The Bard's Grove

"There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body."
Charles DeLint, The Onion Girl

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stories of the Earth: Beltane Fires

Happy Beltane!


                                 Earth Mother - Elana Gibeault
          The Celts considered Beltane, or May Eve, the beginning of summer and it is still celebrated with the building of bonfires on hillsides.  Beltane is the time in the Wheel of the Year when "sweet desire weds wild delight."   It is the season when the first glorious burst of Springtime causes our hearts to rejoice in life and love.  Our passion is born anew at Beltane.  We engage in the wild flow of life, regardless of our age.  Our blood pumps through our veins with renewed strength, our hearts open to delight and we become one with the blossoming Earth.
          It is in the 'lusty month of May' that our imaginations take flight with hope.  Perhaps this year. . . !  And so, we dance around the Maypole, weaving the energies of life and love, hope and expectation for the coming year.  We weave the feminine and masculine energies of Life and are renewed.  Amidst the flowering shrubs and birdsong, we too engage in the dance of light and life, calling forth ever greater light and deeper and fuller life.  The bonfires of Beltane give us back the light of hope, and when we jump through and over them, the fires cleanse us of any lingering winter darkness, and bring us luck and fertility.
          There are also many traditions that during Beltane, the veils between the worlds open and the Faerie Folk come out to dance and give their blessings.  Perhaps this belief contains a memory of a time when priestesses and shamans celebrated the opening of the veils between the worlds and the powers of the Earth took on form and walked amongst humans. . .

