Songs for Beltane

Beltane is both the most complicated and the easiest holiday to celebrate.

For my family it is usually overshadowed by the folk traditions of my husband’s village in South Bohemia. There the entire village gathers on the green and builds a 100-foot maypole and a monstrous bonfire, In which they burn scarecrows that they call "witches." Then everyone gets drunk.

Beltane dance poem meme.jpg

It’s fun and very simple. There are no words spoken by the mayor or anyone else. Ostensibly there is no meaning to this holiday. If asked, some of the older people in the village will tell you that the witches burned on the bonfire are not meant to symbolize real witches, such as people who are outcast in the village. Rather they symbolize “the witch of winter.”  But that is the end of any meaning ascribed to the day. 

And that is where it gets complicated for me.

I haven't truly had the chance to celebrate Beltane in any other way, so while I know about the deeper symbols of the day in different cultures, I have no set ritual, no songs and very little tradition--except attending the village festival--attached to it.

This year a friend and I decided to introduce our children to a more Pagan-oriented Beltane. Before the festival we will build our own small maypole in the yard. We will gather in a circle for a small ritual, give flowers from the garden as offerings to our deities and the Good Neighbors, sing a song or two, eat colorful candy made with natural food coloring, dance around the maypole and have a picnic lunch with a small fire.

During my preparations for this celebration, I have found that it is more difficult than I thought to express the essence of Beltane. Ironically the darker holidays, such as Samhain or Imbolc seem to have more easily defined themes.

It is easy to say that Beltane is about joy, passion, love, fertility, expression and life. But it is harder to define exactly what these things mean. Almost any song of joy and love might be appropriate for the holiday but that also means that none seems to be essentially fitting. And for our purposes, the songs need to be simple enough for both kids and adults to sing without a lot of preparation.

I have several Pagan chants that seem appropriate and my kids are working on the melodies on the piano. There is one called Hoof and Horn, about the rebirth of all life. The earthy lyrics, reminiscent of the Green Man make me think specifically of Beltane, though it could be used during any part of the year. 

We decided to include the Ancient Mother chant and Everlasting Sea with lyrics adapted to work as a song for calling the elements and four directions.

I love you like the wind.

Ever-singing wind. Ever-singing wind.

I love you like the sun.

Ever-shining sun. Ever-shining sun.

I love you like the sea.

Everlasting sea. Everlasting sea.

I love you like the earth.

Ever-turning earth. Ever-turning earth.

These are still general though. We often use the melodies of other songs and put our own seasonal lyrics to them. It isn’t usually a terrible challenge. But this holiday does not lend itself so well to deep thoughts. Beltane is all sensual and sensory, all experience and action with few words. 

It is challenging to put the instinctual, active, earthy, physical essence of Beltane into words. In the end. I chose the melody of Scarborough Fair but used seasonal lyrics.

Are you going to the Beltane fair?

Dancing, fire, ribbons and wine.

Laugh your heart full when you get there,

for 'tis the goodness of the springtime

I'm wishing you a joyful and peaceful spring.

Of Beltane and earth warriors

Pagans and earth-centered people, even if you consider only those who celebrate Beltane, are wildly diverse in worldview, beliefs and lifestyle. We don't all teach our children the same things. It has often been said that there can be no Pagan politics, because we never agree on anything.

Be that as it may, it is not difficult to see connections between earth-centered spirituality and the movement for social and environmental justice. If you have a strong spiritual path and you also feel strongly about protecting the earth, there is no doubt that these two parts of you will be intertwined. Likewise, spirituality and social/ethical values are interconnected for most people, whatever their spiritual path.

Creative Commons image by Francesca Ubliani 

Creative Commons image by Francesca Ubliani 

We follow an earth-centered path because we resonate with a way of being that is concerned with interconnection, natural cycles and a sense of the divine in many parts of life. We are concerned about the environment for the same reasons - interconnection, natural cycles and a sense of sacredness in the natural world.

Many also translate this into social justice. We are interconnected. Injustice anywhere is my business, because I'm part of the weaving. Natural cycles and the freedom to be close to nature is crucial. All beings have a part in the divine. Wildly diverse Pagans--just as people of other faiths--are going to translate these abstractions into concrete reality in all sorts of ways.

But in the end, the point is that we cannot actually separate spirituality from social and environmental concerns.

Beltane is a time when that connection is even more apparent. As the veil between the worlds thins, so does the separation between the spiritual and the social, the personal and the political.

Beltane is most often associated with sexual energy and passion. It represents the vibrant maturing of the youth phase in most cycles, that stage in which energy is moving upward and outward.

But it is difficult to ignore the other side of this coin of passion. There is love and sexual passion, yes. There is also the passion of the warrior. The Lovers card in the Tarot is followed immediately by The Chariot. And there's a reason for that.

Beltane is the celebration of passionate union. It is also the celebration of unity in struggle. It is no coincidence that movements for social solidarity adopted May 1 early on as May Day. Like everything sacred throughout history, that connection has, of course, been used and abused by those seeking control and power. But that doesn't negate the foundation--the energetic connection. Earth day is also close by on April 22.

When the body and spirit feel oppression within our human and non-human family or destruction of our home (the earth) happening all around us, warrior energy rises within us and demands a greater channel. 

This is a season when our warrior energy is demanding a release. In times of peace and tranquility that energy can be channeled into dance, love and other energetic, expressive pursuits. But when the body and spirit feel oppression within our human and non-human family or destruction of our home (the earth) happening all around us, warrior energy rises within us and demands a greater channel. In such dangerous times, the denial of warrior energy leads to predictable results: anger, fury, conflict and further destruction.

