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.

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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.

14 things I love about mud season

As the spring equinox fast approaches, the climate where I live has entered that stage commonly called "mud season." That is where the ground is still frozen hard two or three inches down but the top layer has turned into mud. Very little is blooming or even has leaves and the grass is still asleep and not doing it's job of holding mud in place.  

This is rarely anyone's favorite season. Two reasons come quickly to mind: 1. mud-caked shoes and 2. mud-caked children. Bonus reason: Frequent and unpredictable rain showers.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

But I actually rather enjoy this season. Here are a few reasons I personally love mud season.

  1. The sun has really come back and the days are no longer dark and gray.
  2. You can actually feel a faint warmth when the sunlight touches your face.
  3. You only need a jacket and can leave some of the winter gear at home, at least around noon.
  4. Animals all around are starting to get really happy.
  5. The smell of mud and melting snow is dizzying.
  6. The few flowers that do come up now are among the prettiest and smallest and you can actually find them because nothing else is growing.
  7. Eggs and more eggs.
  8. The sun is up when the kids go to school.
  9. My greenhouses are lovely and thawed now and I can play in them and pretend that it's true spring.
  10. Did I mention the sun?
  11. The air is cleaner in our smoggy area than at any other time of the year.
  12. The birds come back all of the sudden and sing in a great chorus in the empty lot of brambles next to us.
  13. Flu season is almost over.
  14. Anticipating true spring is almost as good as the real thing.

I hope this list may be more amusing than annoying. If you are grumpy about all the mud being tracked into your house or you live someplace so hot and dry that you think we are jerks to complain about mud, I wish you a better-balanced equinox and a gently passing season.

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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.

Spring Equinox blessings from the crafty kitchen

Let the rain rain and the wind blow

An end comes to the the reign of snow.

Bright hues take from the drawer.

Life's new chance knocks at the door.

If your spirit sometimes feels a bit bruised these days, you're not alone. There are not a lot of good fixes that will harden our spirits without closing us down. But there is solace. 

For me, one solace is creating useful items that are also beautiful in connection with the natural world. It can be difficult to find the time, but well worth it when you do. 

Carve out a little time, brew some tea, light a candle and get out supplies. I have several crafts here to suit the materials on hand. Each one helps to ground and renew the spirit. 

These crafts are inspirations for Ostara/Spring Equinox/Easter crafts that are not actually made with an egg shell for a change. These are easy crafts individually and can be handled by a frazzled mom and kids, at least by this one, or by those without a ton of craft experience. And yet they are real crafts with tangible and useful results.

I include crafts in my blogs because I am often frustrated by the craft sites online that seem to give no thought to how hard it is to fit these things into everyday life, especially when you have little ones. I include here both realistic instructions and my own learning experiences in hopes that others may be saved the hassle.

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Easy Equinox Spring-in-your-step Soap

This is from an easy melt-and-pour soap recipe but can be used even if you're making your own lye soap. I used a moisturizing, clear glycerin soap base. I was frustrated with the soap we buy at the store that dries our skin and doesn't smell all that great. Also my daughter is always begging to buy expensive colorful soap and this is healthy, quick, easy and cheap.

  1. Cut a block of soap base into small cubes or quarter-inch thick slices with a sharp knife
  2. Heat in a pot devoted to soap and candle making on a low heat.
  3. Prepare a box (plastic or paper lined with plastic) or soap molds if you have them. I used a paper handkerchief box lined with wax paper.
  4. When the soap has thoroughly melted in the pot, add a few drops of food coloring. Just a few! Mine came out a very rich color and that was probably only three drops. (We used purple for luck, independence and psychic connection and because my daughter wanted purple. Other great spring colors are green (for prosperity and success), yellow (for happiness and imagination) and light blue (for peace and tranquility).
  5. Add 20 to 40 drops of essential oils (depending on your sensitivity to fragrances). We used mint (for happiness and spring renewal), pine (for healing, protection and fertility), geranium (for spring love and joy, as well as not incidentally an excellent repellent for tick season) and a touch of lavender (to dispel any lingering winter doldrums). This is what I call the spring-in-your-step soap fragrance.
  6. Add a handful of ground or finely chopped and crushed herbs. I use lavender flowers, which are pretty so I don't entirely grind them up. They give the soap a nice scratchy, scrubby texture which helps clean off the dead skin that accumulates over the winter (defoliation). And it adds lovely natural beauty. Stir the herbs in well.
  7. Pour the melted soap into your prepared box or molds.
  8. Let it sit for at least three hours or overnight. Remove it from the molds. It slides right out. Then, if you have used a box like I did, cut the soap into bars. I recommend making smaller bars than you would normally buy in the store because glycerin soap, which is healthier than the stuff you usually buy in the store, softens faster in damp conditions in the bathroom. A smaller bar will end up wasting less soap and you'll replace it more often.
  9. Wrap the bars in plastic wrap to store. The one mistake I made in this process the first time around was not wrapping up my soap. It dried out and cracked a little over time. It was still quite usable but not as pretty. Plastic or wax paper will work better. Paper often sticks to the soap. 

Time for a luxurious spring bath!

