welcoming the Fire Within the Fire

Sophia Blog for the Eve of Bealtaine

April 30, 2019

Waken before dawn. Rise quickly, dress, hurry outdoors. You’ll need to climb the hill near your cottage, to reach its top before sunrise. There, joined by friends and neighbours, you must gather dry sedge and sticks to prepare the Bealtaine Fire. It must be ready in time to greet the sun on this first day of May. For the quiet moon-time months of winter, the contemplative feminine time of nurturing seeds of new life, is ended. The active sunlit masculine time is here.

Once the fire is prepared, ready to be lighted at the first appearance of the rising sun, reach into the green plants around you, and draw forth the predawn dew. Wash your hands, your face in this magical mix of fire and water.

If you know where to find the holy well on the far side of the hill, go there now.

The Holy Well on the far side of the hill

Reach deep into its cold spring-fed waters and splash them over your body. Let yourself be soaked in water. Then turn to face the rising sun. You are enacting a sacred ritual, uniting the fire of the sun (masculine energy) and water (feminine energy).

These are the ways our Celtic Ancestors celebrated the Feast of Bealtaine on the first day of May. Now in our time, when we have such need of reconnection with the earth, such need of being held, healed, wholed in her embrace, these rituals are being recovered, rediscovered by scholars and spiritual guides, such as Dolores Whelan, author of Ever Ancient, Ever New.

The early Celtic Christians, whose faith was harmoniously united with the earth, chose to honour Mary with a crown of fresh blossoms as Queen of the May. Some of us may remember processions from the days of our childhood when we crowned Mary with flowers as we sang, “Bring flowers of the fairest, Bring flowers of the rarest, from garden and woodland and hillside and dale…”

The May 1st celebration of Bealtaine can still inspire our lives. For we, like the earth herself, find ourselves awakening to new possibilities, discovering shoots of green life within us even as we welcome their silent sudden appearance in the rain-soaked earth of our gardens.  

Just as the Bealtaine fires were used to purify the cattle that had spent the winter indoors, before they were released into the fields of summer, in our lives the Bealtaine fire can be a ritual cleansing of any negativity left over from winter. The fire can release us from all that would hold us back from a joyous re-entry into the time of blossoming.

The masculine fire energies of Bealtaine bring into the sun the feminine winter-moonlit dreams in which we reimagined the healing and the wholing of the earth and all of life.

As we welcome the sun’s fire, we also welcome the sacred fire that burns within us. In her magnificent poem, “The Fire Within the Fire of All Things”, Catherine de Vinck, a mystic of our own time, writes:

To start here in the mud of the rainy season

– the land’s ragged fabric coarse under the probing hand:

brittle sedge, lifeless vine, thorny twig of the vanished rose….

How far to the next road, to the house of many lamps?

How far to the other side, the place beyond history?

This is where it begins in this pattern, this path

corrugated with deep ruts

Where I wander in and out of step

through the zig-zags of idle thoughts

Here I advance, meeting the fox

a quick flame flaring among the reeds

I feel helpless dazed by such beauty

Then I say to myself: If I can shiver with joy

when the wind rises,  puffed up, full voiced

to later fall back quietly

folding itself pleat by soft pleat into a fluttering rag of air;

If I dance with happiness

at the sight of the circling hawk

knowing for a moment what it is to float over the swamp

in a robe of dark feathers;

and if I do hear the summons

hidden within the miracle of stones;

then I can name the holy

the Fire within the fire of all things.

Catherine de Vinck,  God of a Thousand Names (with the author’s permission)

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