Dancing the Maypole is the best-known Beltane activity, but not everyone has the opportunity to arrange it. Happily, there are other activities that everyone can enjoy, which almost equally capture the spirit of the day. That spirit goes beyond the wink-wink, noodge-noodge interpersonal merry-making that makes Beltane so popular, and includes creativity of all sorts, along with an openness to the Other World that can further inspire us.
While Samhain’s popularly associate with the dark side of the Other World, with the serious responsibilities that come with what we might call the trans-dimensional power of Fairyland, Beltane impressions are more often of its light-hearted and wondrous aspects. We may swallow hard before we part the veil at Samhain, but at Beltane, we’re through with just a hop and a skip.
One way to symbolize the Veil Between the Worlds, and our passages through it is to make a Veil! You’ll need a small-diameter tension rod, long enough to span a hall or a doorway in your home, or to fit between patio pillars if you’ll be using it outside. Garden arches, too, make a lovely setting for a Veil.
You’ll also need a piece of netting—either nylon net or tulle—twice as long as the distance between the floor and where you’re placing the tension rod. (Check the width of the net or tulle, too; you might need two lengths to cover the width of your tension rod.) White, gold, or silver are the best colors: you’ll be able to use this again at Samhain, if you want to.
Fold the length of net or tulle over the tension rod and secure it with matching thread, yarn, or embroidery floss; in a pinch, staples or safety pins will do, and even bread ties will work. Now, separate the layers, spreading them in opposite directions on the floor, with the tension rod in the middle. Cut each side of the “veil,” nearly to the top, but not directly up the middle. Offset the cuts a little, so that the layers will be a little overlapped when you part them. Neither the net nor the tulle should fray, but if you want to, you can trim all the long edges with narrow rickrack, with sequin trim, or with anything else that’s not too heavy. Again, gold or silver are the best colors for any edging.
To decorate the veil for Beltane, use silk flowers or other notions that trail or dangle. Silk wisteria, ivy, and bridal notions are good, for they’re all graceful with gentle movement. Take a trip to your local craft store and look around; you can find appropriate decorations in party stores, too: for instance, silk flower necklaces, cut into shorter lengths, work well. Save a few blossoms to sew or glue onto one side of the veil, as if they had drifted down.
You can decorate both sides for Beltane, leave one side plain, or decorate the second side for Samhain, when it would be appropriate to turn the veil and use it again. You’ll find a ritual to use with this Veil in the previous section, and you’re invited to adapt it for Samhain as you see fit. Meantime, hang it in a doorway or across a hall on May Day, to remind yourself that the realm of Faerie is always open to you, and to give yourself permission to enter it and bring back a renewed sense of joy from your visit.
Maybe you don’t have a hall or a doorway where you’re comfortable hanging up a Veil—or maybe you have the ideal place but your cats make the project impractical! Never mind; there are other things you can do to evoke the sense of a Veil. One such activity is making Fairy Flags.
When they’re done, you display them like Yule cards, on your walls maybe, or taped or strung along bookcase shelves…even attached to the fridge with magnets. Tape them up on doors, or behind the glass panels on cabinet doors, or anywhere else in your home they can brighten your days and thoughts.
Make them with tissue paper, in bright colors and patterns. Each one should be about 8" by 12"–14". Make them longer if you’d like to shape the bottoms in curves or points or crenellations. Fold them like paper dolls and cut designs into them, and/or “draw” designs on with glue and glitter. When any glue you’ve used is quite dry, hang up your flags!
Where else can you put them? In your garden, hanging right from plants (use the very small clothes pins you can find in craft stores—they’re so small they won’t hurt most plants, and they come in bright colors to match or contrast with your flags), or hanging from strings, taped to fences or to garden poles you already have. If you have decorative lights strung on your patio, Fairy Flags can go between the bulbs.
There’s a Mexican influence in these flags, which is not surprising, because I live just about 60 miles from the Mexican border, and have long taken great delight in the similar “flags” I see displayed here for a variety of festivals. But our Fairy Flags have a twist, because in addition to decorating them with cutouts or glitter, we can attach lengths of curling ribbon to each side of ours. And on those ribbons, we can write a few words of appreciation for the inspiration we’ve had from the Other World.
For Wiccans, those ribbons can symbolize the Maypole’s ribbons, their colors standing for the same qualities, and our choice of colors a declaration of our openness to their particular blessings. Flying the flags welcomes the Sidhe into our lives, and the colored ribbons we decorate them with pledge our attention to and appreciation of their blessings.
Some of us do live in places and circumstances where any bright displays might be problematical (though generally speaking, non-Pagans like May Day and find its celebration more quaintly endearing than threatening). We can still make Fairy Dust, though, and use it privately.
All you need is some talcum powder and some colored sugar—which you can find in the bakery aisle of your grocery store. You might also like to use a bit of glitter. Mix the powder and the sugar and/or glitter together, and voila! you have fairy dust. There are other “recipes” for it, too: you can use finely ground cornmeal instead of talcum powder, or even whole-wheat flour.
