Beltane magick here we sing,
Chant the rune and dance the ring,
Joy and blessing shall it bring,
Let the sleeper awake!
-Doreen Valiente (1971) ‘A Chant for Beltane’
Beltane is the season of sexual maturation, of pregnancy, of being grounded, of being fully in the body. It is a celebration of the sensory and sensate worlds. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the Beltane zodiac sign is Taurus, ruled by the planet Venus. Beltane emanates the joys of being in the material world. Taking pleasure in the world is Pagan. Paganism is about the here and now, about appreciating what is around us. This is not simple hedonism, living for the pleasures of the moment, but truly appreciating the wondrousness of sensory experience.
Beltane magick here we sing
I usually sing Doreen’s Beltane chant as part of my Beltane celebration. I enjoyed many grand sabbats with Doreen Valiente in woods in the south of England and it would be hard to imagine a more grounded person. She was someone who could focus utterly in the moment of being in nature, skyclad under her green cloak, whatever the season, but I always think of her most at Beltane and Samhain.
In England, Beltane is one of the most beautiful of seasons, with the amazing myriad greens of the new tree leaves, the lush leaves of the bluebells as they start to appear beneath the trees, the freshness of the grass, the scents of blossom and of damp earth, and the intense singing of the birds as they compete to find a mate and to guard their territory for breeding. Beltane is an assault on the senses – if we come out of our houses and heads to be with it.
Many of us live lives divorced from the world around us. We go from our homes into a vehicle that takes us to another building, sometimes not engaging with the world outside at all. Often, we go around in a kind of daze. With earphones plugged into our devices, we are shut in with our own thoughts, fantasies, and sounds, our minds scarcely registering the input that our senses are providing. We use sounds to block out other sounds, so we do not hear if the birds sing. We can walk to our cars or the train station without noticing anything at all about the route we take. Only if something really unusual happens, do we suddenly ‘come to’ and realize exactly where we are.
Let the Sleeper awake!
We can think of ‘the sleeper’ as being our own consciousness, lulled into a kind of soporific dullness by everyday life. When we ‘awake’, we become aware of what is around us. If we can start to live fully in the moment, extracting from it all that it has to offer, then we are truly alive. The idea that the true potential of the psyche is latent and asleep in a kind of waking dream is common in spiritual traditions. Beltane is a good time to wake the psyche. The days grow longer, the weather draws us out of doors, and nature is frantic with activity. The energy of Beltane is all about wakefulness.
As an antidote to a life dissociated from what is happening around us and within us, there is a huge surge of interest in the West in the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness as generally taught in secular settings has come to us from Buddhism, but similar concepts can be found in Paganism. Indigenous traditions often emphasize this mode of being with the natural world – aware, awake, and attentive to our interconnectedness with all that is around us. Mindfulness practices and concepts can be found also in pre-Christian Paganism – in the Ancient Greek philosophy of Epicurus, for example, and in the Graeco-Roman philosophy of Stoics such as Seneca and the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Chant the rune and dance the ring
From Beltane to Stoicism may seem a surprising leap, but if we think about it maybe it isn’t. Part of the beauty and power of contemporary Paganism is about re-connecting us with life in the here and now. The seasonal cycle celebrates being here, now, in this body, in this time, in this place, with this particular group of people. We are not celebrating the past deeds of a spiritual hero or role model, we are celebrating what is all around us in the world of nature and within ourselves and are appreciating it for what it is. The message of Paganism reinforces constantly that all phases of existence have their time and place. Winter is not ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than summer; life is not better or worse than the physical change that we call ‘death’. Each thread in the ever-changing fabric of existence has its time and place and purpose.
How might we incorporate mindfulness into a celebration of Beltane? Walking meditation is a good fit with Paganism – to walk mindfully in nature, or in a sacred space, focusing on our breathing, the movement of our limbs as we walk, aware of the sights, sounds, and smells around us, and focusing totally on the here and now. This could be a procession to the sacred place of our rite, or it could be a spiral walk within a rite. These quieter and more reflective practices can help us focus on being totally present when we start our rites. They do not mean that we do not want to dance and chant and drum with joyous abandon, but times of quiet focused attention enrich our ritual experience by adding another mode of being. And in the contrast between the two that Paganism advocates, in the balance between mirth and reverence, we find the place of equilibrium and new creative energy.
Joy and blessing shall it bring
Mindfulness can help us appreciate the seasonal tides in everyday life. Beltane is a time to appreciate sensuality. Our bodies are given to us by the Gods as houses of the spirit, but they are also the means to explore and understand through our senses the divine created world around us. One way we can do this is to celebrate the day of the sabbat with sacred sex, honoring the divine within one’s partner and oneself.
Beltane in particular can be a time to renew our relationship with our partner. If we have long-term partners, it is easy for sex to become ‘mind-less’ and routine. The idea of having sex on the day of the sabbat is a reminder to spend focused time with one’s partner, not thinking about children, or the email, or the washing up, or all those other worldly responsibilities that can nag away at the fringes of consciousness. Mindful sex means focusing totally on the here and now of the sights, smells, touch, and taste of one body to another. If we focus totally at these moments, they become journey of rediscovery, awakening the memories of when we were first with our beloved.
So to end, as I began, with Doreen’s words:
Let the streams and fields be pure,
Earth and sky be clean once more,
Love and laughter long endure
Let the sleeper awake!
Have a Blessed and mindful Beltane!
Vivianne Crowley teaches mindfulness to individuals and groups in spiritual and non-spiritual settings.