Salt-dough egg decor

This is a craft for my kids who love painting. It makes beautiful home decor, something to put on the wall above the table or in place of a wreath on the front door for spring. And it's a very forgiving craft. Even a toddler can make a beautiful spring egg if given bright colors and an egg shape.

  1. Mix salt dough (A cup of flour, a cup of salt, 2./3 cup hot water, a table spoon of oil)  and roll out thin.
  2. Use a large shape cutter or a knife to cut an egg shape about as big as your outstretched hand.
  3. Use small cookie cutters to cut out shapes from the inside (butterfly and flower cookie cutters are great but small circles and diamonds are fine too).
  4. Save the cutouts to glue on in other places on the egg shape.
  5. Bake on low heat or air dry for several days. 
  6. Paint with bright and pastel colors.
  7. Use glue or a glue gun to place the cutout shapes on the egg.
  8. Hang as a spring decoration
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Equinox candle magic

I'm crazy about candles in general and celebrating the Wheel of the Year I love to have candles specifically designed for various occasions. One way to do that is with color and scents. But I also wanted to find a way to make candles in various shapes. 

I am also a cookie-cutter enthusiast, so I figured I could make candles in cookie cutters one way or another. So I started experimenting. 

As you can imagine, the first experiments resulted in a lot of wax running all over the table. I suggest using paraffin wax, not beeswax for these candles. Beeswax will stick in small crevices of cookie cutters and be hard to remove without breaking the candle. Beeswax is also harder to remove from your table. With paraffin wax the old adage your mother probably told you really does apply:  Don't touch it until it's cool and it will come right off. 

After several more experiments I found that if you place a piece of wax paper over several layers of soft paper towels, you have a slick and wax-proof surface that is also slightly soft. When you go to pour your melted wax, you press down hard on the cookie cutter and it cuts into the soft surface, trapping the wax inside. Pour only a quarter-inch of wax and then wait and blow on the surface of the wax. You should be able to release it without the wax spilling after 30 to 60 seconds, depending on how much wax you have poured.

Let that candle sit and move on to your other cookie cutters or molds until the thin layer of wax in the bottom of the cookie cutter has more thoroughly cooled. Then position a wick in the middle of your candle and pour in a little more wax. Hold down the cookie cutter and wait a bit, holding the wick in place. The cooled wax at the bottom will remelt somewhat so if you bump the cookie cutter, you could have it all spill out. But it will only melt a little and mostly it should stay. 

Once you have your candle half full and slightly congealed, you've won. With that candle at least. Top off the candle as high as you can go and making sure the wick stays central and upright. 

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Hints and tips:

Grease your cookie cutters with cooking oil before use. I haven't had much trouble getting candles out of the cookie cutters but a little oil helps it slide. 

Don't worry if your cookie cutter molds leak. Just don't lift them up. Let spilled wax cool and keep pouring. The leaked part will serve as a dike and eventually your candle will get full. Then peel the spilled wax off the wax paper and put it back in the pan to remelt. No harm done. Just keep hot wax off your clothes and skin. 

Step-by-step cookie-cutter candle-making instructions: 

  1. Set grated or cut paraffin wax in a pot on low heat to melt.
  2. Select theme-appropriate cookie cutters as molds and grease them with a little cooking oil. Deep cookie cutters are better but even a very short candle will burn and look pretty.
  3. Lay down three or four layers of paper towels and cover with a sheet of wax paper. Place cookie cutters on the wax paper.
  4. Ready short pieces of wick about an inch longer than the depth of your cookie cutters.
  5. When the wax is fully melted add essential oils for fragrance. For spring I enjoy lemongrass and rosewood. And add wax colors, if you have them. Do not use liquid food coloring. I actually tried it and it does not work at all. 
  6. Hold a cookie cutter down firmly. Pour a quarter inch of hot wax into the bottom. Continue to hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Then release and repeat with remaining cookie cutters. 
  7. Return to the first cookie cutter and place a short piece of wick upright in the center. With some luck it will simply stick into the congealing wax and stand up without being held in place. Repeat with remaining cookie cutters.
  8. Once the wax is visibly congealing, pour in more wax little by little to allow time for the wax to congeal.
  9. Hold wicks in place as you wait for the wax to cool.
  10. Top off the cookie cutters as much as possible. There is no need to leave room at the top. The wax slightly contracts. 
  11. As the wax cools, peel off spilled wax and return it to the pot for reheating. 

You can use this method to make themed candles for many holidays. My favorites are sun, star and moon shaped candles, leaves, eggs and flowers for the spring, fruit and animals for the summer, acorns and deer (reindeer from Christmas cookie-cutter sets work great) for the fall, and trees, stars and suns for winter.

I hope these craft ideas are helpful or at least inspiring. Please share this post with interested friends.

You may also enjoy the children's chapter book with illustrations by Julie Freel that I have for Ostara. It is a story for kids ages six to twelve that centers around the Spring Equinox and deals with the difficulties of new beginnings, friendship and learning about diverse cultures. It is primarily a fun book for kids and my kids won't put it down, but it also contains ideas for natural egg dyes and other spring celebration plans.

Blessings of spring renewal to all!