Beltane (May 1st): A Holy Day
By: Nirmala Nataraj
There are four great festivals during the pagan Celtic year and modern witches'
calendars; the two greatest are Samhain (the beginning of winter) and Beltane
(the beginning of summer). Beltane is a cross-quarter day, so it marks the
midpoint in the sun's progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice.
While it's now interchangeable with "May Day," since the Celtic year was based
in both lunar and solar cycles, it's plausible that the holiday was celebrated
on the full moon that was closest to the midpoint between spring equinox and
summer solstice. Astronomically, this midpoint is closer to May 7, but this
tends to vary from year to year.
In any case, May 1 has long been
considered a "power point" of the zodiac, and is symbolized by the bull, one of
the tetramorph figures featured on the tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of
Fortune. (The other three symbols are the Lion, the Eagle, and the Spirit.)
Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four "fixed" signs of
the zodiac (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius), and these naturally align with
the four sabbats of witchcraft. (An interesting side note is that Christians
have adopted the same iconography to represent the four Gospel
The word "Beltane" is derived from the Irish Gaelic (Bealtaine)
or Scottish Gaelic (Bealtuinn), which translates to "bel-fire," or the fire of
the Celtic god of light, Beli (who can be traced back to the Middle Eastern god
Baal). May itself is named in honor of the goddess Maia, who was originally a
Greek mountain nymph.
Typically, Beltane is a sabbat to celebrate gods
of the hunt or of the forest, and goddesses of passion and motherhood, as well
as agricultural deities. While no specific deity is attached to the festival,
Beltane is generally a celebration of fecundity and the balancing of both the
divine feminine and masculine. There are a number of pre-Christian figures
associated with Beltane, including the Green Man (reproduced as a masculine face
covered in leaves and shrubbery), who comes up in the legends of the British
Isles. In some parts of England, a Green Man is carried through town in a wicker
cage as the townsfolk welcome the beginning of summer.
In ancient times,
agricultural Celtic societies celebrated Beltane in honor of the fertility of
the gods. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the bel-fires and blessed with
health and fertility for the coming year. Druids kindled the great bel-fires at
sundown; the fires were thought to have healing properties, and skyclad (nude)
witches jumped through the flames to ensure protection in their communities.
Other customs associated with Beltane include walking the circuit of one's
property, repairing fences and boundary markers, processions of milkmaids and
chimney sweeps, archery tournaments, sword dances, and general merriment.
Another common ritual is the hanging of May boughs on the doors and windows of
houses, and the erection of May bushes in farmyards.
celebration was first and foremost a time of unabashed human sexuality and
fertility. Relics of that time of untrammeled sensuality can still be seen in
the obvious phallic symbolism of the Maypole or riding the
Not surprisingly, while May Day was celebrated even after the
advent of Christianity in western Europe, the Puritans reacted with pious horror
at the May Day rites, and even made Maypoles illegal in 1644. They mostly
attempted to suppress the "greenwood marriages" of young men and women who spent
the night in the forest together and brought back boughs of flowers to bedeck
the village the following morning. Authors like Kipling have written about the
clash between traditional, highly sexual May Day activities and religious piety:
Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a
But we have been out in the woods all night,
In fact, many of these customs can actually be linked to the Roman
feast of flowers, the Floralia, which marked three days of unbridled sexuality
that began at sundown April 28 and reached its apex May 1.
observed by many people today in various forms, and can be celebrated in a
variety of simple ways, such as forming a wreath of freshly picked flowers,
dressing in bright colors, blessing your garden, and making a wish as you jump a
bonfire or candle flame for good luck.
Read more about holidays, worship, & ceremonies... >>
make all the difference as we work to keep engaged spirituality and a unique
spiritual expression of service viable in the world. At SHARANYA, our
Goddess Temple survives because of you, because of your support. For
all of the ways in which you love the Divine and make Her manifest, we
are deeply grateful.
Thank you for your
to making spirituality
a vehicle for social justice
Thank you for helping the spread of
in the world. Jai Maa!
Looking forward to seeing you at
a puja, class, or commuity event soon!
* Can I make a donation for Maa's worship if I live outside the Bay Area or can't attend this month?
Absolutely. Should you wish to contribute to the worship, know that we
will call your name into circle so that your intention will be with Maa
and held by community in sacred space. We can also mail you a flower
from the ceremony to put on your altar if you desire. Just let us know
with your donation and be sure to provide a current mailing address. Please contribute what you wish.
