Beltaine Blessings

This past Sunday ushered in the month of Beltaine (or Bealtaine, as it’s spelled on modern Irish calendars), and for the first time in a long while, we gathered in person at Glenwood Farm, EarthSpirit’s home in Western MA, to celebrate. More than 70 people joined us for the Sacred Land Walk and the Beltaine ritual. The day was glorious and warm, and we visited shrines, danced a Maypole ritual, sang, and shared food and conversation.

But not before burning away Old Man Winter. Kate Richardson led us by eulogizing the old codger, and then burned his effigy in the ritual fire. We share her eulogy with you here, and wish you the brightest of Beltaine Blessings!

Kate and Old Man Winter (photo by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen)

Eulogy for Old Man Winter 2022

We’re gathered here for a joyful occasion: to welcome the spring and the summer to come. But before we can do that with our whole beings, we have to dispose of the Winter that has passed. The old man that was Winter stands here before us in effigy, and we should take a moment to remember him before we dispatch him. As he burns away he can take with him any ill luck and bad feelings from the past season, leaving us free to celebrate what’s to come.
Each year between Samhain and Yule a new Winter is born. We welcome him with feasting and songs, gathering with friends and family to remind ourselves of the bonds of community which will keep us safe and warm through the hard and cold times. As this Winter drove us indoors, he still kept company with the pestilence of the last two years. Although the Rona seems now more ubiquitous but less deadly, it managed to sow discord, anxiety, illness and distress. We were reminded more than ever to take care of each other, even if that meant keeping a distance.
As the Winter reached maturity, going from Yule to Imbolc, he showed off his strength by biting the extremities of hopeful apple tree wassailers, and casting snow in the way of gatherings. And yet, for folk who can enjoy the outdoors, there was snow enough for skiing, and ice enough for ice fishing, as is right and proper for our climate.
Waning in strength after Imbolc, and on to the Vernal Equinox, he still maintained an imposing presence. But there were cracks in his mansion when warmer weather peeked a toe, a finger, a nose, through for just a moment. Winter gripped tight but the trees knew, the birds knew, that his end was coming. The sap flowed sweet, as it is supposed to. The snow and ice melted in the sunny places.
Finally, after Equinox, he came into his dotage, a cranky and unkempt being. The mud season he bequeathed us was the stuff of legends. He petulantly threw late-season frosts and snowfalls our way.
But now we declare that he is well and truly gone. Any lingering chills will be in his memory, and not from his presence. But let us not forget the lessons of Winter:

★ That we must turn to each other to get through the reign of tyrants with hope intact.
★ That we have strength and resilience, fed by songs and stories, by gathering and breaking bread together.
★ That we can get through tough conditions if we plan and prepare, and help each other out.
★ That kindness matters, and can counteract the cold.
★ That there can be great beauty in difficult conditions.

What lessons and blessings has the Winter brought to you?

All that said, we are properly glad to see him gone. He was cold and nasty, and we are ready for the warm and growing times. We may mock him for the bully and codger that he was, for he is gone, and we are all still here to see this turn to the warm times. Go ahead and make fun of him; this effigy will carry the bad words and feelings away. Then we will sing and dance our way to the tide of returning life, taking our place in the turning of the season’s wheel.

Kate Richardson, Beltaine 2022

Recommended Books for Yule

by Sarah Rosehill

At our December Stories of the Season event, we featured some wonderful books for Yule and the winter season that focus on nature and pagan traditions, and we wanted to share that list along with a few other favorites in a way that would be easy to find later!

Photo by Leah Kelly from Pexels

The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren (and the sequel, The Tomten and the Fox)
These lovely, lyrical stories are based on the poetry of Swedish Romanticist Viktor Rydberg and feature the Tomten (a little gnome-like being) going through a farm and reassuring the animals that spring will come. This one is appropriate as young as 2 and enjoyable for much longer.

Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven
This rhyming book tells about a baker who makes “sun bread: to lure the sun back to the skies after a long streak of wintery weather and includes a recipe you can try at home. (We did; it’s pretty good!) Also aimed at the preschool set, this has colorful illustrations of a town filled with animals of all types.

Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root
This story for young children tells of Grandmother Winter, who lives alone with her flock of geese, and how she makes and then shakes a quilt to bring the snow. It has beautiful illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Beth Krommes and shows what people do when the snow happens and then how Grandmother Winter passes the winter herself.

Cozy by Jan Brett
A musk ox grows a thick winter coat and several animal friends come to shelter in it through the winter, requiring an increasing number of “house rules” that will sound familiar to any parent: quiet voices, gentle thumping, claws to yourself. This book is a little longer and aimed at the 3-5 year old set. Other Jan Brett winter favorites in my family include The Mitten, which is a shorter story about animals climbing into a mitten to keep warm (and comes in a board book for toddlers!), and The Snowy Nap featuring a hedgehog who desperately wants to stay awake to see the winter.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
This meditative book follows a young child on her first owling trip with her father. It’s longer — probably best for kids 5-8 — and evokes a peaceful, flexible relationship with the natural world. Sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there’s not!

Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden
This longer book for early elementary schoolers tells the story of how the solstice and seasons came to be. The sun is lonely and finds a true friend, and then begins to spend more and more time out of the sky with his friend. When he realizes what he has done, his friend brings the problem to Grandmother Pine, who gives wise and measured advice.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
This is a beautiful illustrated version of the beloved poem: “And so the shortest day came and the year died/and everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world/came people singing, dancing/to drive the dark away.” We read it every year in my family!

Do you have a favorite we haven’t included here? We’d love your contributions to this list in the comments!