Whiney reflections on spending Beltane away from home, and why that’s harder to do with Beltane than some of the other sabbats.
Beltane has always been “one of the biggies” on my calendar and yet I’ll mostly be missing it this year. Oh sure I’ll be doing some celebrating next week (May 8 and 9) but it seems rather “after the fact” to be celebrating so late into May. Since May Day never really evolved into a holiday in the United States Beltane is surprisingly easy to miss, in a way that sabbats like Yule and Samhain are not.
Those of us of the Wiccan-Witch variety generally celebrate eight big Pagan holidays a year. There are the four cross-quarter sabbats of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh, along with the solstices and equinoxes that fall in between those four days. In the broader culture in which the majority of us live, two and a half of those holidays are widely celebrated by the general populace.
I know, I know, Yule is not Christmas, and I’ve written before about how Samhain and Halloween have evolved into two separate things but they do share common origin points. In addition it’s easy to see Pagan ideas and traditions within the more Christian (and most certainly secular) Halloween and Christmas. Samhain has always had supernatural overtones for instance, and most of the Christmas decorations up in the village square can be traced back to paganisms past. From October-early January it’s easy to go anywhere and see things that specifically remind me of my Wiccan traditions, that’s harder to do with Beltane.
(There is an outlier in all of this, and that’s Ostara. The words “Easter” and “Ostara” both come from the same pagan source, the goddess Eostre, and many of the traditions associated with the holiday: anthropomorphic bunnies, decorated eggs, Spring rebirth, at least “feel pagan” even if they may or may not be connected to pagan antiquity. Easter and Ostara are also sometimes within days of each other. There’s an overlap between the two holidays that doesn’t quite extend to Beltane.)
As religious practices go Paganism is extremely portable. I don’t need anything but time to honor a particular sabbat, but time will be in short supply this weekend. On Friday I’ll be spending most of my May Day in a car and then going to a wedding rehearsal. Yes, I’ve been taken away from my beloved coven by the marriage of an in-law, and my role in the affair is not passive. I’m the officiant (in addition to my roles as DJ and rehearsal dinner chef) and my wife is the Maid of (dis)Honor, even if I wanted to simply slip into a garden for an hour alone with my HPs that hour just doesn’t exist right now.
There’s something sweet about young love and a wedding near Beltane, and don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy for my sister-in-law and her fiancee. I’m just a bit bummed out that the Beltane I’ve come to expect living in Northern California is going to be replaced by a colder and less fruitful Michigan. (I like making lemonade from lemons picked in my backyard on Beltane-I know, my life is rough.)
If I was leaving home during Samhain or Yule finding the familiar trappings of the holiday would be easy. I’d stop to pay homage to my Lord and Lady at my parent’s Christmas Tree, or perhaps feel closer to Samhains past while looking at a harvest motif. Those things I can also do in full view of anyone because because we expect such reflections to be a part of those celebrations-Christian or Pagan.
In a weird sort of way non-magical people who decorate seasonally for holidays are building their own Neo-Pagan altars. I can stop and perform a quick devotion in such places, but there are not going to be a whole lot of maypoles around this weekend. (Or a lot of Pagans, my wife’s family is predominantly Catholic and a lot of them are not particularly sympathetic towards Witchcraft.)
As I write these words between trips to the suitcase another thought occurs to me. More than the trappings, Beltane has always been a social holiday for me. A maypole dance for one or even two doesn’t really work (and I’m talking about the dances with ribbons, not the “maypole dance” done elsewhere). For the last eighteen years I’ve associated Beltane with other Pagans, that’s what I think I’m going to miss most over the weekend. No regally dressed Witches in their Spring-best and no Oak & Ash & Thorn shouted with my Craft brothers and sisters.
When I lived in Michigan (and before I became acclimated to California) Beltane was the annual “going back outside party” for my group of Pagan-friends. Campouts, maypole dances, a minimum of one ritual and usually two . . . . After moving out West my first “good Pagan day” in California came at a big public Beltane ritual . . . Weddings are lovely and I’m sure I’ll have fun at the reception, but there might be a few wistful moments sprinkled in there while I think of those of you celebrating Beltane under the sun and stars.