          Two women sat together as the darkness slowly dissolved the light.  In the twilight hour, the glowing green of new grass and tender new buds turned silvery-grey, while birds darting overhead through the stark tree branches brought flashes of bright color to the growing dark.  To the sounds of animals settling in for the night, the women sat there, breathing in the scent of Spring.  Behind them rose the Faerie Hill.
          As darkness filled the wooded valley, and silence spread her silken wings, the women, alone of all the creatures there, kept watch; one with her eyes closed, the other with hers opened.  They sat there, enfolded in the sweet-smelling darkness, awaiting moonrise. 
          In the darkness, the Mother sat remembering.  Sinking into the silence of the night, she sank down into the silence of her heart.  The painful memories took shape like a dense, gray fog in her mind, only to shred and blow away with the coming of Joy.  For lo!  her daughter, who had been lost, was found again!  The memory and the joy flew through her like a burst of lightning, which broke into myriad pieces and created a universe of stars in the darkness behind her eyes.
          As for the Maiden, she sat in the growing darkness, sharpening her eyes on the shadowy shapes gathering around her.  As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, her ears attuned themselves to the night.  The quiet rustlings of the night forest gave way to the quicksilver melody of a stream leaping and tumbling on the forest floor, while nightingales sang from over on the other side of the rounded hill.   Looking at her mother, the daughter knew a moment of wonder.  Something she thought lost forever was found again.   At peace, she shifted her gaze to the starry heavens.  The pressure of the light was building on her skin, and she looked to the East for the rising of the Moon.
          The silvery shaft of light, flung down from the heavens, cut through the trees to fall on the Faerie Hill.  Now, the sound of moonlight falling on a Faerie Hill is indescribable; it’s as if the most delicate bells are set ringing by the most delectable breezes of Spring.  Both Mother and Maiden let the sound wash over them like a waterfall before they turned to look at each other with identical smiles.  So it began!
       The music of the light and of the night wove strange melodies, tossed by the playful winds high above the forest, only to sink down through the unfurling leaves to dance on the new green grass of the hill behind them.  Mother and Maiden stood in reverence to greet the Moon Mother as her light flowed through the forest and shone upon them in blessing.  When the Moon rose above the trees, they turned toward the Faerie Hill.   And waited.
       As they waited, they added their voices to the wind's melody.  There in the glowing dark, Nature’s song called out through the veils to the Invisible Powers, to the Shining Ones.  The song deepened and swelled, and with arms outstretched to send the call forth, the two women watched as the veils between the worlds began to fray and shred like mist dissolving in the morning light.
          The Faerie Hill appeared to split open from within, and light poured out of the rift, brighter than the moonbeams that danced through the dark forest.  A hidden Sun shone forth from the other side of the veil, and as the two women watched, it took shape as a Tree, a great shining Tree of crystal light, with its roots sunk in the Faerie Hill and its branches reaching to the heavens.
          The Tree glimmered with all the colors of the rainbow as the winds of the Otherworld blew through its branches.  Yet as the music of the faerie bells drifted down to the women, the mother thought that she heard another sound.  Tuning her ears to the silence within her, she heard the deep note of a drumbeat, sustained and hidden beneath the enchantment of the bells.
          With each drumbeat, the great Tree put forth leaves of silver and of gold, until a great canopy of brilliant light hung overhead.  And then, as if the Tree could no longer contain the very fullness of the light within itself, a flash of lightning shot out from it into our world, and a fire flared up among the dead limbs the women had gathered together.
          Now the women tended the fire and watched the Tree.  The drumbeat became the sound of thunder in the night sky, and the fire burned with the brightness of the Tree.  As the women watched and listened, they both grew still as they felt a Presence approaching.  Through the rift, flying on strong breezes, came flocks of different birds; small wrens and robins, brilliantly colored parrots, white swans and stately egrets, fierce hawks and majestic eagles.  All the birds of the air came as the vanguard of the Mighty One who followed, Lord of the Air, Guardian of the Dawn, He who gives the breath of life to all living beings.
          With Him came One who wore the light of Heaven upon her face.  The stars formed themselves into a cloak around her, and her eyes where dark with the wisdom of the Universe.  As these two passed through the veils, the women saw justice tempered with mercy on the Lord of Life’s face and felt safe; when the Queen of Heaven looked down upon them, they knew the face of Love and were content.  Then these two Mighty Ones passed on into the woods.
          Next passed One who took the form of a mounting green wave, foam-crested and shimmering in watery blue-greens, and with Him flowed the music of all the waters which sing upon the Earth.  Within the waters, the women saw the wildness of ocean waves, the rolling flow of rivers, the silence of a hidden forest pool, the roaring of sleek waterfalls, and the bubbling up of springs.  As this Mighty Presence passed by, the women were engulfed by the wave, and emerging, were washed clean by its joyful life.
          With a laugh, shaking out their hair, the women went to tend the fire.  As they watched the flames lick at the wood, they felt a trembling underfoot.  Turning, they saw a gnarled, gnome-like being pulling his leg out of the dark soil of the Faerie Hill at the point where the rift emerged from the Earth.  Their laughter bubbled up once again like a spring-fed well, coming out of their deep joy and delight.  For the Being was clothed in browns and greens, and brought to mind the damp coolness and musty smells of fertile earth and forest tracks.  He turned to them with a deep-throated laugh, and reaching down into the hole, began pulling up a wealth of gemstones and metal objects, each one a creation of rare and astonishing beauty.  The Master Craftsman looked at the beauty he had created, and then lifting his arms, he gave a whistle. Soon the women heard the noise of many feet, and saw a procession of men, women and children come through the trees and one by one accept one of the Master's creations.  When He had given away all his store, the procession continued on into the forest, the gifts of the Master Craftsman held with reverence and honor at heart and breast.
Queen of Earth -- Elana Gibeault    

