Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lá Fhéile Bealtaine shona daoibh



Notch-peaf, or heliotrope phacelia, Mojave Desert, near Ivanpah

When I was a child, my grandmother always bade me wash my face in the May morning dew. Something to do with the fairies and the Otherworld. In this way culture was transmitted. Mayday was the one day we were allowed to bring a branch of the sacred hawthorn into the house. We had two trees she planted below the house. They didn't thrive in the California heat. But each spring, they blossomed, one red, and and one white. In Bantry, her father drove cattle between bonfires, and sent Catherine wheels down the hill. They weren't wheels, but whiskey barrels filled with tar. He lit and rolled them down the hill from the farm at Coom anÓr. This evening commemorates when the dark half of the year dies and the bright half of the year begins. My grannie was always quick to point out that Beltaine began on the eve of May 4. Not May 1. Somehow, the West Corkonians kept track of the old ways, counting the Cross Quarter days, despite the shift in the Gregorian calendar. She also said Bel/Beal was the god of light, he was not related to Balor, who was a solar god, like Lugh. She said May had to do with the arrival of summer, hence Bel's fires. Bal-ti-mor, who knew the American city was named after the fire god of May? Once I was chosen to crown the statue of the Virgin Mary with a pink rosebud wreath—we sang to the fairest Queen of the May. How did the Virgin Mary become associated with May? In school we wove May baskets of colored paper, and filled them with flowers then left them on neighbors' doorsteps. We also sang A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket... It was a day of hair ribbons and frilly dresses with long sashes. At school, we danced around the Maypole. Such magic was afoot, we were giddy with delight. Then the Lagunitas school board declared it pagan. They feared it was tainted with paganism and the the ever-present threat of Communism was a sub-text. We were devastated, of course. Something in us died that day. Something of wonder, something of beauty. They couldn't hear our distress call. mayday, mayday.  ... ---...  A small sliver of culture went down with the ship that day.



from a Facebook memory
added & rev. 4/1/2016 

Bealtaine (be-all-tin-a) from the Irish, meaning ‘Bright Fire’ 

My story on Mayday


original post:
Lá Fhéile Bealtaine shona daoibh
When I was a child, my grandmother bade me wash my face in the May morning dew. It was the one day we were allowed to bring the sacred hawthorne into the house. Her father drove cattle between bonfires, and sent Catherine wheels down the hill. Not wheels, whiskey barrels filled with tar were rolled down the hill at Coom anOr. My grannie was always quick to point out that Beltaine began on the eve of May 4. Somehow, the West Corkonians kept track despite the Gregorian calendar. She also said Bel/Beal was the god of light, NOT related to Balor. Bel's fires. I was chosen to crown the statue of the Virgin Mary with a pink rose wreath—we sang Queen of the May. In school we made May baskets filled with flowers and left them on neighbors' doorsteps. We also sang A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket...and danced around the Maypole, of course. Then school officials declared it pagan. We were devastated, of course.


Wildflower, Ivanpah Valley. Notch-leaf, or heliotrope phacelia (Phacelia crenulata) in the borage family. Heliotrope was one of my grannie's favorite flowers. Didn't realize it was related to phacelia.

No comments: