No, I’m not kidding. I really, really, really hate Beltaine.
But not Beltaine. Beltaine I passionately love. Just not Beltaine.
Confused? Allow me to explain. My hatred of the holiday stems from it being turned into the pagan version of Valentine’s Day. And I also really, really hate Valentine’s Day. There’s a lot about this comparison which irks me, much of it stemming from prevalent and problematic attitudes around fertility and sex.
So without further adieu, here’s my two part explanation as to my thoughts and feelings on this holiday:
- Much of the way it’s celebrated today is heteronormative, with heterosexual-centered ideas on love, marriage, and sex. Those of us who are not straight, not cis, and/or not allosexual are frequently either left out of the equation or made to feel like there’s something wrong with us. Either we’re abnormal, prudes, or just plain “not right”. I feel that those of us who are asexual especially get the shortest end of that very stick because at least the rest of those letters in the queer alphabet soup actually experience sexual attraction. Then there are my rants about how gender polarity and its implied homophobic and trans exclusionary ideas irks the ever living crap out of me. Coupled with the pagan and witch communities’ continued struggles with boundary issues and predators who use this holiday to make excuses for their problematic behavior, all of this makes me want to nope right out of celebrating this holiday.
- There’s way, way, more to this holiday than just fertility and sex. For the Irish, this was the original start of summer and a time to do rituals of protection against harm of both mundane and supernatural origins. Its very name means “bright fire”. It was a time for increased magical and fae activity, specifically witches. Witches interacting with the faeries was expected and not unheard of in ancient times. And like around Samhain, this is yet another time of year when the veil is said to be thin. THIS is the Beltaine that interests me and speaks to my soul. Witches? Fae? Thin veils? Protection rituals? Bonfires? Yes, gimme.
So yes, I hate Beltaine but I love Beltaine. And I know that this is just me and I’m sure that the first option may speak to many people’s souls, especially with the ideas of divine union aka hieros gamos, etc. But that second version of Beltaine? That’s my jam.
There are a variety of ways in which Beltaine has been handled by modern day Hellenists looking to syncretically link the pagan holidays they’re most familiar with–especially given how malleable and generic they are–to our own Greek polytheistic faith. I’ve written in the past on Hellenic takes on both Imbolc and Spring Equinox as great examples.
I would have to say that how you do implement Beltaine as a Hellenist depends on the flavor of Beltaine you prefer. If you’re looking at fertility and love, there are a number of options you can argue for: Aphrodite and Eros, perhaps even Aphrodite with part of the holiday being given to Hestia due to the sacred fires. Given my preferences on this holiday as mentioned above, my variety would probably be Hestia for the sacred fires, Hermes for the cattle, and Hekate as well to cover the more magical and fae related aspects of this holiday. Maybe even talk about how Hermes stole Apollo’s cattle; it’d certainly be an appropriate story to tell for the holiday!
But yeah. Screw the Beltaine fertility and sex rites, give me the fires, witchcraft, and the fae!