Anyone who has been in close contact with teenagers (the human stage closest to the energy of Beltane) knows that sexual energy is powerful. Suppression and silence only lead to unhealthy results. That is why we give it expression in healthy ways, learning how to channel it.

Creative Commons image by sammydavisdog of

Creative Commons image by sammydavisdog of

Warrior energy is the other side of that coin, the shadow in the spring sunshine. And its suppression is no more possible. 

The Warrior

Human society relied on literal warriors and hunters for the vast majority of our genetic history. In recent centuries, we have shifted our social organization from tribes to nations and tried to relegate warrior energy to defensive armies and law enforcement.

I'm for peace as much as anyone, and I have huge respect for professional police officers and soldiers. Their channeling of warrior energy for the protection of all is part of what is needed.

However, the warrior energy does not simply dry up in the rest of us--the civilians. Modern society attempts to suppress it for the sake of the status quo, but when we see and feel injustice, it erupts. If not given a legitimate outlet, that eruption is often self-destructive or harmful to others.

This should not actually be nearly as much of a problem as it has become in our modern world. We try to force warrior energy to conform to sports competitions or try to drug it into submission with video games. But neither of these truly satisfies the need at a deep level.

The most basic reason for this lack of release is that injustice and the destruction of our earth is all around us. And as long as there is such a threat, our warrior energy will not rest.

Yet there is something constructive and positive that can satisfy it. Instead of suppression, professional armies, sports or video games, we need to recognize that the incarnation of the warrior today is the activist.

Creative Commons image by Greenpeace Polska

Creative Commons image by Greenpeace Polska

As such, Beltane is the natural celebration of activism and resistance to tyranny. In this year when much of our environmental and social fabric is threatened, the celebration holds particular meaning.

The Activist

You may not like the word "activist" because it has been  used as a pejorative in recent years--to mean someone with a selfish agenda. But a person who is pursuing an agenda for profit is most often simply a business person. A person pursuing a profitable agenda for some other entity is just an employee. These are not activists, but rather people working at a job, whether you like their agenda or not.

Calling anyone with an agenda an "activist" Is a trick of those seeking power to suppress the warrior energy of those they want to control. 

Activists, on the other hand, are in the most clear definition of the word not paid and not working for any specific personal gain. Instead their motivation is that of the warrior--protection of home and family, protection of the tribe, defense of the interconnected reality that allows the self to live and thrive.

This is the other energy of Beltane, the shadow side.

The opposite pole in the dance with the lover is not the hater. It is the warrior. Union is the natural partner of protection.

In the past year, the brave people of Standing Rock helped other people all over the world realize the fundamental link between the ancient warrior and the modern activist. While there are activists of many types, fighting in defense of home, family and tribe in a myriad of ways, the activist most easily connected to the warrior tradition is the environmental activist.

From Standing Rock campers to alternative energy innovators, from animal advocates to investors in rain forest reserves, earth warriors share the energy of Beltane. That is why for me this is a celebration of environmental activism and interconnection around the world as much as anything else.

Children and warrior energy

Now that I have children, this topic has become critical for me. I see them pulled--by peers, media and society--toward frittering their life force away with video games or allowing it to be suppressed. I realize the need to awaken that warrior energy for appropriate modern activism. 

I have been an earth warrior from an early age. I spoke up in defense of Greenpeace activists when a teacher at my conservative middle school denounced them. I wrote letters to the local newspaper when I was fourteen to protest clear-cut logging practices. I marched in anti-nuclear protests when I was much younger than that and protested the 1990 war in Iraq, at a time when few others did.

The book Shanna and the Water Fairy is children's fiction but its writing was informed by these experiences. I know from my own childhood that children often feel the pull of warrior energy. And if given access to information about the issues, they are often passionate earth warriors. This book is first and foremost a gripping story that kids love to read or hear read a loud, but it also has the capacity to give hope to the spirits of young earth warriors, who may be beginning to feel that the struggles are too big for them.

The women's wheel of the world

Celebrating of the rhythms of the earth through the goddesses of many cultures

Today many of us wish to connect to the cycles of nature. In our houses, jobs and schools, it can be difficult to feel a purpose in life. We lose touch, lose connection, and find ourselves drowning in everyday apathy or anxiety. 

There is an antidote in marking the rhythms of nature and feeling closer to the earth and the seasons of the sun. 

Beltane maiden.jpg

It isn’t just a nostalgic hippie concept. It’s a spiritual practice and a way to explore the huge questions in life in a way that doesn’t contradict science. For those of us who think too much, there is often a tension between the need for a spiritual sense of meaning and our logical insistence that what you see is what you get. 

The turning of the earth and the moon, the tilt of the earth and the seasons brought by sunlight—these are things science has well in hand. We know the sun will rise, just as we know bad days have only twenty-four hours. We know winter will come, just as we know that each of us has to get old someday. 

The rhythms of nature are simple and scientific. And at the same time they are profound and at the root of the greatest philosophical and spiritual traditions of humanity. The cycle of life is much larger than the circle of a year, but the whole is too vast—and frankly too harsh—to explain to children or even to contemplate directly as an adult. But we don't take in the circle of a year all at once. We come to it bit by bit. And we don’t have to contemplate it with the mind only. We use all of our senses, our body, heart and soul to perceive natural rhythms and the Wheel of the Year gives us the understanding we cannot gain through force of will.

