I’ve always had an odd relationship with Beltane. On one hand, it’s a beautiful, joyous, sexy celebration of life and love. It’s always struck me as the most pagan of Pagan holidays.
On the other hand, it’s kinda hard to have a beautiful, joyous, sexy celebration when you’re a solitary practitioner, as I was for the first nine years of my Pagan journey. Even after I found a group, public ritual has constraints that are at odds with Wicker Man-ish frolicking in the fields.
This will be our thirteenth year doing a Maypole Dance, but the closest we’ve come to anything sexy was a Great Rite in token in 2008. It was beautiful, but it’s heteronormative, gender-binary, and pair-oriented. That doesn’t speak to a group that includes gay couples, asexuals, and transgender people. Plus it’s a Wiccan thing, and most of us aren’t Wiccan.
I’m not saying don’t do the Great Rite – if it works for you, wonderful. But it doesn’t work for us.
So if we skip the sexy theme, what’s left?
In ancient times Beltane was the beginning of summer, the year being divided into two seasons. That makes it a good time to celebrate beginnings of all sorts.
It was on Beltaine, the first day of May, that the Tuatha De Danann, the people of the gods of Dana, came through the high air to Ireland. Although they landed in north-west Connacht, the Firbolgs, that were in Ireland before them, saw nothing but a mist lying on the hills where they landed.
This is the coming of the Tuatha De Danann to Ireland. How – or if – They left Ireland is a matter of speculation. Some say They went into the Otherworld, some say They went underhill and became the Fae, and some say They never left – people just stopped seeing Them. I think the answer varies from deity to deity. What’s most relevant to contemporary polytheists is that They are once again active in our world.
And that’s a good thing, because our need for Them is growing.
We’re living in Tower Time. We’re living in an era when Empire is crumbling but is still trying to hold on to power at all costs, no matter how many humans and other beings they destroy in the process. Fundamentalist monotheisms are losing in the public square, which has only made the remaining fundamentalists that much more reactionary, and in some cases, violent.
Our Gods will not save us. Simply saying the right prayers and pouring the right offerings will not make everything OK. It is up to us to respond to these challenges. But we need not face this alone – we have allies.
We can align ourselves with the currents of Nature. We can call upon the power of our beloved ancestors. And we can ally ourselves with the Gods who call to us. We can join in Their great work and be a part of something much bigger – and much stronger – than ourselves.
Many of us who have close relationships with various deities are hearing and feeling a sense of urgency. A certain Battle Goddess is becoming even more demanding, but so are other deities who are generally considered patient and peaceful. I do not know Their plan, or if They have many plans, or if They have no plans at all (though I have my suspicions…).
I do know that in times of trouble, focusing on the values and virtues of the Mighty Gods is a very helpful approach. They have never steered me wrong. While being in Their service is challenging, it is also deeply meaningful.
My distaste for proselytizing and my commitment to respecting everyone’s free and responsible search for truth and meaning limit the imperativeness with which I can make this call. It limits the intended audience of this post to those for whom individual Gods and Goddesses with Their own agency is a reality, or at least a considered possibility. I cannot preach the Gospel of the Old Gods on a street corner, nor would I if I could. If this call doesn’t fit the reality of your world, feel free to go back to planning a nice sexy Beltane.
But Tower Time is here.
When the Tuatha De Danann came to Ireland They did not find it empty. The Firbolgs were already there, and negotiations to share the island proved unsuccessful. There were several battles and many setbacks before the Tuatha De Danann finally won.
I do not imagine our struggles will be any easier. But with the skill of Lugh, the strength of the Dagda, and the cunning of the Morrigan, we can prevail.
It was at Beltane when the Tuatha De Danann first came to Ireland. Perhaps this Beltane They will come to your celebration, particularly if you invite Them.
And perhaps this Beltane you will respond.