Why I Really Hate And Despise Beltaine But Not Beltaine

Why I Really Hate And Despise Beltaine But Not Beltaine April 16, 2018
Image from Pixabay

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

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  • Wanderer

    Couldn’t agree more!

    I am asexual and for years I’ve absolutely hated Beltane, because it’s felt very much like a party for everybody else but me. Lately I’ve been realizing there’s this other side as well, which totally redeems it for me. But now first try to convince the rest of the world of that…

  • Lily

    As someone who recently realized I’m gender fluid and being asexual, i really struggle with Beltane. So many of my Wicca books really shove “Let’s all have loads of sex!”. I’m also sex repulsed so that adds to the issue. I’ve been sitting down with my God Loki, trying to figure out how to celebrate it this year as this is the first year realizing I’m not the gender assigned at birth. I’m still at a loss. Usually I just go either to the park or to the ocean and just sit in nature, as I am a total spoonie witch and poor. I hope to come up with something better before hand.

  • Woods Wizard

    Why can’t you have both?

  • Ellen

    Realizing that gender is not the same for everyone, I redesigned our maypole to be about all the flavors of love; love between lovers (no definition of gender), between friends, between siblings, the love of a parent and child, love of self (acceptance). Love isn’t just sexual, so we celebrate all the “colors” of love!

  • I am Irish Gael and I celebrate Beltaine in a similar way as described in the second point in this post. I light a fire and then light candles from the Beltane fire. I pass everyone through the fire (my cat, my plants, my somewhat dubious spouse) to protect them! I make a lot of food and try to use seasonal ingredients with lots of edible flowers. Bonus points if I grew it (I am new to growing things!) I also agree wholeheartedly with the other points. I do not celebrate with anyone outside of my own home because I have found it to be very toxic.

    One of the ways that I have addressed asexuality or using sexuality in Beltaine in an asexual friendly way is to focus on non-romantic love & sharing and essentially “donating” our unwanted fertility and sexual attraction to the world around us. Attraction, sexual energy, and fertility are still important things in nature–my garden, my ecosystem–and so I want to help those areas thrive as much as I can. I am not personally asexual, but fertility magic in general makes me feel really disgusting as it is something that I personally do not want for myself nor want to participate in. Also, I think that there is a ton of positive energy to be found in non-romantic love that can be incredibly powerful and am personally frequently baffled how romantic/sexual love are presented as dominant forms or even the only form of love people talk about in US culture (like the OP’s comparison of Valentine’s and Beltaine).

    I also would like to add that I think the interpretation for Hellenic practice is so good because Beltaine historically for the Irish would have been far more important for herdsman and may have dated back to when they were predominantly a pastoral people, and so focusing on Hestia and Hermes (Fire! Cattle!) is really respectful of the Celtic roots of the Beltane fire festival while still making the sabbat applicable to your own practice. <3