The sacred sun days

Creative Commons image by Lostintheredwoods of

Creative Commons image by Lostintheredwoods of

As the earth tilts toward and away from the sun, we experience seasons. At the point when our part of the earth is tilted furthest toward the sun, we have the Summer Solstice--the time of greatest light. And when our part is tilted away we have the Winter Solstice. After each solstice we start to lean the other way. From light to darkness. And from darkness to light.

In the ancient tradition of the Celtic-Germanic-Slavic land I live on these solstices can be called Litha (for the Summer Solstice) and Yule (for the Winter Solstice). These are the best modern terms we have, originating from ancient European languages. Other cultures may have other terms for the solstices and the other sacred days of the wheel. My goal is to include the whole world and other terms are welcome.

Between these special days of the sun, there are the days when the light and dark are in perfect balance—the equinoxes. In the fall we call the equinox Mabon. In the spring we call the day of balance Ostara. 

If you make a cross and put the solstices opposite one another at the ends of one line and the equinoxes on the other axis, you have an ancient symbol of the sun. And if you make an X inside the cross, you then have a star with eight points or a wheel, the base of a mandala pattern. The four new points are for the days halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. Beltane on the first of May in the northern hemisphere (November in the south), Lammas at the cusp of August in the north (February in the south), Samhain on the first of November in the north (May in the south), and Imbolc in the earliest days of February in the north (August in the south). And that is what is called the Wheel of the Year.

It is a way of celebrating the rhythm of life and it starts as a recognition that there is darkness, release, relief, creation, expression, harvest, destruction, transformation—in natural and perpetual turning. When you mark the seasons of the year as sacred, your body, mind and soul reclaim their own rhythms. It doesn’t mean that you don’t suffer from life. But it connects you to the good in each season.

The Sacred Women from Around the World

There are many ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. We often cook special foods and exchange gifts. There are fun traditions for the whole family to enjoy and quiet observances for those who seek spiritual sustenance. One way to mark the sun days is to connect to the diverse spiritual teachings of our world through the myths of sacred women—the Goddess—and the many names for goddess in different tongues.

Marking the holy days with goddesses can be part of an active and vibrant family celebration or it can be a simple and quiet moment of meditation for an individual. The goddesses chosen for a sacred day should reflect the spirit of the season in their stories. Here I will suggest three goddesses for each of the solar holidays. As in many parts of the world, you can see goddesses as maidens, mothers and crones. There is a Maiden Goddess, a goddess full of independence and youth; a Mother Goddess, a nurturer and life-giver; and a Crone Goddess, a wise woman of healing and transformation--for each station of the sun.


My year begins in mid-winter because of importance of the alternating rhythm of the growing season and the time of greater contemplation and inner work. I also wish to start the year with the goddess I am closest with—Brigid. Our family Imbolc celebration usually includes a small, child-friendly ritual, sweet dumplings made with milk curd, seed cakes, many lit candles and candle making, candle-shaped cookies, Tarot and i-Ching readings, putting wishes for the year into a jar, hanging new Brigid’s crosses and waking up the Brigid doll sleeping in a basket by the fire on the morning of Imbolc. It may also include a trip to a spring or old well if we can manage it.

Creative Commons image by  the Borghese Collection

Creative Commons image by  the Borghese Collection

Brigid is the maiden of Imbolc and though she is also mother and wise woman in other aspects (Weber 2015),  I can add mother and crone goddesses to this day as well. 

Saulė is the Latvian “dear little white sun,” (Motz 1997) and a good mother goddess for the cold day of Imbolc. She also shares the care of orphans with Brigid, who is often called “foster mother” either of Christ when she is portrayed as a Christian saint or of the one offering prayers in Pagan prayer. (Daimler 2016) Because my husband and I are adoptive parents, this has particular meaning in our family. We could easily incorporate an offering of endearments to Saulė. And given that we don’t do Valentine’s Day here and my children often wonder what their American cousins are talking about, we could include making heart shaped endearments for one another, as words of endearment are special to Saulė. (Motz 1997)

Elli is my crone of Imbolc. She is the goddess of old age and wisdom and yet I find the story of her beating Thor in a wrestling match (Auset 2009) to be wonderfully light-hearted. She reminds me of an old granny sitting by the Imbolc fire and laughing over her exploits and the folly of head-strong young people who think they will never be old. A symbol of her might be a shawl spread over the rocking chair by the fire and a story read from the children’s book of Grandmother Tales that portray old women as smart and capable. 

I can envision these three—Brigid, Saulė and Elli—discussing the needs of family and kin, planning fo the year ahead and tempering one another with their complimentary energies of fire, compassion and wisdom.


Our Ostara tradition is usually fairly simple. We color eggs, decorate and make egg and bunny shaped cookies. Then the children hunt for eggs on the morning of the equinox. In local tradition, we decorate a leafless tree in the front yard with colored eggs and ribbons. We may read rabbit stories or other stories relating to Ostara. We’ll usually have a special lunch or dinner consisting of lots of eggs, such as quiche.

The name of the day Ostara comes from a maiden goddess. Ostara or Ostre is the the Saxon goddess of youth, fertility and beauty, who is accompanied by a hare. (Sass 2003) Her symbols are eggs and the hare which are already well incorporated into our traditions, although it is good to remember her with words at this time and consciously honor her through these symbols.

