Beltane: Bluebell woods, plant fairs, fire baskets and hawthorn brandy.

Beltane – the start of Summer if you’re a Celt – and the beginnings of all sorts of outdoor shenanigans. It may have brought the first rain in weeks – always a bonus if you don’t have to water your seedlings in May – but there are stirrings within me to cross the threshold, get outside, move more and be less reflective and more outgoing than I have been over the Winter and Spring. This move from reflective to outward-looking is an annual event for me. It lasts for six months until the end of October, when I want to batten down the hatches again and stay at home more. Over the years I have learnt to listen to my body and my mind and to accept that this is part of my psychological make-up. It keeps me centred, grounded and content. I don’t fight it anymore. Wisdom and acceptance has been the gift of aging.

Yesterday we went for a wander round nearby Iford Manor Gardens to admire their tulips, breathe in their fabulous array of woodland wild garlic and commiserate with them about the wisteria blossom, which had been killed off by the frost. Today I indulged in a bit of retail therapy at Great Chalfield Manor‘s May Day plant fair. The bluebells are out in force in the garden and in the woods around about. We have a new fire basket to sit around on the terrace of an evening over the coming months and I have limited amounts of marking to do this weekend. All’s right with the world.

The Beltane festival is one of the great fire festivals when cleansing bonfires are lit and cattle are prodded out of their comfortable winter lodgings and driven into the freedom and opportunity of summer pasture. I’ll be prodding my year 11 students out of their comfort zone and towards the opportunities of the GCSE exams. Well dressing, Morris dancing, Maypoles, handfasting ceremonies are all traditional May Day pursuits but there are a number of traditional ways to celebrate Beltane at home, of course.

  1. Dress in Green – Too bad, I went early. Yesterday’s attire was green.
  2. Stay out all night – You must be joking. I can barely stay awake past 9 o’ clock.
  3. Conceive a new project – Already in hand.
  4. Dress your home and/or altar with greenery Do pot plants count? My focus is on the garden at this time of year.
  5. Dress a tree. Hang ribbons from its branches, each ribbon represents a wish or prayer. – More our kind of thing when the children were little. Spending time with the trees in the garden, ensuring they’re growing well must be good too.
  6.  This is the festival of Flora. A little jug full of flowers grown in the garden will lift the spirits at any time of year.
  7. Make some Hawthorn Brandy – Why wouldn’t I?

Hawthorn Brandy recipe.

So easy. You will need a 375ml bottle of brandy and at least 225g of hawthorn flowers, plus a little sugar to taste (up to 125g). Pick the flowers over carefully for bugs. Wash and dry them. Mix the ingredients together, shake well and leave away from direct light, for a couple of months. (This is where I am smug about the recently acquired capacious pot cupboards. So much more room for preserving like this.) Shake every day for one week and once a week for two months. Strain into sterilised bottles and enjoy. Hawthorn is renowned as a tonic for the heart.

Beltane blessings to you and yours.

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