Public Pagan ritual is a challenge. Our many arguments over who and what is and isn’t Pagan illustrate the wide variety of beliefs and practices of the people who might show up at an open circle. Individual traditions can say “we’re Gardnerian Wiccans” or “we’re ADF Druids” and stick strictly to their standard liturgies. As part of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Denton CUUPS has a wider challenge. Our rituals reflect the varied beliefs and practices of our members, express UU values, and appeal to a general audience that is often more Pagan-curious than Pagan.
Fortunately, Beltane presents ample opportunities to do all that without resorting to least common denominator Paganism.
May is the wettest month in North Texas and we have (thankfully!) had a very wet Spring. But after what seemed like endless rain over past few weeks, it stopped last Wednesday. That gave the ground time to dry out and gave us an absolutely beautiful day for our Beltane celebration. Good weather always helps the turnout – I counted 50 people in the circle.
As we have done for the past eleven years, we began with an excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s A Tree Song.
Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
For he would call it a 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!”
And that led into another local expression of an old tradition, the Maypole Dance.
We have more polytheists in our group than in most CUUPS chapters – we usually honor a “deity of the occasion.” Because it’s Beltane, and because of the Nature emphasis in our main working, we honored Cernunnos. But as Cynthia and I were planning the ritual, we had a conversation that went something like this:
“Since this ritual deals with sovereignty, should we include Morrigan?”
“She’s been talking to several of us lately.”
“We’ll include Morrigan.”
If some of our guests look at this altar and see Goddess and God I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong, but this is pretty much how it happened.
Our main working had a very local connection. Last year a group of concerned citizens of Denton decided that the abuse of the land through fracking had to stop. Some feared for the health and safety of their families. Some were concerned with the pollution of water, soil, and air. Some – in their own way – heard the call of Cernunnos and of Morrigan. Through their tireless work a referendum was passed banning fracking within the city of Denton. But now some are trying to overturn that ban, through the courts or through the legislature. Their only concern for Nature is how they can exploit it for their own financial gain, with no thought for the people who live here, much less for the land itself.
As modern Pagans, we use all the resources at our disposal: personal, political, and magical. We asked everyone to come forward, pick up a handful of dirt, put their intentions into the dirt, then pour the dirt around the tree. We blessed and fed the tree so that it may bless and protect us.
Morrigan and Cernunnos; mighty ancestors; spirits of this place: we ask you to add your magic to ours and bless this tree. May it grow strong and tall. May it be a guardian of the land, protecting the sacred Earth against those who would exploit her. And may it remind us of our connections with each other and with all of Nature.
Our simple feast featured homemade rose petal bread and mead that was a gift from the Louisiana Druids (thanks, Richard!).
As we closed, we reminded everyone that while Denton’s fracking law may be overturned, we did not work magic to protect a law. We worked magic to protect the land.
Our Beltane was traditional and current, inclusive and polytheist. That’s not always easy, but it can be done.