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The Seasonal Psychologist: On Beltane

The Seasonal Psychologist is a year-long series by Pagan Psychologist Betz King.  Each piece corresponds to one of the 8 Pagan Sabbats, or holidays, while exploring ways to use the symbolism of the season for personal growth and in clinical practice.

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants, crops, and flowers. The Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark, and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simple glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.

Wheel of the Year
Wheel of the Year

The word Pagan comes from the Latin paganus, meaning ‘villager’ or ‘rustic’, and from pagus ‘country district’.  It was originally used to describe those whose livelihood was tied to the earth, crops, and livestock – farmers. The Pagan celebration cycle is intimately tied to the well-being of crops, animals and villagers.  Although there is a Pagan Sabbat every six weeks, this particular six weeks is the most spectacular as far as growth is concerned, beautiful captured by R.W. Emerson’s observation, What potent blood hath modest May.

The May 1st Sabbat of Beltane falls exactly between the Spring Equinox (where day and night are of equal length), and the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice.  Named for the Celtic God of light and Fire, Bel, Beltane is a fertility festival intended to bless the coming year’s crops and livestock.

Some of these crops were planted last fall, and will be the first to sprout.  Others will be sown as seeds.  Animals instinctually know that those born in the early spring have the best chance of surviving the coming winter, so new life abounds and must be fertilized and protected.  On a similar note, couples hoping to conceive a child hold this Sabbat to be especially auspicious.

Growing corn, conceiving a child and protecting a baby lamb all require the same things – warmth, light, good health and enough to eat.  Hence, Beltane celebrations were intended to purify, fertilize and bless the people, animals and land.  Common rituals of this time often included fire and smoke. Couples would jump over a small fire to purify themselves in preparation to conceive a child.  Livestock were driven through the smoke from the fire to assure a substantial yield of meat and milk.  Where climates were warm enough, men and women would often have sex out of door, in the fields, with a dual intention to bless the crops, and conceive a child.  Children conceived at Beltane and born at Imbolc were called “Beltane babies” and were considered especially blessed.

The May Pole was another common ritual designed to symbolize the union of the masculine (the tall erect pole) and the feminine (the ribbons & foliage woven around the pole through dance).

May Day Pole
May Day Celebration

As villagers gathered to dance and decorate the May Pole, their dance was a prayer of sorts, a beseeching of blessings for all that would come in the following season of growth.

Psychologically, Beltane is a time to contemplate the sacred union of polarities.  Internally, we each have an inner masculine and feminine essence – Jung’s animus and anima – and will be our best selves when both of these energies are equally active and acknowledged.  Externally, flora, fauna and humans combine and create new life every day, and while sex might seem like the obvious way to combine these polarities, there are very fruitful non-sexual unions as well, such as art, music, alchemy, idea, friendship, transformation, gardening and love.

In Michigan, April is home to the seasonal playoff between winter and spring. Consequently, May often shows us only sprouts, but promises more to come.

Psychologically, this is a time to protect and nurture all that is new.  Some new growth come from seeds and intentions planted last year, while others will grow from seeds we plant in the here and now.  All must be given warmth and sustenance, while shielded from danger.  Beltane signal a period of limbo.  We’ve prepared, we’ve planted, and for a time, we wait without any encouragement or proof.  We doubt and we wait and we breath.  Eventually, every single year without fail, growth wins, and we move swiftly into the work of supporting and tending.

This week, my clients and I will talk about what each day’s extra minutes of daylight are showing them, and how they are experiencing their ‘enlightenment’. We will consider goals set last fall and new goals born of the winter’ contemplative insights.  We will assess our own internal relationship to our masculine and feminine selves, and we will do our best to surrender to the alchemy required when birthing anything new and important.

The weeks between Beltane and the Summer Solstice are the brightest of the year!  They bring us the most hours of daylight, and consequently the most growth, whether to the plants in the ground, or the ideas we have planted in our intentionality.

As our days grow longer, I invite you walk both inner and outer landscapes at the same time. Assess how your past decisions have created this reality (whether garden or life circumstance) and decide what you’re going to do about it in the here and now (sow new seeds in your garden’s empty spot, or use the fertile energy of Beltane create a new crop, situation or opportunity for the coming season.

How can you use this highly illuminative time to learn more about the relationship between your masculine and feminine energies, in service of alchemically creating the new life that can only be born through you?

Betz King, PsyDBetz King, PsyD, LP  is an associated faculty member in MSP’s Master’s program.  About her new blog series, she writes, “The Seasonal Psychologist explores my intersectionality as a Solitary Pagan and psychologist, through an integration of teachings and tools from both psychological and spiritual traditions.”  Read more about Dr. King, including her American Priestess / Priest Training Program, here.