Anna Perenna is my Mother Goddess for Ostara. She is the enduring year, the goddess of the promise of a new cycle. (Monagham 2014)  We honor her at Ostara to give thanks for the promised return of spring, which is in our part of the world very heartfelt for everyone, and also to remember that the year will turn again, inexorably and always. We can make our quiche or other dishes this day round in honor of her. And because she is considered a trickster as well, we can plan April Fools pranks. 

The crone of Ostara is the Cailleach, the Celtic lady of chaos, harsh winds and primordial forces. (Greenfield 2014) We often have snow on Ostara, a last blast of winter coating our Ostara tree in white. The threat of weather disasters for our tiny seedlings is far from over and still keep them indoors at this season. The Cailleach is fearsome and a reminder that chaos can come despite Anna Perenna’s turning of the wheel. But she also lends us inner strength, a vitality and perseverance that is often lacking in the modern, overly convenienced world. She is also the Celtic equivalent of the crone of the cold season that our local legend bids a raucous farewell at Beltane, so it is fitting to have her in mind beforehand. We can honor the Cailleach by making a wind chime of feathers and metal objects that will bring her voice to the wind.


Our Beltane celebration has been in my husband’s home village for many years now. The village has a huge bonfire and a fifty-food maypole. This tends to overshadow anything I try to do. However, I always get together some sort of flower-shaped sweets and May baskets for us to give to neighbors and cousins during the festivities. We sometimes go out to greet the beautiful Beltane morning and place offerings at the base of the maypole. Otherwise it is a community event involving cooking whatever will feed the most people.

Creative Commons image by PROLisby of

Creative Commons image by PROLisby of

Ilankaka is the Nkondo maiden goddess for our Beltane. She is both creative and loving, but she also reminds us of the struggles of relationships, because she is captured by a man against her will and suffers great sorrow. (Monagham 1997) Beltane is a time of celebrating relationships and also making them better. The Maiden gives us the will to stand strong in ourselves as well and Ilankaka’s story is pertinent.

Panchamama is a delightful Incan mother goddess, honored in an unbroken line by tribes in the Andes and is still going strong today. She is an earth mother, a garden goddess and a “special companion” for women. (Leeming and Page 1994) May is they primary gardening month in our climate, when everything is planted and weeds grow desperately to beat the short growing season. It is a month when my life is very domestic and I love the idea of honoring Panchamama at this time.

The crone for Beltane might be Changing Woman. Her name in the Navajo language is Asdzan Nadleehe and she carries our ability to change within our lifetime, to be transformed and renewed at every age. (Loar (2008) There is a strong sense that Beltane is a time of when transformation is more possible, closer to the surface and a time to embrace the lessons of Changing Woman.

One of the ways I would recognize these goddesses is to put small offerings symbolic of their traditions in the earth at the base of the Maypole. We could leave a bright stone of polished marble (symbolic of Ilankaka’s brigtht radiance), some colored wooden beads like those often used in the Andes (as a symbol of Panchamama) and either a feather or a piece of snake skin (as symbols of Changing Woman). I would ask for the blessings of these goddesses on Beltane morning—the strength and independence to be a strong and healthy partner with the energy of the maiden Ilankaka still vibrant in my married life, the deep earth connection of Panchamama (and her help with my garden), and the ability to transform beautifully as does Changing Woman. 


The Summer Solstice is the solar holiday we have the least tradition for in our family. We often do little more than have a nice meal and try yet again to explain to the children about solstices from a scientific perspective. I try to have a bonfire but it isn’t always possible, sometimes due to lots of rain. This year for the first time, we will go to a local Pagan event that is appropriate for children. I am still searching for traditions for this time. If I could choose it would be playing music and drumming around a fire or some other activity involving expression and creativity.

Amaterasu is my Maiden Goddess for this time. She is often honored  in June in Japan. (Monagham, P. (2014) To me her seeming narcissism is a reminder of the necessity of putting ourselves out into the world, particularly women and especially when we are young. Today’s world is not kind to those who remain too passive. For better or for worse, we need goals and pride in our identity if we are to find a material life and work which brings us joy and fulfillment. Placing a small mirror on a flat stone or sundial to reflect a bit of the sun back into the sky, may be integrated into a ritual for Amaterasu.

Beiwe, the Arctic sun goddess, is the mother for this time. While the sun may seem too hot in many climates it is worth remembering that the northern climates need her warmth and life-giving energy. We are far enough north that even in the temporary heat, we have reason to see the sun as a nurturing mother. She can be honored by making “sun circles” out of leafing branches, (Monagham, P. (2014) and these could be placed around Amaterasu’s mirror.

Al-Lat is the ancient Middle Eastern sun goddess to provide a crone for this height of the sun’s power. She may be integrated into the ritual with a black stone or an eye drawn onto the mirror. 


Lammas usually involves a camping trip or bonfire with friends, many of whom don’t share goddess spirituality, so my ritual celebration of the day is often quite simple. I like to make bread in interesting shapes and an outdoor altar if possible. I have a special tablecloth that everyone signs as a symbol of community and the feast.

White Buffalo Woman is my Maiden goddess for this time. She is both warrior and generous benefactor. She supports the community and brings the deeper meaning to community festivities that I long for. Her lessons involve respect for ecology and the earth, honoring warriors and defenders of the clan, as well as the desire to give back whatever it is that fills us with abundance. (Greenfield 2014) A perfect symbol of White Buffalo Woman is a picture or figure of a white cow, calf or horse.

