Please don’t keep telling me what kind of Spring we’re having. Spring was here first. Defer to Spring.
That said, Saturday was gorgeous, so I went to the 9th Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival presented by the Jalopy Theatre & School of Music at St. Ann’s Church. I somehow keep ending up in church, effortlessly, and without regret on this holy weekend of Beltane. If you’re Wiccan or Pagan, Beltane marks the start of Summer, and is one of the holiest days of the year. So I settled in reverently under St. Ann’s arches, but soon had some foot-stomping Goddess-energy going full swing thanks to the wonderful Calamity Janes all-female string band.
In between hand-claps, I got reflective. Has it only been 100 days? Good lord, that Trump rally, that speech. Religion settled in hard as I considered the end-times at hand. The only sane choice is to oppose, but what? He’s got his flock in hand, and if enough people are obstinately stupid then I guess THAT is what democracy looks like. For a split-second, I “got” the blues.
The Stop Shopping Choir came to the stage via the audience, with gentrification on their minds, and all wore suits. Movement voice the Reverend Billy wondered: “Where do all these 28-year-old millionaires come from?” Folk music comes from the folks, the ones who “collide with each other in the street” in authentic, un-gentrified neighborhoods that manifest the “fabulous unknown, which is the basis of folk music.” Of folk religion too? The choir exhorted, hands raised and bodies bawdy, evoking creative fertility and union:
When I rise, let me rise like a bird, joyfully.
When I resist, I’ll resist like the sea, relentlessly.
I read up recently on Beltane, where the Goddess and God are invoked in their maiden and youth aspects, invoking exuberance, romance, innocence, and potential, like Spring. But balance is key. When dancing the Maypole, “only a careful balance between attention to other dancers and attention to your own footwork and ribbon-handling will result in the perfect braid you’re looking for.” (All quotes going forward are from Ashleen O’Gaea’s inspiring book.)
So I quieted my inner bitching on Sunday, because it was cold, and went to Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Sakura Matsuri – the annual celebration of cherry blossoms and Japanese culture. The trees dropped circles of blossoms, and “when circles are cast, they’re declared to be ‘between the Worlds.’” There were no Maypoles at the Botanic Garden, but there were plenty of trees, surely all kin to the “world tree” that many traditions see as linking our physical realm with the otherworlds. There are many fairy associations with Beltane, and numerous smiling cosplayers ensured the garden a sacred fairy ground. I hoped they looked kindly on my pure-hearted intrusion. There were also maki rolls and chocolate, and exploding pink blossoms rained so many petals on my head, I counted them a flower crown.
There was no raging bonfire, like the Beltane fires in Edinburgh, that roaring light and heat that “bespeaks fertility of all kinds, from the fires we feel in our loins to the forge-fires and the fires of poetic inspiration.” But Monday, May Day, had beautiful weather for a protest. May 1st is also International Workers Day, and who are workers but folk? Women-folk, queer folk, immigrant-folk, Muslim-folk, brown folk, black folk gathered in Foley Square, Union Square and Washington Square Park to commemorate that day in 1886 when about 300,000 workers across the U.S. walked off their jobs to demand better working conditions. A strike evokes a fire, and Beltane is a fire celebration. Communities dance the Maypole, and individuals jump the flames. The fire may have been between my eyes, but I was stoked to shout back at Donald Trump’s oppressive, opportunistic reality-obscuring and dumbing-down agenda. Maybe the veil between us and what we envision is thin. Maybe there’s an otherworld of sense and justice.
Fire, fertility, abandon: We don’t tell May what we want. May tells us what we want. The veil between worlds won’t be this thin until All Hallows’ Eve in October when Pagan Winter begins. “The May dance takes you over and under…The May dance takes you ‘round and ‘round, just as the seasons roll.”
Who is the Goddess? I suddenly realize that I really, truly do not know. Wait, yes I do. She’s the fire between my eyes. I see her in the space between your eyes too, that little spot between your eyebrows. The eyes ask: Who are we? Why are we here? Abandon the knowing. The season will flow no matter what we do. We are May, and in full-bloom.
So I went home to cast a circle around my dinner table. I weaved the flavors of steak, strawberries and sourdough to craft a meal, consoled my mate about the unacceptably cold weather on Sunday (eye roll), stoked the fertile fire of wink-wink-nudge-nudge, and hoped the temperature might be right for us to take it between worlds.
Magick is ordinary. Blessed be.
Quotes are from Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Beltane to Mabon, by Ashleen O’Gaea