If you use cornmeal or flour with the colored sugar, you don’t have to worry about where the dust lands: in your underwear drawer, in your hair, on the kitchen counter—it’s organic and non-toxic. (Yes, alright, the sugar might be a bit pokey in your underwear or your socks, but the worst that’ll happen is that your sweat will dissolve it, possibly leaving a small colored mark on your or your socks or underpants. Call it a fairy touch and let it inspire you according to the symbolism of the color!)
May Morning “Dews”
In an article originally written for the Ostara/Beltane 2004 issue of the Tucson Area Wiccan-Pagan Network’s quarterly newsletter, Tapestry, Adventure priestess Chandra Nelson talks about the old tradition of washing your face in May-morning dew:
The fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree
Will ever after handsome be —Mother Goose
Okay, if hawthorns aren’t available, the outside temperature doesn’t reach the dew point, and/or getting up at dawn is impractical, what’s a maiden to do? Here are some alternatives to the famous May dew that will help keep your complexion beautiful.
If you don’t have dew, try steam! Boil two cups of water. Add two or three drops lavender essential oil, two or three sliced strawberries, and one teaspoon of red clover leaves (from a capsule or tea bag from a health food store). Turn off the heat, drape a towel over your head, and hold your face over the steam six to eight inches away. This will help open pores and remove impurities. Lavender brings happiness, peace, and love (what’s more beautiful than that?) and strawberries and red clover bring love.
Here’s a good facial cleanser: Grind one cup of oatmeal, one-quarter cup at a time, in a coffee grinder. Put the oat flour in a sealable container. Next, grind two tablespoons dried lavender to a powder. Add to the oat flour. Add a tablespoon of betonite clay, if you wish. Mix well. To use, wet your face, take approximately a tablespoon of the powder in your hand and add warm water to make a paste, and massage the paste over your skin. Rinse well. Oats hold in moisture, lavender has antibacterial properties, and clay tones the skin. Oats bring prosperity, and betonite brings love and clarity, while clay in general suggests creation.
And here’s a lovely toner. This one is wonderfully easy to make; the only two ingredients are rose water (found at health food stores and some drug stores) and witch hazel (found at grocery and drug stores). For dry or mature skin, mix two parts rose water to one part witch hazel; for combination skin, a 1:1 ratio; and for oily skin, one part rose water to two parts witch hazel. Store in a bottle or jar and apply to your face with a cotton ball. Rose water helps to restore your natural moisture balance, while witch hazel is an astringent with antibacterial properties. Roses, of course, mean love and beauty, while witch hazel brings protection and power. Thanks, Lady Chandra!
Wand of Discovery
The popular image of using a wand comes from movies like Walt Disney’s Cinderella, wherein the Fairy Godmother waves one and makes things happen. Oh, golly, don’t we wish! For most Wiccans, though, a wand is for inviting and guiding energy, a more gentle Tool than the athame, which most often commands. But the wand performs another function, appropriate for children as well as for adults, and that’s discovery. A wand’s work is to “draw attention to,” and not always in terms of drawing attention/energy to work magic; sometimes the idea is to draw attention to a magic that’s already been worked.
When we point a wand at something, we might be guiding working energy toward that object; but we might just as well be direction awareness to that object, pointing it out as already magical. That is the exclusive function of a Wand of Discovery, and that makes it an ideal craft for both children (who can always use validation of their natural talent of seeing things as magical) and adults (who often need reminding to see things as magical). Best of all, a Wand of Discovery is easy to make.
You need a length of very small doweling, the narrowest you can find. Sometimes you can get a 36" piece where lumber is sold, but more reliably, you can find it at a craft store. (You’re looking for something less than a quarter-inch in diameter.) If you can’t find wooden doweling, wire will do—and you can find that at nearly any hardware store—but if you’re using wire, it’s imperative to make a handle for the wand, so that the sharp cut end won’t hurt anyone.
For each wand you need a length of dowel or stiff wire to match the distance between the tip of your middle finger and the pointy bone in your elbow. Of course you need some craft glue, and also “pony” beads and glitter and bits of ribbon, and perhaps some leather scraps to make a handle; perhaps you’d like to use very small bells, or even very small faux flowers. A bead or two makes a nice tip for the wand, and the rest can be decorated any way you like. Allow plenty of time for the glue to dry before you use the wand.
Explain carefully to small children that the wand is not to be used for things like poking pets or batting siblings. (If it’s ever used that way, remove it from the offending wielder immediately, matter-of-factly rather than angrily, and allow him or her to try again tomorrow to use it properly. This teaches not only respect for the pets and siblings, but also respect for magical Tools.)
For those who haven’t the opportunity to go out and buy the materials for this project, or who want to use the idea more immediately, I should say that you can make a wand from rolled paper, too, using glue or tape, or even string or a rubber band, to keep it from unrolling. You can color the paper before you roll it, or glitter it afterwards. A paper wand won’t be as durable as one made of wood or metal, though, so if yours is paper, expect to make a new one every Beltane, or more often.