Creative Commons image by Rosa y Dani of Flickr. com

Creative Commons image by Rosa y Dani of Flickr. com

 Saraswati is the Mother Goddess for this time, sharing her knowledge as a teacher. The earth is abundant at this time, but the wisdom to use the gifts of plenty wisely is crucial. Saraswati is not only a mother of abundance but also a mother of wise counsel, teaching and learning. A good symbol to bring her blessings to the day is a book.

Macha is the crone for this time of community and sharing. While White Buffalo Woman brings gentle gifts and fierce courage to the community and Saraswati brings the knowledge needed to nurture community, Macha embodies the energy of the activist for environmental and social justice, which is another important aspect of this day. Her energy be brought with a banner or sign with messages of the justice needed at the time. 

These symbols—a white animal, a book and a sign or banner—can be used to decorate the home or gathering of friends. This is a way to bring the healthy and beneficial energy of community together. 


At Mabon we gather our family and sometimes close friends for a meal of thanksgiving. We visit or send gifts to older people. We also give gifts to or do kind things for animals. In my family the primary focus of Mabon is giving thanks and recognizing those who have given to us—for example our elders through all the struggles they have been through to bring us to this time and the animals that provide us with food, clothing, comfort, friendship and a healthy ecosystem to live in. 

Tabiti is a maiden goddess of hearth, family loyalty, harmony in the home and the protection of animals. (Auset 2009) She is also associated with the chieftains of family and clan and with oath giving. MacLeod 1960). Coals from the hearth make a good symbol for her and reiterating the oaths of family bonds and other commitments is a good way to honor her. New oaths may be given at Mabon feasts as well.

White Shell Woman is the Mother Goddess for Mabon. She watches over the crops and gardens that most directly sustain the family. She is a goddess of thanksgiving and the promise of light. (Hunt 2001) Both shells and corn are symbols of White Shell Woman. The best way to honor her is to give thanks for the many blessings we have, both material and immaterial. Even if we may still feel the lack of something, there is much to be thankful for, and gratitude brings many rewards.

Asase Yaa is the crone for this time. A Ghanian old woman of the land, she reminds us of the hard work needed to get nourishment from the earth. We must honor the work of those who labor hard so that we might eat as well as the sacrifices of previous generations. (Auset 2009) A symbol for Asase Yaa might well be a shovel or other tool of toil. To honor elders and those who have worked hard is to honor her.

One way to bring these energies together might be to allow each person in the gathering to say what they have to be thankful for in their lives. Each may throw corn or corn meal onto the fire as they finish speaking. Then each person could speak briefly of someone who they wish to honor, an elder or someone who has worked hard, and use a metal shovel to scoop out a bit of the embers of the fire. When the embers cool to ash, each person may state their oaths of family and community commitment, wet their hand with a little water and press it into the ash and then print their hand against a stone or wood surface prepared for this. These hand prints will then remain as reminders of the commitments made.


With all the activities of Halloween going on, it can be difficult to get the family to focus for a moment on the spiritual side of Samhain. When my children were toddlers, they put out offerings for “Grandfather deer” and received small presents in the morning. We gave them candy and tried not to scold them for their many misdeeds on the basis of the concept that small children are “close to the ancestors.” Now as they grow older it is their turn to learn to give back and to honor ancestors as well.

My Maiden Goddess for Samhain is the Norse sun goddess Sunna. She is connected to spiritual magic and the symbol of a sun cross. (Woodfield 2014) This would be an excellent time to make bind-runes to put on talismans (a bag, shirt, doorway plaque or jewelry) for whatever magical energies you want to attract. Both bind runes and rune divination would be a way to connect with Sunna. 

Creative Commons image by Lisby of

Creative Commons image by Lisby of

Oya is the mother of nine children and my Mother Goddess for Samhain. She is a bit dark compared to most mother goddesses. Her connection to hurricanes, the transformative number nine and strong emotions of rage or fear may be frightening to some but I quickly connected with this goddess. While it is not comfortable to face these emotions, allowing them to be expressed can bring healing. I don’t necessarily want to go through hard times again, but I know that Oya can also play a part in healing from traumatic experiences, ecological devastation and social injustice. (Caputi 2004) A wild wind on a dark Samhain night is the time for Oya. Dressing up in ways that express dark and powerful emotion may be perfect way to honor her.

Baba Yaga is my Samhain crone. The contemporary stories that include her are scary enough to satisfy even secular concepts of Halloween. She is death, destruction and power, but she also grants wishes and punishes the unjust, the lazy and the apathetic bystander who tolerates injustice. (Greenfield (2014) To honor her we may make sacrifices in our lifestyle that help to redress imbalance or injustice or make commitments (Samhain resolutions of a sort) to work actively for justice and earth protection. 


Yule is already a very busy holiday for us. We have several cultures and an extended family to deal with. There are presents, big meals and various traditions happening every which way. Add to that the fact that we’ve been on a different continent away from home for two years but now we’ll be home, trying to reconstruct our home traditions. It is easy for the spiritual aspect to be overshadowed and almost impossible to hold any sort of small family ritual. The one thing we do always have is a Yule tree with decorations and usually a small scene of figures under it. This is one place where we can bring in the Goddess. 

I try to hold a brief dawn greeting of the sun with my husband and children on the morning of the Solstice. We usually also pull off a candlelight dinner the evening before with expressions of what we are thankful for and Solstice Tarot readings for the adults. 