* I would like to offer flowers for Maa and Shiva. Can I do that?
That would be wonderful! Whether or not you can attend,
offering flowers is a lovely way to share your devotion. Please contribute what you wish.
Donate Now >>
Kali Puja: Devotion to Devi - This Sunday (4/26)!
New! Temple Etiquette and Good Things to Know for Puja!
SHARANYA, we are dedicated in our worship to Goddess Kali in Her myriad
forms, including those as She is expressed through the world's various
traditions that honor the Dark Goddess, the one who holds the wisdom of
the full spectrum of human beingness.
Ceremony is held in the Sha'can tradition
and lead by Rashani (ordained clergy) with help from community. Our
puja infuses methods and practices from East and West in order to
create a sacred space for worship, deepening, and opening on the path
of the bhakta, or devotee of the Divine. Learn more about what our ceremonies are like with this brief introduction.
What to bring... Offerings for the main altar are welcome. It is
customary to bring flowers, fruit, wine, vegetarian offerings, or
sweets and to refrain from wearing black to our public rituals. If you
wish to wear a special color for Kali, we invite you to don red, a
color associated with Her power in the phenomenal world as shakti, the activating force and the energy of creation. You are also invited to bring an object you would like to have blessed.
A sliding scale donation of $21-15 is suggested to cover the cost of the space, puja supplies and prasad
(blessed food); however, no one is ever turned away for lack of funds,
and any donation is graciously accepted--we appreciate so much the
offerings you make to support our work and the community.
Note: Pujas are preceded by our teaching circle, Daughters of Kali.
An R.S.V.P. is requested if you would like to participate. All Kali Puja ceremonies begin at 5:30 p.m. No one is admitted after 5:45pm.
Worship usually ends at 8:00pm and is followed by community time and
sharing of prasad. Children are welcome, but no childcare is provided.
Cushions and chairs are available (arrangements can be made for
wheelchair access - kindly let us know in advance).
If you have been to a puja and wish to tell others about
your experience, we would love to have you share!
Please offer a testimonial here!
Learn more about this and other offerings at our mandir... >>
Mudra of the Month
Utilizing a mudra can be one of the most effective ways
of promoting health and knowledge in your mind, body, and soul. Each
finger of the hand symbolizes each tattva (an element or aspect
of reality conceived as an aspect of the Divine), and each mudra
connotes the awakening of a particular power or knowledge. Mudras are
deeply stabilizing and work to enhance energy levels and can be
wonderful tools for remedying external or internal problems.
This month, for a little internal spring cleaning, try the Apana mudra during your
meditations. This mudra can be used whenever you are feeling depleted-it's a
quick way of revitalizing the body and lightly detoxifying. Its many benefits
include purifying the blood, releasing excess fluids from the body, and charging
the body with prana.
The Apana mudra can be performed by joining the tip
of your middle two fingers (ring and middle fingers) with the thumb, and keeping
your other two fingers straight. It should be performed on an empty stomach-if
possible, during meditation for about 20 minutes. Complete the mudra with your
eyes closed; after completion, keep your eyes closed for a few minutes but
release your palms so that they are open, and simply observe the sensations in
Want to know more? Answers to some of your most FAQs... >>
Our Community Welcomes You
Come sing and worship with us!
Interested in lending your love of Maa, your creativity, your inspiration to Kali Puja? Feel free to bring
us your ideas and energy. We have many ways for you to become
immediately and directly involved in a vibrant and growing spiritual
community, and look forward to your unique expression of joy in Her
name. We welcome your suggestions too; your experience, expertise, and
desire can inform many of the ways we do Her work in the world!
Click here to learn more about joining in the celebration of Her through SHARANYA...and be with us in cyberspace if you're not able to join us in person. Get timely updates, notifications of events, and your mantra of the day by being part of our online world:
And of course, stay in touch with us in all the old-fashioned ways too! Were you forwarded this newsletter by a friend?
Click here to receive your own newsletter! >>
Upcoming Events & Offerings
Purnima Satsang & Community Outreach (5/9) 10am - 5pm Full Moon - SHARANYA at the Berkeley Pagan Pride Festival. Join us for aarati of Maa and Shiva on the hour every hour, dhyana (meditation) with the full moon energies, food, fun, and community building time.
