Dreams of Beltane

Spring was never my favorite season, not while I was growing up, anyway. Yes, Spring meant the end of coats and the beginning of baseball, but it also meant the return of grass cutting and farm work.  And it meant the return of allergy season.

Three Winters living in northern Indiana (the last one had 78 inches of snow) gave me an appreciation of Spring, but my love of Spring began when I became a Pagan.

I knew about May Day, and I seem to recall a Maypole dance in first or second grade, although I might be confusing that with a story of a Maypole told by my grandmother or some other older person.  In any case, when I first read about the Wheel of the Year I immediately gravitated to Beltane.  The idea of a festival celebrating the beginning of Summer and the fertility of the Land, and celebrating good, honest, sexuality was extremely appealing.

I don’t think I ever felt the limitations of solitary practice as much as I did at Beltane during my early Pagan years. Never mind the sex, I wanted a big group celebration with a Maypole and garlands and frolicking and mead and the whole party.

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
For he would call it sin;
But we’ve been out in the woods all night,
A conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth
Good news for cattle and corn
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

excerpt from “A Tree Song” by Rudyard Kipling

My first Beltane with Denton CUUPS was an extremely small event. But the second year was memorable, and not just because it was outdoors and COLD (even in Texas, Summer doesn’t get here till late May).  We acted out the story of Rhiannon and her missing child, then held ritual contests and generally had a great time. The next year we added a Maypole and it’s been a tradition every year since. Our Beltane circles have been some of out best-attended and best-received rituals.

Still, I’ve had dreams of bigger and better Beltanes. Inspired partially by Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society’s pageants and partially by the local Moonlady Winter SolstiCelebrations, I had thoughts of organizing a huge pan-DFW Beltane circle. I tried to start something in 2010 but it didn’t turn out quite like I had imagined. There are many reasons for that – not the least of which is that I’m a good ritualist but a lousy promoter – but the biggest is that my two inspirations are spiritual and cultural celebrations, which allows them to draw from a broader base of attendees. While I wanted a Beltane celebration, I wanted a religious celebration. I wanted a Pagan ritual, not a show.

There is another traditional aspect to Beltane that sometimes gets overlooked. Beltane is 180 degrees opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year, and like Samhain it is a time when the Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest.  So if we can’t go big, let’s go deep.

This year, our Beltane circle will have the Maypole dance and a spiral dance, but the main working this Saturday will be the presentation of the Four Hallows of the Tuatha De Danann.

When the Tuatha De Danann – the children of the Goddess Danu – invaded Ireland, they brought with them the Four Hallows, four items of Otherworldly origin.  They are The Sword of Nuada – no one ever escaped from it once it was drawn, and no one could resist it; The Spear of Lugh – no battle was ever sustained against it, or against the warrior who carried it; The Cauldron of the Dagda – no company ever went away from it unsatisfied; and The Lia Fáil – the stone that would cry out in the presences of the true King.

Throughout history, they have presented themselves to those in need who are worthy of them:  women and men whose hearts are true and whose motives are pure.  They help those who possess them do great things, but then they return to the Otherworld – you may touch a Hallow and be blessed by a Hallow, but you will never own a Hallow.

We’re going to present our physical representations of the Hallows, then give participants the opportunity to commune with which ever one calls to them.  I really don’t know what’s going to happen during that time. It depends on what the Gods and the Hallows decide to do:  who they call and who they touch.

I’m not comfortable with open ended rituals in a public setting. But the last couple we’ve done have gone well – I’m learning to trust that if we do our part, the Gods will do Their part… even if that turns out to be nothing like what I had imagined.

And I continue to dream of Beltane.

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I’m glad to see someone (else!) doing something properly Irish for Beltaine, given that the name of the holy day is taken from Irish culture. In all that I’ve been able to find in Irish culture, nothing suggests the mega-sex-fest that most modern Pagans think it is; that argument could be made for Kalan Mai in Wales with the story of Rhiannon and Pryderi and Teyrnon and the like (if you can call “a child born near that time of year” a “mega-sex-fest” at all–?!?), but not really for Ireland. (And, in any case, I’m pretty sure the Maypole and so forth comes from Germanic traditions more than anything…fun though it may be, I get a little tired of people thinking that by dancing the Maypole and having a sexed-up ritual, whether literally or figuratively, that they are “doing the old ways of their Celtic ancestors.”)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      I didn’t set out to do something Irish, and I’d love to come up with a ritual that was sexy and spiritual, but when I saw the Four Treasures in the Temple of the Morrigan at Pantheacon, I knew that was what we were supposed to do for this year’s Beltane.

      We’ll see how it goes…

  • Morpheus Ravenna

    We were communing with the Tuatha last night in our Beltaine eve rites, and I felt compelled to dwell on the story of Their arrival in Ireland, which is supposed to have happened at Beltaine. It struck me that there could be a really beautiful ritual embedded in that story. We celebrated it in a simple, symbolic way with incense to represent the smoke of the burning boats, and just telling the story.

    It’s funny, I’ve done lots of public rituals and generally I’ve always been better at producing effective and powerful Samhain rituals than Beltaine ones. I think in part because there was always a mismatch between my natural inclinations and the modern Pagan emphasis on Beltaine as a big sex party. The more I’ve allowed my practice to become deeply focused in the Celtic traditions, and the further I drift from the sex party Beltaine, the better my Beltaine rites have become.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Yeah, my general temperament is better suited to Samhain than Beltane as well. I’m fascinated with the idea of the big sex party, but it just doesn’t work as a spiritual event, at least not for most of the people I know.

      The arrival of the Tuatha De Danann in Ireland would make a good Beltane theme – I’ll remember that for future years. And thanks for inspiring our theme this year… or more likely, serving as the conduit for it.


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