It is into this part of the Yule celebration that I would like to bring some celebration of the Goddess. Usha, the Indian goddess of dawn, is my Maiden Goddess for Yule. Her twin sister is Night and they share the nursing of a child. They walk the same path, each in her own particular way. (Agrawala 1984).Her symbols might be a figure of an infant that is both dark and light or an infant wrapped in silk cloth with Indian designs. 

Ekhi, the Basque sun goddess (Sykes 2002) and motherly protector of humanity, is my Mother Goddess for Yule. She assures her children of hope and the eternal return of morning. She is a mother but is also born from the “reddish seas.” She reminds us of the need to stay a while in darkness in order to regenerate creative energy. She can be symbolized by a mother figure dressed in red or carrying a torch.

 Hekate is the Crone Goddess for Yule. She is a goddess of time, fate, solitude and witches, a mistress of the dead and “Keeper of the Keys to the Cosmos.” (Moss 2015) She can be symbolized by the figure of an old woman with a lantern or a key. 

Figures for these goddesses can be made out of clay or other materials and placed under the Yule tree. We can honor Ekhi at the candlelight feast on the eve of the Winter Solstice with poems of hope and thanksgiving for the promise of hope in difficult times. We can honor Hekate during the late night ritual of Solstice Tarot readings, lighting a candle in a small lantern. We can honor Usha at dawn when the sun returns.


Agrawala, P.K. (1984). Goddesses in Ancient India. New Dehli, India: Abhinav Publications
Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Chaudhuri, S. K. (2003). Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Japan. New Delhi, India: Vedams.
Daimler, M. (2016). Pagan Portals - Brigid. Winchester, UK: Moon Books.
Greenfield, T. Ed (2014) Naming the Goddess: Washington, DC. Moon Books
Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.)
Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library
MacLeod, S. P. (1960). The Devine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers
Monagham, P. (1997) The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines: Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications
Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library
Moss, V. (2015). Pagan Portals Hekate: A Devotional. Hants, UK: Moon Books
Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Sass, R. (2003) The Old Saxon Language and Heathenry. Robert Sass)
Shaw, M (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Slocum, S. K. Ed. (1992). Popular Arthurian Traditions. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.
Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical. New York, NY: Routledge.
Warch, M. L. 2014). White Buffalo Woman. In T. Greenfield (Ed.), Naming the Goddess (pp. 328 - 330
 Weber, C. (2015). Brigid: History, Mystery and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. San Francisco, CA: Weiser Books
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Remembering a matriarch

“Eh, girl, you’ll never find it that way,” the voice in my memory is as clear as if she’s standing right behind me.

In the days after Ostara, my beloved, chain-smoking mother-in-law died… essentially from the flu. I shake my head in sorrow yet again and set my teeth. It’s 2016, but we might as well be living in 1918 for all the good the antibiotics did.

Creative Commons image by xlibber of

Creative Commons image by xlibber of

She wasn’t that old, only 72. She washed windows earlier on the day she went into a coma from the sudden onset of opportunistic pneumonia, though she was already sick. She was the picture of a rugged farm matriarch. She always said she’d stop when she was dead, and she was right. 

She ruled her kitchen with an iron fist. She cooked all the meals and this is the first time I’ve ever been allowed to rattle around her kitchen, the first major holiday we’ve spent in her home without her. It’s the eve of Beltane and I’m trying to cook spaghetti for a house full of Czech uncles and cousins. 

I know she used to keep a lot of kitchen utensils in the front hall closet because her kitchen looks perfect and thus it has a sorry lack of storage space. I can’t find the strainer… or the cheese grater anywhere. And there are some in the family who are gleefully waiting for me to fail simply to prove one point or another.

It doesn’t help that I’m legally blind. Marie knew that well enough but she never made much of it. “Eh, girl, you go on and get the wood. I’ll get lunch.”

I poke through shelves full of the parts of her many mysterious kitchen appliances. She never showed me where anything was because she didn’t let anyone else fuss with her kitchen, least of all me. I was good with entertaining hordes of little cousins and hauling wood and collecting medicinal herbs. We both agreed I wasn’t that good in the kitchen. 

 She didn’t live to see me turn forty, but only by a few days. That never stopped her from calling me “girl,” not in any derogatory way. To her it was simply a statement of the difference in our generation. “Eh, girl, you’ve got so much energy. Have fun while you’re young.”

Creative Commons image by mylifeclicks1023 of

Creative Commons image by mylifeclicks1023 of

I can hear the men tramping on the veranda. And I don’t have anything to strain the noodles with. “Damn it, Marie, you could at least give me some ouija board sort of sign, couldn’t you?” This is a very patriarchal culture and there will be overt criticism if I don’t have lunch together properly. 

“Eh, girl.” I can hear her hoarse, ironic laugh too now. “It doesn’t work like that. I’m sorry to leave you like this.”

I’m suddenly filled with remorse, as if she were really there and I was cruelly criticizing her for not leaving her kitchen in better order. “I’m sorry, Marie. You did plenty,” I think fiercely. “You did so much for us and you left us well set up. We’ll manage. You did your part.”

The men and children spill into the hallway and the next thirty minutes are chaos. Yes, I get hassled for not having it ready. Then I get criticized for getting crumbs of cheese on the floor from using a makeshift cheese grater. We never did find the real one. 

Later I sit with the other women who have married into the family by the Beltane bonfire, watching the men of the village, including all of our husbands, raising a 50-foot maypole by hand. It’s hazardous. The damn thing could fall on them. It’s a full grown pine log after all. 

