I wasn’t sure if a Bealtaine Gathering Box was going to come together this year, but I left myself open to it, and sure enough, the ember caught alight. I’ve been ruminating on the intense “sacred union” energy I’ve been feeling lately and thinking about how we can carry that with us and tap into it in our every day lives. This fits perfectly with the spirit of Bealtaine in its fiery, creative, life-giving energy, so that’s the place where all the formulas in this box are coming from. As always, I’m calling in some of my most favorite medicines from the past and adding to the mix with some new ones. These boxes will go live in my apothecary Wednesday, April 17 at noon Eastern time.
On Sacred Union
When I say “sacred union” I’m specifically thinking about the divine feminine and masculine working together, but this encompasses much more than the interaction of a male/female binary. What I really mean is acknowledging and honoring Sacred Union in every thread of the fabric of your life; in yourself (because we all embody a measure of each, and even that can be in flux depending on the day/situation), your partner, your interpersonal connections, your earthspace, the ebb and flow of your own life… anywhere you can see ups/downs, expansion/contraction, dormancy/emergence, etc. working together even on the tiniest level to create this fiery alchemy called life, because it’s so achingly beautiful when you see the totality of how it all fits together. There can be no springs without winters, no births without gestation, no dizzying mountaintop vistas without echoing valleys, no order without chaos, and no healing without pain and pilgrimage.
At the risk of being too reductionist, let’s just for a minute talk in terms of the male/female binary (I’ll bring it back around, I promise). Specifically, the god/goddess union of hieros gamos and Sovereignty. I find the concept of hieros gamos particularly fascinating because it relies on this concept that the fruits of a Sacred Union between god and goddess for a land and its people to thrive. You find this in many mythologies, but since this is a Bealtaine Box and we are honoring the Celtic ritual year, I really want to talk about female Sovereignty, which, in my understanding, is a slightly different dynamic than hieros gamos and an archetype of which there is no shortage in Celtic mythology. I don’t mean Sovereignty in the sense of consent and sexual autonomy (also essential to being a whole human), but as in the one who bestows Sovereignty or rulership because she is rooted in her full power and embodies the land. It was known that being in right relationship with the land is essential to survival, and women in Celtic mythology were the voice of the land (which in itself was decidedly a female entity), as well as wisdom keepers, healers, protectors of the wells, and makers of kings. In Ireland, the ancient marriage rite between the king and the land was called the “banais ríghi”, and was still performed into the sixteenth century. Without a sacred contract with the divine feminine, a kingdom becomes a wasteland. This is true on so many levels, whether the kingdom in question is your living, breathing earthspace, your inner landscape, the shape of your interactions with others, or our current (and hopefully dying) paradigm. In a culture where most of us live in a dynamic driven and dominated by the needs of a patriarchy that has long since broken its covenant with the divine feminine, I’m suggesting that we marry our inner landscapes in Sacred Union. Make a pact with our Sovereign selves to know ourselves intimately and wholly, to tend our sacred wells of inspiration, to explore and honor our inner peaks and valleys, to sit with our stagnant, murky bogs to see what lies beneath, to sing with our raging waterfalls, and to make ourselves hymns to this land in human form. Pay close attention to when things are out of balance and promise yourself that you will seek out and engage in that connection that feeds your fire and keeps your “land” thriving. Because once the ember flares under the breath of Sacred Union, new kingdoms and ways of being are forged.
On Bealtaine and Hawthorn
Bealtaine is my absolute favorite festival of the ritual year along with Samhain, its darker counterpart. Even as a child, two of my favorite traditions were the maypole (this is more May Day than Bealtaine) and Halloween (still true!). I see these two fiery cross-quarter days as the same gateway to the otherworld, but the door is hinged differently for each. These two festivals occupy the same liminal space, but for different reasons. Before strict calendars were kept and time was told by earth and sky, the beginning of Bealtaine festivities were more likely to be marked by the closest dark (new) moon to the midpoint between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice (or maybe even when the hawthorn bloomed?… entirely my own speculation). This was more of a short “season” than a fixed day. When we look at the year from a Celtic perspective, the times between these two festivals are seen as the two halves of the year. Where Samhain is all about the drawing in of energies and giving death to things as winter makes itself known, Bealtaine is the welcoming of the growing season in all of its riotous life-giving energy. Samhain is when the livestock are brought home from summer pastures and herds are culled; Bealtaine is a season when they return to lush green grazing lands and ewes drop their lambs. On both feast days, great bonfires were lit between which people and animals passed for purposes of protection, and hearth fires were doused and re-lit from these large community bonfires.
Hawthorn is front and center for Bealtaine (and Samhain, too, if you ask me), and is one of the two plants I feel the deepest connection with. It’s interesting to note that the hawthorn blooms near Bealtaine and fruits near Samhain. It is the Celtic tree of sex and death, as evident in the scent profile of the flowers which contain triethylamine- a chemical also present in human sexual fluids as well as rotting flesh. Hawthorn stands rooted in the threshold of where our souls enter this physical world and where we leave it. Bealtaine is a time when the creative forces of humans and nature are simultaneously at their peak. All of nature seems to be procreating, and the feeling is certainly contagious. The maypole itself and its crowning wreath of flowers could be seen as blatant symbols of the male/female union, although there is no historical proof that this was what they were originally intended to represent. (Note here that the maypole and May Day are more English than Celtic manifestations of the season. In the context of a Celtic holiday, this was very much a fire festival). Some folktales will tell you that sleeping under the hawthorn on May Eve would give you a front row seat to see the fairies riding out to revel in the greening of the earth. Young women sought to wash their faces in the dew of hawthorn blossoms in hopes of maintaining their youthful glow and attracting a mate. The blooms were seen as a symbol of hope, renewed life, betrothal, protection, and fecundity at a time when the earth was bursting forth with new growth. During Bealtaine you might also find flowering branches of hawthorn to adorning doorway lintels (although it was considered very taboo to bring them in past your threshold). To me, a hawthorn in bloom is associated with the euphoria of being drunk on new love; that feeling when senses peak and blood and sap alike begin their vernal ascent through xylem, phloem, vein, and artery, waking senses from their winter torpor and enamoring you of life all over again.
