When Beltane draws hot and bothered to the fore, we witches celebrate a Greater Sabbat that is certainly the most juicy and delicious of them all. Beltane peaks in the Northern Hemisphere when we reach 15 degrees Taurus on our journey around the sun, which typically falls during the first week of May.
We call Beltane a “Greater” Sabbat because it is the apex of the spring season. This is high tide of the season of fertility, and everyone is twitterpated, bursting with lusty motivation, passion and burning desire to do…something or someone. Most of the witches I know are ravenously plowing the fields of their gardens…others ravenously, well…you know. <winks>
This is our celebration of union, the sacred marriage of Goddess and God, and the heiros gamos that creates the Universe. ²Beltane is the wedding, and in my Wheel of the Year thealogy, I recognize how it rests in the balance across from Samhain, and is the happy, joyous moment that keeps the mournful dearth of the funeral in equal measure.
In my post: Samhain – The Poison and the Antidote, I wrote:
“Consider the Wheel of the Year as a system of teaching a balance between the polarities. Each Sabbat has aspects that are medicine to cure what ails us, and other aspects that can feel like the poisoned pill, so hard to swallow. Yet, the antidote to cure us at one sabbat can be distilled from the poison of the sabbat on the opposite side of the wheel. One Samhain/Beltane polarity can be described as reverence and mirth.”
Beltane is a Party…with Healthy Boundaries
They say there is a time and a place for everything, and the Wheel of the Year covers all the bases. On the face of it, you could say that Beltane, like college, is the “party” of the sabbat cycle. Bring on the cavorting, flirtation, tipsy indulgence and scantily-clad dancing around the balefires. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m a big fan of parties, which is a very good reason why I’ve set the clocks of my life to the rhythms celebrated through Wiccan-style rites.
Alrighty then! Give me some of that old time religion! Beltane is so much fun to me, but I also recognize that seeking balance is the key to both a healthy practice of witchcraft, and to a healthy life. Never forget the first and most important rule of witchcraft is Don’t burn the Witch.
While intoxication and sex are two of my favorite options from Gardner’s Eight Paths of Power, we all must make sure to be safe and responsible while we dance ’round those fires. Don’t forget to pack the prophylactics, arrange for a designated driver or crash space, eat a solid meal, take your B12 vitamins, and drink twice as much water as the poison…because we all know alcohol is basically a poison, and nothing else quite taints a pagan party like the 4 am barfing out of your tent flap. <cough>don’t ask me how I know</cough>
“For example, the antidote to mirthful over-indulgence in the rites of Beltane, known for sexual coupling, drinking and wild abandon, is acknowledging that too much of a fun thing can literally kill you, if done without reverence, discretion and responsibility for preserving your precious life. Thinking about things like condoms and liver damage can be a bummer in the heat of the moment, but should be the non-negotiable poison we swallow anyway.” Heron Michelle
The same sentiment was expressed in my all-time favorite Wicca 101 book, by my all-time favorite Wiccan Priestess and Jungian Psychologist, Vivianne Crowley, when she wrote,
“There is no quality which given unlimited freedom of expression does not become a vice, and the same is true of any qualities which are suppressed and given no opportunity for expression. Within life we must find a balance between power and compassion, between strength and beauty, between honour and humility, the needs of the self, and the needs of others.” ³
Beltane is not just an Orgy
To the average muggle looking in from the outside, the face of this thing may imply that Beltane is some kind of bacchanal or orgy, where there is indiscriminate coupling; sex for the sake of sex alone. While I’m not opposed to such shenanigans, consider this: the gestation cycle for humans is 9 months, so if we are going to poetically celebrate the Goddess giving birth to the new sun/son at Yule, we do the math, and she conceived at Ostara (spring equinox). You know, when new animals and seeds of every variety begin to gestate and germinate. As above, so below; as within, so without. ⁴
Beltane is a Wedding, but Not a Shotgun Wedding
In parts of the ancient, pagan world, there was a very different arrangement of societal expectation, and the marriage would happen AFTER you proved that you could conceive. So, our mythos of the God and Goddess at Beltane is that they have actualized their fertile potential at Ostara, and now they take full responsibility for not only their sexual maturity, but also of their adulthood, which promises to nurture, protect and maintain wise governance over all that they create—in partnership. This is no shotgun wedding; this is mutual consensus to take sacred vows. This is both unconditional love and stepping up to the wedding altar of their own free-will.
Beltane is a Feast, but there’s no such thing as a “Free Lunch”
In our group, we celebrate Beltane through a selection process of a MayQueen and MayKing. Our process mimics the ancient mythos found in the Mabinogian and Arthurian cycles, wherein the Goddess is eternal, complete and independent within herself; she IS the land, but through Love she chooses her King and consort, granting him the right to rule by her side. These two are crowned within our rites and act as the human representation of the God/dess, taking up their sovereign right to govern their own destiny. Through their Love, which is an interweaving of all polarities, they create and nurture the land and her inhabitants. This is our gods’ promise to sustain us, but it is no “free-lunch.” WE are the hands, feet and voices of the gods here on earth, and We also pledge to engage in co-creative partnership to take care of ourselves.