But I’m still very glad this village has hung onto the old traditions. Few places have their history so well rooted. My husband’s family farm dates back six hundred years. The long stone farmhouse itself is four-hundred years old, the walls as thick as those of a small castle. Marie used to tell me stories she had learned from the village chronicles about her husband’s family, not so much about her own. She took on many of the ideas of this patriarchal society, where a mother’s history is less important.

But they wanted to put her ashes in the Catholic church yard in the next village, with her husband’s ancestors. My husband refused and stood alone against the other men over it. She had told him she wanted her ashes buried in an urn in a beautiful place between two ponds under a great oak tree at the back of the farm, not in the yard of a church she’d never put any stock in. 

I watch the flames of the Beltane fire lick at the ragged skirts on the figure of a wood and straw “witch” the villagers made. This is also tradition. Beltane is not called Beltane here but “witch burning night.” Some say it is the crone of winter that they burn and that it is not an anti-Pagan tradition. Most of the villagers are no more Catholic than Marie was. But still the sight sends a shiver up my spine, a sharp contrast to the warm Beltane evening full of live music and revelry. 

Creative Commons image by Stewart Black

Creative Commons image by Stewart Black

“Eh, girl, you and your earth-mother theories. Are you going to forget to pick the plantain on the hill before the mowing starts?” 

I was worried because she wouldn’t be here to remind me which herbs were ready when I visited the village. I am good with medicinal herbs if I know they’re there. But initially finding them is hard when you’re almost blind. But it seems like my memories of her will help some.

It is a wonderful Beltane all around. I’m not actually the only woman who cooks and though there is some criticism, I come through pretty well. I eat too many goodies and feel a bit guilty with that instinctive shame this society has taught me.

“Eh, girl, eat!” The most iconic statement from Marie yet. “When the fat are thin, the thin will be cold in the ground.”

She was roughly barrel-shaped herself but more muscle than anything. The same flu that killed her did make me get thinner than I’d been in quite a while. But not being thin hadn’t helped her. The cigarettes played a role. Everyone knows that but few say it.

The things we let society do to us. 

I lie down in one of the many beds late at night and whisper goodnight to the ancestors in the walls made of field stones. 

Then I think of all the cooking to deal with in the morning. “I’ll keep the hearth warm, Marie. I’m not the matriarch you were and don’t want to be, but at least on Beltane, I’ll make sure your people are fed.”

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

A glorious, joyous Beltane to you and yours!

Beltane is a time for joy and love. It can be romantic, familial or sexual. But it can also be the love of purpose and meaning--i.e. passion for creativity, craft or calling. It can also be love and acceptance of others in the world. 

Reach out to someone of another culture, religion or social group. Not in some grand way, where you save someone. Just in a personal way, like a friend and neighbor. Reach out with an everyday action such as inviting someone to a party, even though they aren't exactly the same as your "regular" friends. Or make space for someone to speak who is usually fairly quiet at meetings. When there is someone in your class or on your street with a disability or other difference, make sure they are welcome and invited when friends and neighbors get together--not out of charity but because that's the kind of world you want to live in. 

Include. Even when there is a small risk. This is how we become unified. 

Gaia, Damu, Durga, Atabey, Nammu, Mawu, Pachamama!

Our mother the earth, blessed are your names.

Blessed are your forests, deserts, marshes and mountains.

Blessed are your waters, your life blood that gives life to all.

Blessed is your breath, the air that maintains our spark of life.

Blessed are all your growing plants, herbs and trees. 

Blessed are all the creatures, your children. We are one family.

Blessed are all the people of this earth.. 

The same rhythm beats in every stranger's throat.

Blessed are the sun and moon, blessed are the stars,

givers of light that fill our hearts with awe.

Soul of the earth, our mother, blessed is your name.


Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Beltane and the Witch: Celebrating resilience

The night is dark as you drive out across the East Bohemian highlands. The lights of villages are hidden deep in the vales and hollows of the rolling land. The smell of plum blossoms prickles your nose and there is still a nip in the air on the last night of April.

Leaf crowns for Beltane

Leaf crowns for Beltane

Then you round a bend and catch your breath. The stars have fallen onto the hills. For there… and there… and there... and right above the road… and twinkling far off to the south are the fires on the hilltops. And there is something in you that knows this calls back across the millennia and connects you through the land to those who came before.

When I first came to the Czech Republic I didn’t know about the tradition of Beltane fires. I grew up with earth-based spirituality but we didn’t call ourselves Pagan and Beltane was actually one of the few Pagan holidays we didn’t mark in any particular way. I d heard of it, of course, but mostly in a historical context.

Then I drove out to East Bohemia one Beltane night and my soul sang with recognition. This is one of the places in Central Europe where Beltane fires are still lit on the tops of hills and groups of people sit around them and play guitars or flutes to commune with the stars.

Today much of the meaning has been lost… or it seems to have been. As with so many Pagan holidays, this one has been corrupted by later anti-Pagan influences. Beltane is actually called "the Witch” in Czech. And before you get excited about that you should know that the reason it's called the Witch is because it's supposed to be about burning witches.

Czech children are encouraged to make ugly, mocking figures of witches and mount them on stakes in the midst of the bonfire. In my husband’s home village, far to the south in the flat swampy land of South Bohemia, they raise a sixty-foot maypole each year. They don't use any machines to do this, despite the abundance of farm tractors and  cranes in the village. It's still an experience of male bonding in which all of the men, young and old, use a system of levers to raise it. There's no dancing but there is sometimes music. The bonfire is as big as a house and usually has multiple stakes with the female figures tied to them.

