Memento Mori; Beltane and Death
By Lilliana Blackstar
People don’t often talk about death at Beltane - a spring festival that celebrates union and fertility. In the Northern Hemisphere we celebrate Beltane in the middle of Taurus Season, around May 1 - just as (for many people) the flowers are blossoming and the weather is shifting away from rain into days of warmth and sunshine.
Traditionally, Beltane is a celebration of the metaphorical union of the Divine Feminine with the Divine Masculine; a union that results in fertile lands, pollination of crops, and the energetic conception of new energy that will carry life forward. There are many ways that Beltane is celebrated - usually it is a time of dancing, celebrating, and opening up to the energies of pleasure, bounty, and our wild and instinctual natures. Bonfires, feasting, decorating with flowers, courtship and flirting, and prayers for fertile crops and success in our lives are usually the focus of our Beltane celebrations.
In my initiatory tradition, we are taught that the work of witches is to maintain the balance. We recognize the energies that flow must be balanced, and a life out of balance will generally not propagate happy results. Each month when we honor the Full Moon we are given an opportunity to find this Balance in our lives; as the Full Moon will shine from the opposite astrological sign of the sun. Thus, at the season of Beltane when the sun is in Taurus - the Full Moon will be in the sign of Scorpio. Scorpio is the sign most commonly associated with Death. More aptly, Scorpio is the sign of Secrets, the Hidden and the Unknown - and since we can never truly see Death until we experience it, Death is the realm of Scorpio. Death is that truly secret final journey we will take, that will be hidden from us until the time we cross that boundary. Scorpio is therefore associated with the dead and the ancestral realm - when the Sun is in Scorpio we celebrate Samhain and take time to honor our beloved dead.
“Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law humankind has that is free of all discrimination.” - Seneca
So here we are, in the midst of celebrating Beltane -a feast of fertility and sex and pleasure - and here comes a Scorpio Full Moon - reminding us of death and endings. This is the balance. It is true that at Beltane with Spring we celebrate fertile lands, but in six months we will celebrate Samhain and watch as the world settles into a cold and dark time when we cannot grow the crops. In truth, fertility and death are deeply connected. In agriculture we know that soil is fertilized by rot and decay, by mushroom and fungus, and by the droppings and waste of living animals. Without this process of decay, the soil becomes dead and dry, unable to support the growth of new plants. Astrologically we can see this balance of Spring and Fall with the consideration of the Taurus-Scorpio axis. Taurus brings the spring celebration of Beltane, with a Scorpio Full Moon. and in the Fall, Scorpio season brings the celebration of Samhain, and a Taurus Full Moon.
On a seemingly unrelated personal journey, a few weeks ago I decided to begin a personal study of Stoic Philosophy. I wanted to know what the Stoics of ancient Greece believed, and see if any of those philosophies could be applied to my own life as a modern neo-pagan. As I began my study, one of the first concepts I found that is central to Stoic philosophy is “Memento Mori” - best translated as “Remember that you must die”. The stoics believed that the fear of death would only hold you back from living a fulfilling or meaningful life, and that the best way to overcome a fear of death is to think about your own death frequently and deeply. In facing your own death, you recognize that death is inevitable - it comes for anyone at any time - and therefore it is something beyond our control. The stoics believe that if something is outside of your personal control, it is a waste of time to worry about it. So once you accept that death is inevitable and unavoidable, you can accept it and even embrace it. If you follow this acceptance of death with logic in the way of the Stoics - accepting and keeping your own mortality in mind will remind you that life is short, and since you never know when it will end you will strive to live every day with more purpose, more intention, and more kindness.
“It is not death that man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” - Marcus Aurelius
In the end, memento mori reminds us to live each day as if it may be our last; focusing on what is really important. Remembering our Death at all times reminds us to be more kind, more loving, and to live every day with purpose. This Stoic approach brings Beltane to life in a new way when we can truly ask ourselves; what am I planting that will grow into the future even when I am gone? What seeds am I nurturing, and how am I keeping the soil fertile? What pleasures can I celebrate each day, and how can I make life more pleasant and joyful for my loved ones? How can I live each moment to its fullest, and avoid wasting time worrying or fretting about things I cannot change or control?
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” —Seneca
Look deeper and see beyond Beltane - to the balance that we seek between Taurus and Scorpio. Taurus is the sign of embodiment and pleasure, of our earthly experiences like food and shelter and all our embodied needs. Through Taurus we learn what we enjoy, and how to preserve or make our enjoyment more sustainable. Through Taurus we seek to prolong our human embodiment by making sure we have food and shelter, and we seek to increase our enjoyment of life by making sure we have continued access to the things that give our life value and meaning.
Through Scorpio energy we are reminded that everything ends - nothing in this physical realm is permanent. Through Scorpio we learn to let go, to transmute or transform our values into spiritual form that is hopefully carried with us in some way through that death portal. We learn to find value in that which is not physical, but spiritual, and we experience endings and change and rebirth.
We can dance with both of these energies year after year at both Beltane and Samhain - remembering to honor death even at times of spring and rebirth. Remembering to honor birth and spring even at times of death. Ideally, we learn to carry the energies of Taurus and Scorpio with us at all times, through the whole year - as we embrace memento mori and find inspiration to celebrate and enjoy life to its fullest potential every day!
Coming up this year:
May 5, 2023 - Astrological Beltane (Sun at 15° Taurus) May 5. 2023 - Full Moon in Scorpio with a Lunar Eclipse
Further Study to consider: 14 Stoic Quotes on Death https://dailystoic.com/14-stoic-quotes-on-death/
La Petite Mort: The Little Death https://australianballet.com.au/blog/la-petite-mort-the-little-death
The Dance of Death - Danse Macabre https://www.britannica.com/art/dance-of-death-art-motif
Author Bio: Lilliana Blackstar is a 2nd Degree Priestx of the WISE tradition ATC, practicing with The Ever Green Hearth in Centralia WA. Lilliana is also a professional Astrologer at www.hestiasmuse.net and certified member of Seattle Psychics Association. You can learn more about their astrological services and writings by finding Hestia’s Muse on facebook and instagram.