Beltane is one of my favorite turns of the wheel. It is a time to celebrate the sensual and sexual nature of all beings, and to drink in the passion that swirls around us. Here in the northern hemisphere we are seeing the land awaken after a deep slumber through the cold winter months. We see the blossoms appear on fruit trees, with their gentle fragrance and delicate stamen tempting bees toward them in a seductive dance that ensures a bountiful harvest later in the year. The air is charged with fertile, fiery energy that seems to emanate from every direction and fills us with passion as we look around and celebrate life.
Beltane, just as its counterpart Samhain, is a time when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and the two intermingle. It is a time when the faeries awake from their winter slumber and begin to dance and play in the fresh grasses and flowers that herald their coming. In times past, branches of Rowan were set in window sills and flower petals were laid at entryways to serve as protection from the mischievous Faerie folk who were buzzing with energy, much like child awakening from a long nap; ready to play!
It is said that on the eve of Beltane, the Queen of the Faeries rides out on her white steed, tempting those she comes across back to the Land of the Fae. There is a lovely ballad from Scotland, written in the 13th century, called “Thomas the Rhymer”. In it, a young man named Thomas meets a beautiful woman riding a white horse while he rests upon a riverbank. She reveals herself to be the Queen of Faeries (Elfland) and, after sealing him to her with a kiss, takes him on her horse. They ride long and far until he expresses hunger, but she refuses to allow him to eat anything other than what she gives him. While they are stopped, she reveals to him where they are headed. She shows him three distinct paths: one heavy with thorny brambles leading to heaven, one beautiful and inviting which leads to hell, and one that is lush and green which leads directly to her lands. There she tells him not to speak lest he never return to his own land. She then gives him clothing and keeps him there for seven years. To read more about this, do visit the website dedicated to Tam Lin.
Thomas the Rhymer
also known as “True Thomas”
1. True Thomas lay on Huntlie Bank,
A ferlie he spied wi’ his eye
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by Eildon Tree.
2. Her shirt was o the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o the velvet fyne
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
Hang fifty siller bells and nine.
3. True Thomas, he pulld aff his cap,
And louted low down to his knee
“All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see.”
4. “O no, O no, Thomas,” she said,
“That name does not belang to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee.”
5. “Harp and carp, Thomas,” she said,
“Harp and carp along wi’ me,
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your bodie I will be.”
6. “Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunton me;”
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.
7. “Now, ye maun go wi me,” she said,
“True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
And ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro weal or woe, as may chance to be.”
8. She mounted on her milk-white steed,
She’s taen True Thomas up behind,
And aye wheneer her bridle rung,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
9. O they rade on, and farther on–
The steed gaed swifter than the wind–
Untill they reached a desart wide,
And living land was left behind.
10. “Light down, light down, now, True Thomas,
And lean your head upon my knee;
Abide and rest a little space,
And I will shew you ferlies three.”
11. “O see ye not that narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
12. “And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path to wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
13. “And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.
14. “But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever ye may hear or see,
For, if you speak word in Elflyn land,
Ye’ll neer get back to your ain countrie.”
15. O they rade on, and farther on,
And they waded thro rivers aboon the knee,
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
But they heard the roaring of the sea.
16. It was mirk mirk night, and there was nae stern light,
And they waded thro red blude to the knee;
For a’ the blude that’s shed on earth
Rins thro the springs o that countrie.
17. Syne they came on to a garden green,
And she pu’d an apple frae the tree:
“Take this for thy wages, True Thomas,
It will give the tongue that can never lie.”
18. “My tongue is mine ain,” True Thomas said;
“A gudely gift ye was gie to me!
I neither dought to buy nor sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.
19. “I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye:”
“Now hold thy peace,” the lady said,
“For as I say, so must it be.”
20. He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were gane and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen.
I wish you a most blessed and beautiful Beltane for our readers in the northern hemisphere and Samhain for our readers in the southern hemisphere!