Spring Abundance and the Festival of Beltane
I think that a sunny morning in Britain in May sums up just about everything good about living and enjoying the natural world. May in Britain is so beautiful; the white drifts of cow parsley along the hedgerows, plump green leaves on all the trees, lilac in flower and the drifting snow of falling hawthorn petals. Birdsong, blue sky and everything on the cusp of fruiting and blooming. I have seen some beautiful places in the world, but Britain in May, to me, is the loveliest time and place anywhere.
In the past and among contemporary pagans, Beltane is the festival that celebrates this moment of ripeness and beauty. Beltane, on the 1st of May, celebrates the Maiden becoming Mother, the gift of life, the lushness of nature in balance. Beltane is vigour and energy and is the first breath, and in that spring freshness lies the promise and hope of the harvest. In Beltane, this time of energy and vigour, the memory of Winter still looms, like a shadow in the corners. We feel great relief that the cold and dark has passed and celebrate the banishment of Winter (in Northern Hemispheres).
Traditionally, the time between March and the end of May was known as ‘the hungry gap.’ This was the time when stores are almost depleted and when there was very little in the garden to harvest. This hungry gap was the moment when the work you had done, or not done, in the previous year showed itself. If you had worked hard and been blessed with a good harvest, then you might well have enough stores to ride the hungry gap. If you didn’t then you would be suffering and maybe making promises to yourself to do the work to ensure a better harvest than the last.
So the May festival of Beltane is a time to celebrate abundance; the riches we have now and the riches (hopefully) yet to come. Most of all, Beltane is about energy, which for artists is also the energy of inspiration.
Artists are asked where they get their inspiration from and the reply should probably be, it comes from work. Because to harvest the abundance of inspiration as an artist, you have to turn up and do the work.
Those times when you are not making good work, not getting sales, not building successful relationships and networks, that funding you didn’t get; those times can be considered to be our artistic winters. The question is, how to hold on during those dark ‘soul’ winters, how to build a store that gets us through the hungry gap?
Probably, there are as many strategies for coping with our artistic winters as there are artists experiencing it, however I think there are certain strategies that should work for everyone.
Firstly, (and as a solitary person I struggle with this one) find people. The most important thing you can do as an artist is find other creatives. You need to know people who think expansively, people who are open to and actively seeking new ideas. The company of other creative thinkers is the most important resource to help you keep going when times are dark. After that, it’s a question of “fetching water, chopping wood.”
There is a well-known Zen koan that says:
"Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."
In other words, turn up, do the work. Don’t wait for Spring, for Beltane, for things to get good before you start. Make work all the time, even in the darkest deeps of winter. Get into notebook or sketchbook keeping as a daily discipline at the very least. Make bad work, make hasty work, make ill-considered work if that is all you can manage, but above all, keep making work.
Every piece of work you make, every thought you note, every sketchbook you fill is food in the stores to protect you against the hungry gap. It might be the equivalent of an ancient jar of pickles at the back of the larder, but it’s there and in a pinch, it can help to keep you fed.
So, turn up, do the work, keep going.
Maybe you will have a mild winter, maybe a hard one and perhaps Spring abundance seems a long way away. Hopefully it will come, hopefully you will be able to celebrate the abundance of success, whatever that success means to you. And when it comes, remember to celebrate, enjoy the abundance of your successful Spring and don’t forget to invite friends to the party. Share the riches, invite others to collaborate, have a blast.
Then keep on “fetching water, chopping wood.”