As celebrants of these rites, the sacred marriage is within our own consciousness, a union of opposites between our inherent male and female sides. Carl Jung would call this our anima and animus, or our sexual and contra-sexual sides. True empowerment is found when women merge with their masculine attributes of wisdom and will, and assert their projective abilities, and men merge with their feminine attributes of emotion and nurturance, and assert their receptive abilities.
This rite reminds us of our sovereignty over own bodies, lives and choice in partners. We celebrate the paradox presented here in the material world that while we are each wholly complete within ourselves, wholly God/dess, we can create so much more through balanced and consensual partnership with others. By embracing our inner Divine polarity, we take up the sacred responsibility to rise into the leadership that ensures our survival and builds our society.
Beltane has an Exotic Pole DanceThe magick that so beautifully enacts these mysteries at Beltane is the dance of the Maypole. Like with all magickal acts, there is the obvious mask on the face of the thing, and then there is the true occult power that lies in the less-obvious mysteries behind that mask. This dance symbolizes the act of coupling to fertilize and create life on the largest metaphorical scale. Just like within the actual Great Rite, the phallus goes into the yoni, and the Symbolic Great Rite wherein the knife goes in the cup, when we erect the Maypole, the pole goes in the hole. <boom chica wow wow>
All of these magickal acts are in sympathy to how the feminine and masculine forms of biology throughout nature get it on for the purpose of creating new life. You know, this is the birds and the bees talk your parents probably blundered through when you were 12. This is a really important thing for which to work magick…just ask all the dead bees who are no longer able to pollinate our crops thanks to neonicotinoids.
In the Sojourner Tradition this Beltane, we will crown the pole with a wreath of flowers flowing with ribbons of red and white – an eternal circle of creation that feeds two primary threads of polarity and gender, and are symbolized as the red of menstrual blood and the white of semen. Those who identify as women are invited to hold onto the red ribbons, and those who identify as men are invited to hold onto the white ribbons. (Or at least as closely as we are able to manage that…sometimes us women have to wear our ovaries on the outside for a little while!)
Beltane is Not just for Straight People
Now, you might be asking, How very hetero-normative! How very old-world dualistic! How can this possibly serve the GLBTQ members who don’t have that kind of sex? What about asexual people who give no fucks about fucking? Good questions. Our tradition has members that exemplify every color of the rainbow. So how do we answer these questions, while remaining relevant and personal both on a societal and individual level?
Well, in the old world, and old Wicca, they are quite right that these rites look hetero-normative, but let’s not lose our historical perspective: these traditions sourced their lore from agrarian cultures hundreds of years ago who needed actual girl and boy plants and animals to get together and make babies, elsewise they died that winter…among other societal bullshit reasons to not be so sensitive to GLBTQ needs. That was then. This is MODERN witchcraft, where we strip off the mask of the obvious, and glory in the rich, chocolatey layers of occult mystery beyond all labels and bite down to the sweet, cream-filled, cherry center of this Beltane bonbon.
No matter who you are, when you hold onto that ribbon, for just a little while you choose to embrace and embody the creative potential of every end of that one side of polarity. It doesn’t matter which end, because you inherently have both within you! Some of us choose to pull up the power of the earth as Mother Goddess, and some of us pull down the heavens as Father Sky.
As we pull the ribbons taut, that symbolizes the magnetism that is the Divine Dance of Creation, the tension between the yin and yang that makes life OH so interesting! I call this magnetism Divine Love.
We dance, interweaving in and out, steps syncopating to the pulse of the drum, breath syncopating as we chant, two wheels of incarnate gods brushing past each other, locking eyes as we pass, weaving from opposite directions. The ribbons slowly enclose the pole like a Chinese finger trap, as God/dess merges, drawing down the power. That wreath, the sacred cock-ring, slips down that phallus as the vitality emerges within the wildness of nature and touches the earth – just like with actual sex, if you are doing it right, the cosmic orgasm explodes.
We spin out, sweaty and exhausted now, collapsing in laughter as within each of us the kundalini power rises from the base of our spines, coiling around our own axis mundi, our internal “maypole,” chakras spinning, tingling as our anima and animus merge in unified delight within us. Regardless of our bodies, gender identity, or sexual orientation, this is the bliss of The Two Who Move As One, and we are all their faces.
Warning: Once you Go Witch, You Never Switch
The womb of the Goddess through earth and waters quicken, receiving the spark of the God through combustion of air and fire, and thus we nourish the gestation of the Great Work for this turning. This power-raising opens the channel through which we may birth our endeavors come harvest time.
Personally, I find this praxis so deeply satisfying on all levels that I can’t imagine how anyone who has experienced the ecstasy of this empowerment could ever choose to walk away from it. I CRAVE each Sabbat rite. I’ve been turning the wheel for over 10 years now, and it is an irresistible homing beacon back to this temple every 6 1/2 weeks; time and again, it never gets old.
Just as I warn a new lover, I warn all my new witchlings, too. Before you even dare to enter into the heiros gamos of the Beltane Rites, enter with care, because Once you go witch, you’ll never switch!
May you all ride these tides, and your lovers, in ecstasy, with respect and responsibility, as the gods that you are.
- The Witches’ Creed by Doreen Valiente (back)
- The Charge of the Goddess by Doreen Valiente (back)
- Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium, Vivianne Crowley, Thorsons, 1996. Page 207 (back)
- Hermetic Principle of Correspondence (back)