It’s no coincidence that in modern herbalism, the hawthorn is medicine for both the emotional and the physical heart- which we now know as an organ of perception. The hawthorn offers us their medicine throughout the year and embodies many dualities while being a symbol of Sacred Union. I believe the need for heart medicine and the need for the ability to connect with and understand each other (and ourselves) outside of our current societal norms and binaries are more relevant now than ever. Right now, we walk a hedge, a space between what we’ve always known and a new way of being. I believe part of hawthorn’s hedge medicine is to help us transition to this new way, on a personal level as well as interpersonally. For these reasons, hawthorn will be featured in the Bealtaine Gathering Box, and I’ve incorporated the medicine of hawthorn leaf, flower, and fruit, as well as the thorn.
What’s in this Gathering Box?
Sacred Union Massage + Body Oil- (4oz bottle) For self or partnered massage, or apply all over after you get out of the shower. Because of the essential oils, this is not intended for internal use (ie, don’t use this as lube).
Ingredients: safflower oil, sesame oil, grape seed oil, damiana, kava, hawthorn leaf and flower, tulsi, rose, ginger, essential oils of lavender, ylang ylang, patchouli, clary sage, jasmine, and tocopherols (vitamin e). All organic.
Brigid’s Breath Ritual Incense Blend- (4oz jar) A loose herbal incense for claiming and clearing space, setting boundaries, and welcoming in the riotous, verdant energy of spring. Each jar contains a quick light charcoal round.
Ingredients: rosemary, mugwort, sage, hawthorn leaf + flower, damiana, juniper berries, rose petals.
Untangle Elixir- (1oz bottle) An energetic elixir for untangling shame from the expression of your erotic self; for aligning the Eros and the Ego. Also for finding and setting new boundaries around this.
Ingredients: Damiana, hawthorn (leaf, flower, berry, thorn), angelica, black cohosh, ashwagandha, rose, shatavari, honeysuckle infused honey (locally sourced), preservative free brandy. Suggested dose is 1-3 drops. Take straight from the bottle or dose your water bottle and sip throughout the day.
A little about the ingredients……
Angelica is aromatic, warming, and uplifting. It encourages blood flow and loosens cold, stuck, stagnant things. In this formula, I see it as helping you to move out of a chronic way of negative thinking. Damiana is frequently used to increase libido that is affected by stress and/or fatigue, and ashwagandha has a supporting role here in nourishing your nervous system. Ashwagandha is also used for low sexual function brought on by stress. Shatavari (“she of 1000 husbands”) is an Ayurvedic herb considered to be the great juicifyer, bringing moisture to dry tissue. Hawthorn leaf and flower embody the very essence of creative and generative energy. The berry is nutritive to the cardiovascular system, which in turn supports fresh blood flow to all parts of the body. The thorn helps to establish boundaries, is a fierce protector of the hedge’s inhabitants, and can shift our awareness between realms. I included honeysuckle in this formula because of its sweet, intoxicating aroma. Black cohosh is in here for so many reasons. To the indigenous people of this land, this is snake medicine. Just look at the dark, tangled mess of roots and you’ll see why. Snake medicine has deeply transformative psychological power. I learned from Sean Donahue that it can help you see the wonder of a starry sky from a deep hole. It aligns the root and the crown; the eros and the ego. The essence of black cohosh is used to help people disentangle themselves from abusive relationships. And no formula of this kind is complete without the gentle comfort and holding in of rose.
Anam Cara literally translates from the Irish language to mean “soul friend.” In the Celtic tradition, it can also be a teacher or spiritual guide. Anam Cara is the highest expression of how we relate to one another and helps us to understand our place in the web of life. When we come to this understanding and learn to relate to one another as divine beings, it creates a sense of belonging and acceptance. This formula is to help you move in a place of love and understanding, knowing that we are all branches on the same tree. I use all of the rose family trees sacred to the Celts and blend them with other rose family plants wildcrafted by myself and friends here in southeastern Pennsylvania. I included elder in this formula for her association with rowan and hawthorn in being portals to the spirit world. Rosemary has a part here in helping us to remember those things that we forgot we knew- bringing forth truths that have been buried in and by our consciousness, things that we have lost touch with in just a few generations, things our ancestors are aching to tell us from the other side of the veil. This cordial was conceived in the end of October, approaching the time of year when the veil is thinnest. Anam Cara helps us to share the deepest parts of our hearts and minds and receive the same from others without being distracted by our physical selves.
Ingredients: hawthorn berries, rowan berries, elderberries, wineberries, black chokeberry, rose petals, apple, rosemary, local PA honey, preservative free brandy.
A small muslin drawstring bag filled with dried hawthorn leaf, flower, berries, and a single thorn. Hawthorn is synonymous with hedge medicine. For navigating times of transition with love, boundary setting, and keeping that connection to the otherworld open.