Where do we seek healing and renewal when the comforts we usually turn to are the very things that are harming us — when gathering together for the holidays and singing songs and sharing food might actually make us sick? It is not only the elements of fire and air that can cleanse and heal. When these are out of balance, we can turn to the heavier, cooler, "darker" elements of water and earth to seek out healing.
"Red as blood, white as snow, black as a raven's wing…." These three colors appear again and again in folklore the world over, but why? What is it about this triad that exerts such power on our collective imaginations?
We might try to follow where the clown leads, but we cannot hope to pin him down. It is only when we stop insisting that the clown be just one thing that he is free to become the multiplicity of being that he really is.
I try to answer an intriguing question put forward in an essay by Sionnach Gorm:
"How do we, as devout polytheists, reconcile the historic reality that our ancestors (at some point in the 5th-6th century CE and with no evidence of coercion) chose to turn to a god of bells and tonsures, of monks and scriptures, of Rome and the Papacy? Why would they 'abandon' the gods of their ancestors, and choose this newfangled Christ and his missionaries?"
"One day I am sweet, another day I am sour," says the Irish trickster god Manannan mac Lir in his guise as the disheveled traveling buffoon whose hat is full of holes and whose shoes squish with puddle water when he walks. Manannan appears in folktales sometimes as a buffoon and sometimes as a richly dressed bard of talent and renown. When he is a buffoon, his words are sweet and his music sweeter; when he is a master of his craft, he comes off as a fake and an ass. When he is at home, he is a king whose otherworldly castle is thatched with white birds' wings. But the half-thatched homes of the mortal bards will never be complete. While the poets are away gathering their feathers, the winds have already swept away the last day's work.
Which is the real god? The king, the poet, or the wandering buffoon? Which is the real writer? Which is the real me?
Now it is the end of autumn, I lay my body down.
A hush. The hill is still humming with the day's warmth, the sun sinking into the far shore of the lake. For a moment, I can see it, as though with other eyes, submerged, rippling beneath the waters in arcing liquid wings of flame and dusk, flexing, alternating, a thousand of them, wings sprouting from the round, warm body settling into the depths. Then the vision is gone.
I creep silently along the shore, my bare feet numb and rustling through the long, dried grasses of autumn. The mud is moist and rough on my soles, each step sending echoes of energy sliding up my calves.
The significance of Beltaine reaches beyond merely being an agricultural festival focused on fertility and fecundity in service to the community, with romance acting as a bit of grease we can indulge in now and then to keep the Wheel turning. The holy day at the height of spring is also a day of ecstasy in the original sense, a day on which the attraction of life-force can pull us beyond ourselves and into communion with a larger Mystery, beyond tensions that might keep us too rigidly locked into unhealthy or hampering community bonds once they have outlasted their benefit.
Along with Samhain, the other hinge of the year, Beltaine serves as a liminal time, a time of thresholds and permeable boundaries. The great ecstatic mysteries of sex and death dominate both these holy days.