The month of May is actually named after Maia the primordial Greek/Roman Goddess of Spring. She was also the eldest and most beautiful of the seven sisters who formed the constellation of the Pleiades, whose rising in the Eastern sky signaled the beginning of summer.
Other names associated with Maia are symbolic of the Mother Earth Goddesses including Gaia, Tellus, Cybelle and Tera Mater to name a few.
Maya is also the Hindu name given to the virginal/fertile aspect of the primordial triple Hindu Goddess known as Devi, the divine feminine. Maya means illusion, for she is seen as the great mother spider who weaves the heavenly aspect of Devi with Tara the primal earth. Maya weaves the two worlds together creating the world we live in now which can only be seen in human form. By understanding that the world we live in is an illusion we begin to allow ourselves to step out of time and open to our multi-dimensional selves. This concept of awareness, nirvana, moksha or enlightenment, is also similar to the concept of attaining Da’at in the Kabbalistic cosmology.
Some speculate that this early understanding of Maya was brought to the Americas and formed the basis of the Mayan cosmology in Central America. Both the Hindus and the Mayans share a complicated celestial calendar system which marks long cycles of human evolution. Both cultures have predicted that now (2000 – 2012) marks the end of a great cycle and the beginning of a new cycle in which humans will wake up from the “illusion” or a time of “awakening”.
In many ancient cultures this May Day marks one of the two great “doorways” celebrating the “light” after six months of “dark”. Beltane/May Day marks the beginning of the New Year when the veil of darkness lifts. Samhain/Halloween signals the beginning of the end of the year when the veil begins to fall. Both are seen as “in between days” when this veil is at its thinnest. May provides us the opportunity to open to our fullest potential, to in essence, birth ourselves.
Beltane is named in honor of the ancient Chaldean/Mesopotamian Goddess Belta, who represents fertility, vegetation and flowering. She is the female counterpart to Bel, the Lord of the Worlds and Father of the Gods. Bel is a part of the ancient male trinity of Bel, Anu and Hea. Together they became known as Ad or Adonai meaning “my lord”. Belta was a part of the feminine trinity made up of Belta, Anata and Davkina. Together they became known as Astarte or Ishstar meaning “star”. In many cultures this star became recognized as Venus or Aphrodite, the embodiment of love and beauty. Venus, is the second closest planet to the earth next to the moon, and can be seen as both a morning star and an evening star.
The beginning of May was also a very popular feast time in early Rome/Greece as they celebrated fertility and the sacred feminine. Tellus/Maia was seen as the original earth mother Goddess who had two daughters Flora and Fauna.
Flora, Goddess of flowers and fertility, was honored with the wearing of a crown of flowers in the hair; while Fauna, Goddess of animals and fertility, was honored with the letting loose of rabbits. The festival eventually focused on the worship of Flora. It was in her honor that a celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The Romans brought the Floralia festival to the British Isles where they were added to the celebrations of Beltane.
May Day is often celebrated with flowered wreaths worn by women and girls. Children dance around the May Pole holding onto long ribbons representative of the circular dance of springs unfolding. By the Middle Ages every English village had its own Maypole. The bringing of the Maypole from the woods was a great occasion and cause for celebration. The Maypoles were of all sizes, and villages would compete to see who could produce the tallest Maypole. Maypoles were usually set up for the day in small towns, but in London and the larger towns they were erected permanently. It was believed that every tree had a spirit, and as the town would choose the tree for its Maypole, they hoped they had also chosen a Tree Spirit that would bless them with fertility and good luck for the coming year.
Trees have always been symbolic of human nature and the world around us. They were seen as ancestor spirits that carry great wisdom. They symbolize the four seasons of birth (spring), life (summer), death (fall) and rebirth (winter). The Tree of Life is represented in every culture as a way of symbolizing our connection between the earthly world, the present world, the divine world, and the unknown world.
The Mayans believe that when the Tree of Life (which is seen as a “maypole” that runs through the center of our earth creating the axis that we rotate around) aligns with the center of our Milky Way Galaxy we will enter the Golden Age of awakening, which we are now in.
Beltane customs in Celtic cultures also included the gathering of trees for a fire that would bring new life to the springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men and women who were in love, passed through the smoke for good luck in preparation for the joining and blossoming celebrated during the Summer Solstice in June.
Beltane/May Day poem created by Rudyard Kipling:
“Oh, do not tell the Priest of our art. For he will call it sin, but we shall be in the woods all night, conjuring Summer in! We bring good news by word of mouth for women and cattle and corn. The Sun is coming up from the South by Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.”