Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dancing at the Crossroads

May Day, or what the Celts called Beltane, is one of my favorite days of the year. Ancient European cultures celebrated this day with fertility traditions that included feasts, dancing, and weaving bright-colored ribbons around a Maypole to encourage young men & women to frolic with one another.

With the plentiful sunshine and newly blooming flowers, it seems as though the earth itself erupts in joy, and we can't help but allow our spirits to follow suit by celebrating the color and vibrancy of the season.

One of my personal rituals this time of year is to take a "wildflower walk" in the woods near my home to catch a glimps of the earliest blooms. The photo above is of wild violets that sprout along my favorite path, and below are trout lilies that are always the first to blossom and herald spring.

One of the more rare and whimsical flowers along my walk is called the "toad trillium" because its leaves are so large that they're the perfect canopy for secretive toads. It's velvety blood-red color also lends itself to an abundance of fairy tale musings...

And then there are the spectacular white trilliums that often cover an entire hillside in the woods like a luxurious gift from nature hereself.

It's this gift of warmth & light & color that always makes my heart soar. And one of my very favorite expressions of spring joy comes from the Irish tradition called "Dancing at the Crossroads." Folklore maintains that if you grab a partner at the place where two paths meet and dance a jig with pure joy in your heart, fertility & abundance will soon be on its way. The more laughter the better, so particularly from the 18th through 19th centuries, travelers in the Irish countryside might suddenly stumble upon a group of young men & women singing & engaging in a winsome dance...

This photo from Ireland in 1891 shows such a dance about to start. Who wouldn't want to release all their cares in the warm sunshine & allow their feet to skip to the tune of a lively melody, flirting all the while? What a marvelous way to kick off a spring romance or to simply forget your troubles and smile...

Yet something that charming and potentially sensous would have to attract haters from one corner or another, wouldn't it? And indeed it did—by 1935, the practice of Dancing at the Crossroads was banned in Ireland by the Public Dance Halls Act, which forced these spontaneous expressions of joy to move to buildings that could be monitored & regulated. Open air dancing was considered "sinful" by the Catholic church, and the photo above captures one of the last "legal" crossroad dances in Glendalough, County Wicklow in the early 1930s before it was banned. Nevertheless, many scholars believe rural dancing was the basis for all forms of Irish dancing that are so popular today.

And I can't help it—every time I look at this sepia-toned photo of couples weaving into dance as shadows grow long and the day eases into twilight, I think about their brazen act of joy and defiance, especially on May Day. Because by the 1930s, Dancing at the Crossroads was already denounced in fire & brimstone messages from pulpits and by proper people of "high station". And yet despite the social censure, these country couples danced anyway...

Could there be a better testimony to the fertile power of Beltane?  So on my wildflower walks, even when a sadness has invaded my life, or I face a seemingly unsurmountable obstacle that seems to want to crush me into submission, I often think about these dancers who were inspired by the sun & warmth & fragrance of spring, as well as the soft dirt beneath their feet. And for just a moment, out there in a natural setting, I refuse to allow cold & brittle thoughts or restrictions to dominate my soul. And sometimes—when no one is looking—I give a silent wink to the wildflower fairies and ask the universe to open my heart to all that is good & beautiful & abundant. And then I pick up my feet in the spirit of May Day and dance... 


  1. Diane,

    I loved taking your wildflower walk with you...what a treat! Isn't it interesting that some institution always wants to control and monitor joy?!


    1. Thank you, Jan—so nice of you to stop by! : )

  2. I'm so delighted this post had a warm effect on you, bringing a smile, no less! Thank you for returning the glow : )