Use this wand to discover the magic in the world around you. Touch the stems of blooming roses with it, and say, “Beauty is magical.” Point toward fluffy clouds with it, say what they look like to you, and say, “Imagination is magical.” Wave it through the air as if it’s dancing—dance yourself while you wave it!—and recognize that “motion is magical.” Listen to music on the radio or stereo, and use the Wand of Discovery like a conductor’s baton, and learn or remember that “music is magical.” Touch the leaves of the vegetables in your garden, and discover the magic in both growth and food; touch the soil, and discover the magic in plain ol’ dirt! Touch the bubbles in the bathtub, for water and cleansing are magical. Touch the image in the mirror, and discover the magic in yourself.
Don’t stop there, and don’t think you must have that wand with you to recognize the magics you encounter every day, in every aspect of your life. Imagine yourself holding the wand at school or at work, and think what you could touch with it there. Language itself—speaking (and reading!) is magical: it lets people communicate complex ideas, share information over time and distance, and connect cultures and generations. Wow! Computers are magical, too, aren’t they? What about the cooperation it takes to complete a class or an office project? Or the patience it takes to deal with a difficult schoolmate or co-worker? Things like cooperation and patience are hard to touch with a physical wand, but you can touch them with the wand in your mind, and recognize them as magical, too.
Where I live, it’s usually warm enough by Beltane that we’re looking for cool meals, or at least dishes that don’t require much baking, as warming up the oven heats the whole house. Here are a few ideas.
For sweet treats, find little sponge cake cups—not the molds, but the cup-shaped cakes themselves—in your store. They make an excellent base for more than strawberry shortcake (which I think is better suited to Lammas than Beltane). Fill them with peach puree, made from fresh or (drained) canned peaches, and top them with “real” whipped cream, or the ready-made kind, or with just a little sugar or honey. Quick and easy, these are satisfying whether the peach puree is room temperature or chilled.
Another treat to make with peach puree—which you make by chopping fresh or canned peach sections into small pieces and blending the heck out of them, till they’re the consistency of applesauce (or, if you have a food processor instead of a blender, setting it on “puree”)—is fruit leather. This isn’t at all difficult, but it does take a day or so if you want to avoid using your oven.
On a cookie sheet, spread the puree thinly over wax paper or plastic wrap. Cover the whole thing with cheesecloth or a towel, being careful not to let it sag into the peach puree, and set it aside to dry out. If you did this in the oven (without the cloth), you’d put it on low heat and check it every hour or so, leaving it to get leathery. I think it’s nicer when it’s sun-dried, but you do want to keep bugs and plant-bits out of it, so to dry it in the sun, you do cover it. Hereabouts, leaving it out for a day is usually long enough; check yours in the morning to see if your climate’s had long enough.
When it’s dry, it’s dark and leathery. You can tear bits off and munch them, or, if it’s too tart for you—if you made it from fresh peaches, it’s unsweetened—you can put a touch of honey on it. You can also roll up a piece, with honey or a bit of whipped cream inside.
Fairy Ke-bab Wands
No, this isn’t about barbecue! (It is about sugar, so indulge in moderation.) What you need is a bag of miniature marshmallows and a packet of small wooden ke-bab sticks. If you can find the marshmallows in pastel colors, so much the better. If you can’t, not to worry: dip them in marshmallow cream (or honey) and roll them in colored sprinkles. Give them time to dry (on wax paper on a flat surface), and then push four or five of them onto the end of a ke-bab stick. If you’re making these ahead of time for a party, you can dress them up even more by painting the holding-end of the ke-bab sticks gold or silver—but leave the tip unpainted so that the marshmallows don’t touch it.
You already know how to make floats, I’m sure, so this isn’t as much a recipe as a reminder of what a delightful beverage this is. They’re refreshing all Summer, from Beltane right through Lammas and till the end of August!
All you need is some fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt and your favorite soda. People argue about whether to put the “ice cream” in first and pour the soda over it, or put an inch or two of soda in the bottom of a tall glass, add a hefty scoop of the frozen vanilla yogurt, and then fill the glass with more of the soda. I think it works both ways—so I guess you’ll just have to try it more than once to decide which tastes best to you!
(I suggest fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt and put “ice cream” in quotes because this is one time you can use the fat-free alternative without depriving yourself of any flavor. I used to make a face when anyone suggested substituting fat-free frozen yogurt for real ice cream. Then, after Canyondancer’s heart attack, we got serious about reducing the fats in our diet, and rather than give up my chocolate ice cream, I took a deep breath and tried the fat free frozen yogurt. Now I don’t care for real ice cream anymore, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about indulging my “chocolate tooth.”)
Now that their son the Explorer is all grown up, Ashleen O’Gaea and her husband Canyondancer share an adobe home northwest of