As we collectively shelter in place to slow the advance of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the world and the Wheel continue to turn. Spring is rolling around into summer (at least, in many places in the Northern Hemisphere), and we have come to that major pillar of the annual celebrations of many Pagans, May Day or Beltane, and the night before, which is known by many as Walpurgisnacht.
While we may not be able to conduct the usual festivities, we can still observe this Sabbath in all its richness while sheltering in place.
This ritual is a vigil: staying up all night either alone or with a partner or family. If you wish, you can sleep a few hours between the Walpurgisnacht elements and the May Day elements, but it’s good to be a bit sleep-deprived for May Day; it helps with being more emotionally open and vulnerable.
- Build a “bale fire” (Bel-fire), preferably in a safe outdoor location like a fire pit or cauldron, but if not, in a fireplace. Burn the dross from the previous year: list on slips of paper or index cards every single thing the past 12 months have brought that you are finished with and want to clear out of your awareness and life*, and burn them in the fire. Hooray! You are free of them!
- Enjoy your vigil fire, and keep it fed throughout the night (or until you plan to go to sleep). You can cast aromatic herbs or incense on the fire on occasion, or for an exciting burst of fire, a handful of non-dairy coffee creamer. Know that people have sat vigil over a Walpurgisnacht fire for many centuries.
- Make May wine for the next day: recipe here.
- Deep in the night (at least midnight), contemplate your face in a mirror by candlelight. See how you have changed over time, how you are still a growing and evolving person. Silently vow to grow, support, and care for yourself as the year unfolds. If anything more comes up that you want to be done with, throw that in the fire, too.
May Day activities:
- Watch the Sun rise. Here is some Morris dancing music; Morris dancers have been dancing up the Sun on May Morning for centuries, in perhaps its most Pagan and ancient form the spooky Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.
- While we may not be able to dance around a Maypole this year, we can still make a plant or flower crown if the materials are available; even a simple ivy crown is festive for the day.
- Have May wine…with breakfast! Float a berry or slice of ripe fruit in the wine and enjoy a special celebratory meal. Sit outside if you can, feel the Sun and the fresh air.
- Hang blessing ribbons in the trees where you live, with wishes for the coming cycle and the year’s harvest.
- If you have young children, play some kind of game and designate the winner the May Princess or May Prince (decide in advance what special privilege they have just for today!)
- Celebrate an online ritual. The Humanistic Paganism website has compiled a number of them for you to enjoy and participate in.
- Celebrate the season of sowing (and which many associate with sexuality) with some sacred sex: either with a partner(s) or by yourself. Or, if that’s not your thing, try some of these ideas.
- End the day with a feast dinner and a celebration of love and family.
We are sequestered and held apart from one another at a time when our traditions urge us to be together and loving. It’s hard for many of us. We are social creatures and being separate is not our natural state.
For myself, I hope these traditions and offerings have given you some ways you can enjoy May Day in these so-challenging times.
Love and the joys of the season to you!
*I do not recommend trying to include the coronavirus among this dross. We are far from finished with it—and vice versa—and if you “make yourself a liar” in this way it will undermine the effectiveness of the rest of the ritual.