          When the women turned back to the rift, they stared in wonder and delight, for there by the ragged veils came One who brought with Her the green livingness of the Earth.  Dressed in a glorious robe of green, She carried within herself the forms of all the countless lives that grow upon the Earth.  The Mother saw trees the size of towers in forests long forgotten, and the flowering blossoms of trees that would soon bear sweet fruits.  The Maiden saw soft dark moss growing over stones, and the secret life which moved the growth of corn and reeds, of root and stalk.  As the Queen of Earth passed by, She handed each woman a seed, and blew her breath upon their brows in blessing.
          All this while the fire burned on and the thunder rumbled overhead, and the breezes, carrying moisture from the brook, swirled around the eddies of the flames, and teardrops fell onto the burning wood.  The women stood watching the fire sizzle and crackle.  And then a great and gentle Spirit stood over them, wrapping them both in sorrow and pity and in endurance.  With the Sorrowful Mother came hope and the wisdom that understands that life grows through suffering and sacrifice.  A sudden breath of wind stirred the fire, and it blazed up to the sound of thunder until it seemed to consume the whole world. 
          Looking up with a new rarified sight, they saw they were surrounded by countless forms of exotic grace and beauty, swaying to the music that floated on the night breezes that swept across the boundary of the worlds.  And before they had time to wonder where all those Shining Folk had come from, they were swept away in a wild dance.  All through the night they danced around the magical Tree, weaving strands of energy and light into patterns which echoed their dancing steps.  The light seemed to come from the Shining Ones themselves, as if each individual created a part of the pattern of the whole.  And then, far into the night, the Mother looked into the eyes of her dancing partner, and saw her fate written there. 
          But it was to the Maiden that the Shining Ones now turned their gazes.  In the sudden silence, the Queen of Earth stepped into the circle and, taking the Maiden by the hand, brought her to stand in the center of their magic circle.  And spreading her arms over the girl, She bestowed the blessings of the growing green upon her in a shower of emerald crystals.  Next, the Queen of Heaven laid her starry robe around the girl's shoulders, and kissed her on the lips.  And finally, the Dark Queen came to bind the Maiden's hands, for sorrow is ever a companion on the Way. 
          Fading now into the background, the Shining Ones beheld their chosen Queen of May.  And with solemn and stately steps, they wove the strands of life and love, of fertility and death, of light and darkness around her.  They bestowed upon her the blessings of the Other Worlds.
          Then once again the Tree stood forth, growing in both this world and in all the others.  The drumbeat called to the thunder, and soon small clouds gathered in the grayness before dawn.  Under the light of the Tree, the grass grew greener and the air grew fresher, as the breezes of dawn swept through the glade.  The ghostly dancers silently faded into the morning mists, until only the mother and daughter waited, feeling the heat of the rising Sun reflected in the fire at their feet.  The Moon, having travelled the heavens throughout the night, sent her last rays soaring high upon the leaves of the Tree in that Otherworld, so that the lights of both blended, the silver and the gold.  And the music of that blending sent a shiver of delight and a sweetness flaming through the forms of the Earth, so that all was renewed and reborn.
          As the sweet delight of that music swept through the women, the Sun rose.  A golden shaft of light speared the heart of the fire, re-awakening the glowing embers to life.  The daughter fed the fire and smiled to herself, for she understood the fire and its need.  And reaching down, she placed the Earth Mother's seed in the midst of the flames.  Then she looked up to see her mother smiling down at her.  A moment more and she found herself in her mother's arms.  She was kissed with great love and tenderness, and then her mother turned away from her, swiftly stepping into the rift, which was slowly closing in the light of the new day.  The last of the Shining Ones had slipped through the glowing rift already, and her mother had chosen to follow him.
          Yet still her mother held the veils opened, as a shadowy form slipped around her body and ran to the foot of the Faerie Hill.  The Maiden cast one last loving look at her mother, then saw her body dissolve in the crystal light of the Tree.  And then the Tree and the light were gone. With a crack of thunder, the hillside closed.
          Now the Maiden looked at the form standing silent and still on the hillside.  The dark silhouette of a man, strong and broad-shouldered, looked back at her.  The Sun's beams moved up well-shaped legs and torso, until his dark eyes and strong face were lit with a golden glow.  In his eyes, she read a love of the Earth and of growing things, a desire to defend the lands that he loved, and the will to hunt down all that was hurtful to that life.  And as she looked deeper, she saw herself as he saw her, and knew that she was loved and desired.
          With stately steps, he came to her, and taking her hand in his, he kissed her.  And then he gave a glad shout!  And as his shout rang out through the morning air, the Maiden and the Man walked hand and hand into the forest.  Where she walked, the Maiden left behind a trail of flowers - blue forget-me-nots, red anemones and purple pansies.  With the Man came the animals of that place - the stag, the fox, the wolf, the bear.  Soon their laughter floated through the moist morning air, smelling of sweet desire and wild delight!
          While thunder rolled to the beat of the drum, clouds swept in to cover the morning Sun. Soft rains fell like music on delicate leaves and drowned in rich, dark soil.  And the drops quenched the fires of Beltane, so they might water the seeds both Mother and Maiden had set in the heart of the fire.  And the Faerie Hill grew green with life.

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