Bealtaine and the Faerie Tree
May 1st is Bealtaine (Irish for Beltane, literally “bright fire”), the first day of summer on the Celtic calendar. The energy of this sacred day is bright, expansive, and sensual. Traditionally the Bealtaine fire was lit on the Hill of Uisneach and carried from there to a unifying “web of fires” throughout the land. This tradition has been revived in the annual Festival of the Fires.
Bealtaine is six months from Samhain (Hallowe’en). On both sacred days, the veil between the physical world and the realm of the spirits is thin. At Bealtaine, the door opens to the realm of the Sidhe, the “Shining Ones,” commonly known as the faerie folk; at Samhain, to the realm of those who have passed on.
Last Bealtaine Eve, I flew home from a twelve-day trip to Ireland during which I visited the home of some of my Irish ancestors in West Cork and participated in the 2012 Gathering of the Shamans. The purpose of the Gathering, led by John Cantwell and Karen Ward of Slí an Chroí (Pathway of the Heart), was to create a healing medicine bundle or mála naofa for the Earth through a series of rituals at sacred sites in the Boyne Valley north of Dublin.
One of the first events at the Gathering was the Faerie Rites on the bank of the little lake at Dunderry Park in County Meath. The purpose of the Rites was to open us more fully to connection and communication with the Sidhe. The next morning in meditation, I encountered a tall, thin being of light who immediately challenged the fear and judgment that has long blocked me from contacting the Sidhe. “Who do you think you are to decide whether or not I exist?” I realized I needed to open my heart to them and felt a tiny Sidhe curled up next to it that day as we visited the Faerie Tree on the Hill of Tara.
At the end of the Gathering, after a fourteen-hour plane ride, I arrived home tired from traveling, lack of sleep and a week of intense ritual activity and interaction. As soon as I walked into the front yard I looked at the large hawthorn next to the driveway and knew that it was a faerie tree – something I had not been able to see in the 21 years since we moved here.
The slight sore throat I felt that night soon turned into a raw wound painful enough to silence me – and then I developed pneumonia. The spirits took me completely out of my everyday life for weeks to allow me to rest and integrate the powerful experiences I had with the land, people and spirits of Ireland and my own ancestors.
On May 3, I asked for a dream that would show me the path to healing. The next morning I dreamed:
I am in a group presenting gifts to the Faerie Tree. The gifts are pieces of cloth. I need to present 3 different gifts, and each time I wear a different dress and pair of shoes. One pair of shoes is like sandals made of woven reeds. The last dress is yellow, very fitted, also made of a material like finely woven reeds. In this dress I look like Eimear (woman who participated in the gathering in Ireland).
I knew that Martha and I needed to perform a ritual to honor our Faerie Tree, inspired by the dream. When I finally recovered, the tree was in full bloom. We prepared strips of cloth (the traditional “clooties” that Celtic folk tie on faerie trees and near sacred wells) in four colors: yellow for east, red for south, blue for west, and green for north. We found outfits in each color and decided that the three gifts would be oats, milk and chocolate. For each direction, we wore the appropriate outfit, drummed and rattled, invoked the spirits, tied on the cloths of that color, and made our offerings. Then we changed clothes and came back out to call the next direction. It was powerful and also delightfully fun.
On Bealtaine, how can you ignite the “bright fire” in your life? What might you do to honor and connect with the Sidhe?