The men of Stribrec village raise the maypole next to the witch fire.

The men of Stribrec village raise the maypole next to the witch fire.

I try to embrace the good parts of these traditions. There are usually plenty of children around who are eager for a craft, so I bring materials to make flower and leaf crowns. And we play circle games in the dusk on the village green where the bonfire burns. At least it's a Pagan holiday that is still celebrated here, despite the gruesome imagery.

But still... I can’t  celebrate Beltane here without the shadow of sadness or without my trigger buttons of social trauma being pushed. The concept of outcast witches being burnt in fires is a little too close to home when I experienced extreme ostracism and outcast status as a child, due to my vision impairment and earth-based family culture.

Some people, many Czech Pagans included, put a positive spin on the tradition of burning the Witch. They say that the witch figures are “the witch of winter” and burning them (or in some cases casting them into a flowing river) is a symbol of letting go of old, outmoded thinking and making way for new spring growth. I support this weaving of traditions and that is what I tell my children about the witches in the Beltane fires. The are four and six years old and a little young for explanations of the darker aspects. They will encounter this Czech tradition everywhere at this time of year, so I can't abolish it. I can only change my attitude towards it.

Ember Farnam dancing the maypole

Ember Farnam dancing the maypole

Yet I can easily imagine a lighter and more joyful Beltane. Two years ago, we stayed home on Beltane, instead of visiting my husband’s village and we built our own maypole and engaged the kids from our neighborhood in dancing with ribbons. We made flower cake and leaf crowns and sang songs. We hung flower decorations from our fruit trees and built our own bonfire for a brief ritual to celebrate life and passion of all kinds.

I enjoy joyful Beltane celebration of love and life. But then I miss the depth of feeling in the other, grittier version. Though most Czechs don't know it, they celebrate Beltane by dancing along the knife edge of history, going back more than a thousand years to a time when Celtic druids walked these hills and celebrated the rite of spring. And so maybe the symbols of pain and suffering are fitting after all. They tell of the resilience of these people who were forced to change and adapt by multiple invading hordes, by a succession of foreign kings, by a monolithic religion that tried very hard to stamp out their celebrations, by two brutal world wars, by the deadening totalitarian regime of the last century that attempted to crush all traces of spirituality and finally by modern consumerist cultural homogeneity.

And yet they still light Beltane fires... after all that. Now that's resilience.

There's another way I celebrate Beltane with my children. This is the time of year when we read books about environmental problems and the heroes and heroines of earth-protection movements. We talk about what we can do to help. We pick up litter and I give the kids lessons in conserving energy, reducing waste and recycling. We talk about Greenpeace and renew our family contribution. We garden and write letters for environmental activism. These are small things but they are part of the season for us. 

And this too is connected because the earth is "the witch" in so many ways--the quintessential outcast mother figure. The earth has suffered so much and continues to come back. There are places in the Czech Republic that were utterly devastated twenty years ago, the trees all gone and the ground literally gray from the effects of massive acid rain and coal smoke. Industrial conditions have been improved in that area and those places that seemed beyond salvage a few years ago are now some of the most beautiful areas of the country. And that's resilience.

As our ancestors kept on living and loving through all they endured... as the earth keeps on regenerating despite incredible abuse... as the spring always comes again after winter, may Beltane bring us the blessings of resilience. 

Here are my tips for family Beltane celebrations:



Flower babies and mini maypole

Flower babies and mini maypole

Leaf crowns: Construct a simple crown by making a cardboard headband. You can either use double-sided tape and stick real leaves to the headband for a quick and particularly verdant crown or you can paint paper leaves and glue them on for something a bit more durable. 

Flower babies: Paint small balls in various skin tones and add faces to them. Crumple colored tissue paper around them to make petals and glue in place.  Attach a pipe cleaner to the back to make a flower and you have cute images of flowers and babies combined.

Miniature maypole:  You can make a miniature maypole as a table decoration. Fill a pretty bowl with play doh and stick a fairly straight stick into the middle of it. Make a ring out of a piece of ribbon and attach this to the top. Then take lengths of various colored ribbons and attach them to the ring, letting them hang down on the sides or attaching them to the edges of the bowl. 


Flower cake

Flower cake


Flower cake:  Make your favorite cake base but add dandelion, violet and daisy petals to the batter. Then make pink frosting with a package of cream cheese, a few teaspoons of beet or black berry juice, two tablespoons of lemon juice and powdered sugar to taste. Decorate the top with more flower petals and candied violets (my recipe here). 

Spring bounty salad: Make a salad with young greens and herbs and add edible flower petals such as dandelion, violets and daisies. Put goat cheese, boiled eggs, seeds and oil and vinegar on top. 



I like to sing Simple Gifts and The Earth is Our Mother at Beltane time. 

Here is a song I made up that young children can sing around the Beltane fire to the tune of Mulberry Bush:

Children's Beltane decorations

Children's Beltane decorations

Here we go round the Beltane fire, the Beltane fire, the Beltane fire.

Here we go round the Beltane fire in the rite of spring.

The earth, our mother, rises again, rises again, rises again.

The earth, our mother, rises again with the coming of spring.

Come and dance for love and joy, love and joy, love and joy.

Come and dance for love and joy, that all may live and grow.


Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.