased on the Saturday that precedes St. George’s Day, the start of Summer! One of the two major Days of the Dead in the year (the other falling, you guessed it, before the start of Winter beginning with St. Demetrios’ Day in November), observing this custom of the Zadušnice  (All Souls’ Day) is seen as being of vital spiritual importance to the well-being of any Serbian family.

We hold special Requiem Masses for the dead (both in church and graveside Masses) and make certain ritual foods: the staple of žito, a boiled wheat dish, is a ritual must, along with whatever foods your beloved dead family members enjoyed eating in life. Those food items are all blessed prior to bringing them to your loved ones’ graves, and the custom is to hold a picnic (weather permitting), the living and the dead eating together! (If they’re buried far away, you place the food before their photos on your family ancestor altar at home.)

As in various Celtic cultures (Welsh, Irish, Scottish, Cornish, Basque, Bretagne) and even in far northern European/Scandinavian countries, in Serbian/Slavic folk belief, there’s a slippery boundary between where the human dead leave off and the faerie folk (called Vile [pronounced VEE-leh] in Serbian) begin. Often times, the female water spirits known as rusalke (plural) are thought to be the souls of human women who drowned while they were pregnant or who drowned unbaptized or both. They’re lonely beings and they crave male human company in particular, some handsome but hapless traveler who comes too perilously close to shore to drag down beneath the waves.

Rusalka

Rusalka by Konstantin Vasililjev

Typically, Vile are beautiful, slender, and very fair-skinned to the point of being chalk-white (a tell-tale affiliation with the dead, known as the “pale people”); they always wear white. They’re not “little people” the way that some Faery folk have suffered relegation to diminutive stature post-Christianization in Celtic countries (like the pixies of Cornwall), but are said to be the stature of human beings, if not taller and more grand (like the Sidhe of Irish lore). Like their Celtic cousins, Slavic Vile are known for their love of music and dance: they dance the kolo circle dance in Serbian folk tradition counterclockwise, another indication of their association with the human dead (we have a folk dance for the dead called mrtvački kolo, the “kolo belonging to the dead.”) My father actually claims to have seen Vile dancing when he was nine years old, on the outskirts of his village of Gorni Milanovac: he was with his aunt at the time, twilight on a balmy summer night, and he observed that no grass or vegetation ever grew again on the diameter of the circle where the Vile tread their kolo dance!

Dance, dance in the month of May
Dance, dance with the Queen of Fae
Oh my sisters, dance and sing
Dance around the faery ring
 
Celebrate the return of light
Dance, dance in the warm sunlight
Oh my brothers, dance and sing
Dance around the faery ring
 
Dance, dance when the moon is bright
Dance, dance in the pale starlight
Sisters and brothers, dance and sing
Dance around the faery ring!

–A song we sang in my Garderian coven 20 years ago(!); author unknown

Serbian Easter, Celtic Beltane 

One surefire way to make those toe-tapping Vile scatter is to ring the church bells on Easter Morning, announcing the Resurrection of Christ with the verbal greeting of “Hristos Voskrese!” / “He is Risen!” The person you greet automatically replies with: “Vajstinu Voskrese!” / “Truly, He is Risen!”

These phrases are endlessly repeated in the Divine Liturgy/Mass service (would you be willing to stand on your feet for over two hours? ‘Cause that’s what an Orthodox Mass on Easter would have you endure!), and at the end of the service, along with obtaining your piece of the Communion Bread (Anafora in Serbian), the Bishop or Deacon or other ceremonial Hierophant leading the service dispenses, into your outstretched and welcoming hands, your talismanic red dyed Easter egg.

My parents taught me a long time ago that the church-bestowed egg you obtain at the end of Mass on Easter morning shouldn’t be eaten: it needs to be kept as the čuvar kuća, the Watcher of the House, preferably on or very close to where the family ancestor altar is located. This talismanic egg is thought to ward off the Evil Eye and other disasters that might befall the house.

Families are encouraged to dye their own red eggs as well (it’s a special dye; we get ours from a Greek grocer who imports it from Greece). I like adopting this custom for my Polytheistic Pagan practices because it ties into my heritage and I have found over the years that many Gods and spirits enjoy being given these red eggs as offerings. 

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Whether Western Christian or Eastern Orthodox Christian, all symbols of Easter are Pagan!

My heart swells with gratitude on this day that does, indeed, have me feeling doubly blessed. To all who celebrate Beltane, have a glorious Sabbat: Hail, the Queen of the May! To Orthodox Christians welcoming the Good News of the Resurrection, “Hristos Voskrese!” or “Christos Anesti!” (The latter is Greek.) 

Either way, this is a day to celebrate! Blessings bright! 

3 thoughts on “Blessed Beltane and Happy Orthodox Easter!

  1. Summer reigns on Earth from the day of St. George (“Farmer, husbandman, of Gaia) Ge + Ergon (work) = farmer) – until the day of St. Demetrios (Lover of the Earth, Follower /worshipper/child of Demeter). Perfect for a Beltane column!

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  2. Summer reigns on Earth from the day of St. George (“Farmer, husbandman, of Gaia) Ge + Ergon (work) = farmer) – until the day of St. Demetrios (Lover of the Earth, Follower /worshipper/child of Demeter). Perfect for a Beltane column! While many focus on Taurus and Scorpio, the astral ‘figures’ in oppositional play are also the ancient constellations Orion & Ophiuchus, (Osiris & Sokar, Dionysos & Asklepios, Frigga & (¿serpent bound Loki?). They are the Hunter and the Healer, the Judge (Hierophant) and the Resurrection or Rebirth (Judgment).

    Ariadne’s Crown was a gift from Dionysus; we call it Corona Borealis, it’s located North (above) the Serpent head (Serpens Caput). Lyra & Vega (attributed to Maat, Nekhbet, Gula, Bau, Sarasvati, Amaterasu, Rapanui ), Serpens Caput/Serpens Cauda is held by Ophiuchus who has a foot on the head of the Scorpion, Antares (alpha Scopionis). Canis Major (Sirius), Canis Minor (Procyon), and Lepus are close to Orion from our view here on earth. Ariadne is a strong Divine Feminine archetype and influence in the Scorpio region, the feet and train of Virgo’s gown are “in Scorpio”, while Sirius/Sopdet, the Hyades, the Pleiades, and Bellatrix (gamma Orionis) represent the Divine Feminine in & near Orion.

    * My mom & I used to color eggs by boiling onion skins, yielding an orange to red to beige/brown color, but always a red or golden tone was achieved. It’s easy to accumulate them over the course of a year! Beets & beet juice work well, too.

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    • My dad wanted to use boiled onion skins at first to dye the eggs, as that’s what we did my entire childhood, but he caved and went to Brilliakis Imports in Niles and got the dye there, for which I was glad. (Their cookies are amazing too! And much less expensive than the cafes in Greektown.) 🙂

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