[Author’s Note: Due to a heavily scheduled week, this month’s Full Moon post is sadly a day late.]
As with all moon cycles the “Merry month of May” moon goes by several names. Some cultures call it the Corn Moon, while others know it as the Milk Moon. But the Flower Moon seems to be the name most commonly used, and it’s really no surprise. Looking around my area now, flowers and tree buds everywhere such as azaleas, dogwoods, and wisteria are all competing against each other for nature’s current center stage.
Nature has fully awakened, stretching out in ways that appear daily to us who have yards to maintain as grass, weeds and vines seem to grow at a back turning pace.
May has several observances in it; Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, and of course the all important Memorial Day. But from a traditional perspective, May is pretty empty but what it does have is pretty important, and it happens very quickly.
To many, May 1st, or May Day, conjures visions of colorfully dressed maidens dancing merrily around a May poll, even if it’s just from stories they read in books or stories they heard in school. But from a Gaelic and Wiccan perspective May 1st, or Beltane is a huge observance marking the beginning of of Summer. That’s right, Summer.
While the orbital geometry that actually marks the astronomical arrival of Summer doesn’t happen until 6:51EDT on June 21st; for the culture of the ancient Gaelics and Celts, Summer officially arrived during the festival of Beltane, with Winter arriving during Samhaim (Oct 31st). To the ancient men and women of Ireland, Scotland and The Isle of Man; these were the only seasons of importance and the only two seasons their calendars contained. It wouldn’t be until later that two more seasonal festivals were added; Imbolc, February 1/2, and Lughnasadh which was originally observed on July 31st/August 1st.
Unlike our current seasonal system, these festivals weren’t set to any cosmic alignments, instead they marked the seasons in a way that was important to the people whose very survival depended on when to plant and when to harvest – from a pastoral context. Beltane marked the time of the year when farmers would drive livestock into the fields and early crop seeds would have already be planted, with more to follow. This was indeed a time for getting out of the shelters of Winter and begin working to make sure that there were provisions enough to survive the one that lay ahead.
Modern Wiccans also observe Beltane as part of their Wheel of the Year but their observance more closely relates to the English/Germanic May Day festivals that celebrated fertility and it is from here that the tradition of May Pole dancing comes from. The Welsh had a similar celebration, Calan Mai; while the Romans celebrated Floralia and the Germans, Walpurgisnacht.
So what should craft beer lovers be doing? Well since Summer is here from a traditional sense now would be a good time start trying all those Summer ales that breweries are starting to kick out into the retail pastures. I’ve already seen quite a few of them (including running into Samuel Adams Summer Ale on tap at the ballpark yesterday) and even reviewed one on Monday. Breaking out a calendar and penciling-in all those summer and fall beer festivals that you want to attend (taking note of when tickets go on sale) also comes to mind. I don’t know about you, but here in Delaware they’re popping up like Spring weeds and we already have the sad occurrence of two awesome festivals, The Delaware Wine and Beer Festival, and Kennett Brewfest, falling on the same date.
Homebrewers? Oh, Homebrewers it’s time. Beltane and other “May Day” celebrations were heavily marked by the lighting of bonfires to ward off evil spirits, bless flocks as they were moved to pasture, and protect the homes of the people within the village (all fires inside homes were put out and relit from the Beltane bonfire as a gesture of bringing the good blessings of the fire into the home). Considering this, nothing could be any more appropriate than to light up the propane burners and brew those first batches of beer if you have not done so already.
Maybe even a night time brew brew session! Let your brew fires do double duty – as they magically work to transfer your grain and hops into beer, let their light and good energy spread out and cast themselves on your house and/or yard like those ancient bonfires of the past. It seems the perfect way to celebrate the ancient observance of Beltane.