Yogini Chakra (5/23) (Closed circle) & Saint Sarah's Day
Amavasya Satsang & Community Potluck (5/24) 5:30-7:30pm New Moon - Evening of dhyana
(meditation), spiritual teachings, and/or ceremony at SHARANYA's Devi
Mandir - our home sanctuary. This is a community celebration; extended
spiritual family and guests are welcome. The satsang will be followed
by a potluck and community time. RSVP requested.
SHARANYA's Kali Puja (5/31) Open to everyone. Come join us in worship of the Divine Mother, Goddess Kali Maa, by all Her names!
Not in the San Francisco Bay Area?
you are not in the Bay Area or cannot attend events for any reason,
please join one of our online communities and participate in learning
more about Maa through Kali Vidya: A Wisdom School for Her Mysteries. Kali Vidya is offering a series of classes that you can work through independently or with your current worship circle.
Learn more about the tradition that inspires our worship... >>
Mantra of the Month
अब्रह्म स्तम्ब पर्यन्तम् देवर्सि पित्र् मनवह
त्रिपयन्तु पितरह सर्वे मत्र् मत महदयह
abrahma stamba paryantam devarsi pitr manavaha
tripayantu pitaraha sarve matr mata mahadayaha
अतित कुल कोतिनम् सप्त द्विप निवसिनम्
अब्रह्म भुवन लोकदि दम् अस्तु तिलोदकम्
atita kula kotinam sapta dvipa nivasinam
abrahma bhuvana lokadi dam astu tilodakam
This mantra means...
From the highest realm to the lowest as far as the universe extends, let all divine sages and forebearers, all deceased ancestors, on both the father's and mother's side be worshiped. Let this humble offering of (black) sesame and water benefit the whole world, from the heavens down to this earth; may it benefit the inhabitants of the seven continents belonging to the unlimited families in the past.
Note: Black sesame is traditionally used to honor the dead in Hindu rituals, a food and planting symbolic of life, death and rebirth.
Listen to monthly mantras here >>
Crafting Puja for Maa...
Hinduism is a
source of inspiration in myriad Western spiritual communities, with
practitioners offering devotions to Hindu deities on their home altars
as readily as they supplicate resurrected and reconstructed divinities
from other pantheons. Combine this trend with a confluence of feminism,
goddess-focused spiritualities, and a growing Indian-American
population that has Hindu diasporic roots and bi-cultural
sensibilities, and we witness the birthing of new, culturally relevant
and accessible Hinduisms.
We at SHARANYA are overjoyed to share that Crafting Puja for Maa: Understanding Ritual & the Devotional Experience in the Sha'can Tradition of Western Shakta Tantra, has been chosen for presentation at the national conference of the American Academy of Religion in November.
Would you like to learn more and participate? >>
Voices of the Goddess
By: Chandra Alexandre
Back in March, I explored the contemporary and historical landscape of women clergy in goddess
worshipping traditions with a focus on Pagan and Hindu faiths during the Western Regional Conference of the American Academy of Religion. In this initial inquiry, I looked at the role and responsibilities of clergy within
these traditions in order to determine the import
and relevance to the politics of women's lives and religious
experience. With orthodox religious dictates often excluding women from
spiritual leadership (even in traditions where goddess is honored), the
questions of how and whether the presence of women clergy in goddess-centered
religions offers insight into the possibilities for a feminist divine and a
liberation spirituality were necessary for me to entertain. I wondered...Do women priests and
priestesses facilitate an opposition to oppressive religious dogma and cultural
norms? Do they create spaces for women's empowerment vis-à-vis a divine female?
Do they serve in ways that help shape and move religious identities beyond
women's roles as keepers of household worship?
Pagan and Hindu traditions offer within their bounds both goddess-centered
the(a)ologies and particular philosophies that support a positive view of and
relationship with not only the divine but also actual women. However, the
question of the relevance to women of clergy within these faiths must first be
considered in light of the many ways in which women: i) are denigrated through
religio-cultural vehicles; and, ii) carry out worship of the goddess on their
own. Join me as I examine these questions and then engage some of the ways in which women clergy today are serving the goddess--pushing beyond
patriarchal limitations to facilitate communion, healing, and transformation
within their own communities.
Read this and other articles & inspirations here >>
Gratitudes to the Kaula & Community
Blessings for Beltane, Bihu & Beyond!
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI