Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

April 1st, 2016

Beltaine

Bright Blessings!

We just celebrated out Ostara last night, and I admit, I am dog tired today. We had TOO much fun, and I am reminded of how the film Excalibur portrayed Merlin as going into a deep sleep after becoming tired after doing magic! I actually slept in until about 2 P.M. today!

But more than that, I am worried. I am having difficulty reserving the group campsite we have been reserving for years for our Beltaine. You may remember my article from 2014 that lamented we were too ill to camp- wellk this year WE WANT TO CAMP!

Unfortunately, there is confusion about booking at the site EVERY year. Don’t ask me why, but this year, we were told they no longer even allow reservations. I called the main office to find out what the heck was going on and ask if they can pretty please allow us to reserve the site- and I was told they do , indeed, still take reservations, but I was transferred to somebody who had a really bad attitude. Not only was his tone of voice rude, but he said he would take my name and number, but did not care what I was calling about and did not want to know. I told him I will just call back tomorrow. I don’t trust that guy to relay my message.

I really should not feel sorry for myself. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, I have heard much worse. One year, a Pagan Pride was booked at a site and the reservation was paid for months in advance. The event coordinator was later told that nobody at the office saved any information from the booking, the employee who had booked the thing was long gone, the event would not be allowed there, and there would be no refund. AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! I am not the one who had to deal with this, but it makes me cringe just to think about it!

My struggle with this campsite is very minute compared to what some other facilitators have endured, but I am still pulling my hair out, and I will tell you why. It is because of three things that begin with the letter C. Cost, convenience, and most importantly, consecration.

Costwise, most of the campsites nearby my home cost hundreds of dollars. I wanted to offer a free camping event once a year in my hometown people could attend. This site costs only $48 to rent for 24 hours. Nothing would cost less unless somebody hosted it at their home, but that is not the best idea either. Sometimes, we like to invite new people along who would be more comfortable meeting in public than at a stranger’s house! So this is the least expensive way to do this.

This site is the most convenient one we found for lots of reasons. First, it is only ten miles away. Everyplace else is much much farther. Think ninety miles away! Next, it is private, and we can have all the fires we want. We do two fires that are blessed, and the people walk between the blessed fires. While we could get a metropark space that was nearby and allowed fires, they are much more expensive, and everybody has to clear out of there by 10 P.M., so no camping. WAAAAHHHH!!!!

Most importantly, we have had multiple Beltaines at this site. Beltaine is the event my Priest and I do best together. People really look forward to it, and I admit, I don’t think anybody looks forward to it more than I do.

As mentioned in previous articles, we have done raffles, workshops, and other groups have joined with us some years as well. The main attraction is the Maypole ritual and blessing we do.

Our tradition has a May King and May Queen to represent the forces of fertility that create new life.

We begin by the Priestess taking all the females to a spot, and the Priest taking all the males to a spot. The ladies select who they think best embodies the goddess in the form of the Maiden in all of her splendor. She is beautiful like the blooming flowers. She is strong, and fertile, a perfect vessel for life to bloom in. And once the ladies decide who will be May Queen, she is crowned with a crown made of real flowers and vines the people have created. I always have the children in attendance help create those crowns!

My Priest is a stickler for tradition. The flowers have to be fresh and real. He’s also thrifty, so he has us go find the flowers and vines in our yards and neighborhoods so as not to spend cash.

While the ladies are crowning the May Queen, the gentlemen are crowning the May King. He is to be the embodiment of the the father god in his prime. Sexy, lusty, powerful, and charismatic. He is full of energy and focused on….well…rutting.

Before I go any further, let me mention that our tradition does not do the Great Rite by having people actually engage in sexual intercourse- although some traditions do. I will never forget one year when I got a concerned e-mail from somebody who was planning to attend. He wanted to know if we were having an orgy. Of course not! But I have heard that some people absolutely do.

We instead, present the May Queen to the May King, and they do a little dance around the Maypole, and then everybody else joins in.

Some traditions may have set dances they do. Ours has my Priest choosing funny rock music with sexual undertones. Since my Priest is what we call an aging hippie and I was a child in the 1980’s, the glam rockers, and hair bands provide lots of material for us. like Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls, Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, probably anything from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Unskinny Bop by Motley Crue, Whitesnake’s Slide It In, and even some pop songs like George Michael’s I Want Your Sex.

Here is a link to a really hilarious article that lists some great 1980’s songs about sex.

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/sex-songs

Obviously, if you want kids to attend your Maypole ritual, you can just keep it cleaner and do a nice, polite chant like the popular goddess chant, or even nice love songs. Of course, it won’t be as funny if you are playing nice, clean love songs, but I understand that not every group is the same!

The Priest and Priestess do not get to vote for who is May King and May Queen. They just lead the people in the coronation and show the “royal couple” how to become the goddess and god for the ritual. One year, the ladies all voted for a sixteen year old girl to be May Queen, and I about died. I asked the young lady’s mother if this was okay, and mom said okay! I was hysterically terrified the kid would wind up pregnant in the next few months- magic is funny like that. But the kid did not- and she was one damn good May Queen, too!

One year, our May Queen was actually the sister of a best friend of mine. Everybody sure liked her, and she was perhaps the oldest lady eligible to be May Queen. The gentleman who was voted May King that year pantomimed chasing after the May Queen, and the gal who was May Queen pantomimed “Come here, now get away!” She lead him on a merry chase. All the while, the hair band hard rock sex anthems were blaring on the boom box, and inbetween fits of giggling, we all danced along. I think that was the year I fell flat on my butt, was laughing so hard, I could not get up, and so two of the guys hauled me back up on my feet.

After the dancing and merriment is all done, the Maypole is danced. I use the same consecrated Maypole every year. I do not know if that is traditional, or if you are “supposed” to do it this way, but it just feels right to me. I suppose the Maypole might have a traditional amount of ribbons that belong on there, but I have never taken the time to find out. Our Maypole was a branch my Priest had seen years ago that he thought was calling him, and he went through nests of spiders to bet to it. Afterwards, it sat in his basement, forgotten for quite some time. Then, the year we decided to do our own Maypole, he gave it to me. I took it to a friend’s house, and with ribbons she had and that I bought, we used nails, tacks, and gorilla glue to create the most gorgeous Maypole on earth. It is short. A lot of groups have ten foot tall poles. Ours is about six foot tall. Every year, we have my husband bury it in the ground so it stays still, and it has never come loose of fallen during ritual. We have about 22 ribbons on it. One year we had less people who wanted to dance- many were tired after the hard rock music dancing, and some people took two ribbons in the dance.

And it was fun. Maypole dancing emulates the divine joining of the goddess- the earth- with the father sky god, represented by the pole being plunged into her. The people dancing the dance, weaving the ribbon represents us blending our magic with the magic of the goddess and the god, and it is also a form of adoration as well!

I share this one video from Glastonbury a lot. I love it. It shows the weaving technique used for the dance. OVER, UNDER, OVER, UNDER. And by the time the ribbon is all used up, it has created an absolutely gorgeous plaiting around the pole. Here, you can see what this group did!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxcIqMmlVOs

After all that, the May King and May Queen have done their job and done it very well! Next, in our tradition, the Priest and Priestess bless each person. We bless cakes and drink- usually cookies and juice, and have each person approach for their own blessing. First, the person gets a cookie and are told “May you never hunger.” Then they get a sip of juice and are told “May you never thirst.” As our particular tradition is all about balance, if the person is male, they then get a personal blessing from the Priestess. If they are female, they get one from the Priest.

Not all traditions are this specific, and I admit, a couple people got very insulted by this. One was transgendered and said she did not appreciate being asked to join males based on being born with a penis. She identified as a woman trapped in a man’s body and said she did not feel the least bit male. Another person who complained stated they are gay and therefore do not understand a ritual that emulates joining of male and female to create life.

I told them our tradition does this because in the plant and animal kingdom, you need both male and female parts to create offspring. I also said I would never ask anybody to participate in a ritual that they were upset about or that did not serve them. But our tradition of Wicca really is appropriately referred to as a “fertility cult.” Maybe that is why Beltaine is so big for us!

The Maypole ritual and May Day as we personally celebrate it include things emulating the sex that everything has that makes babies. We use sympathetic magic to send energy out to the powers that be to ask them to make those things happen. We are not just gathering to ask to get pregnant. We want baby plants and animals made, too, for our foods! But also, we ask for the energy of birth and growth in what we need in our lives.

Maybe somebody wants to go back to college and wants the gods to help them make it happen. Maybe somebody has been ill and wants a new body and new life in the form of healing.

Our particular tradition focuses on the magic the god and goddess create together for this and all our Sabbats and workings, but I accept that not everybody finds that focus meaningful. I think each person has to celebrate the Sabbats in a way that is meaningful for them, and not worry aboutm other people’s traditions.

Having said all of these things, I realize that I usually discuss history first and then provide suggested working. I did it backwards this time. So here is some Beltaine history!

What is Beltaine?

It’s based on ancient Pagan practices. It was the beginning of the summer for the folks who raise livestock back in Pre-Christian times. They brought the animals from winter grounds to summer fields, and a purification ritual involving bonfires that were blessed was used. The people and animals were paraded between two blessed fires and it was believed this ritually purified them. I read recently that sometimes, a dough was made and cooked over the blessed fire into a bread and everybody was fed the blessed bread as part of the processions.

Can you imagine how happy the animals must have been to get out of those barns and into the summer grazing grounds? And the animals who were young who had never seen those fields must have been so excited- and relieved to pass by the warm fires and see, for the first time, all the land they had to run free in! How excited, too, the people were. Songs, dances, and feasting were part of it all, as well as thanks to the gods for making it through ANOTHER winter season.

The work on the foodcrops was at hand, and while I am sure the backbreaking labor was not exactly relished, the fact it was time to start production of such good things was eagerly anticipated.

Talk with any gardener, whether they grow flowers or food, and they will be bursting at the seams come Beltaine time. Here in Central Ohio, May Day is about the time when danger of last frost is past and EVERYTHING can be planted out of doors without worry.

Today, while I took a short break from writing this article, I made my timetable for what seeds I will plant when. It is March 21 today, and while a few things can be put in the ground earlier, I still have about five weeks before I can put it all out!

For us, we can just run to the grocery for fresh fruit and veggies- but our ancestors could not. They preserved foods and had something to eat, but preserved foods are not the same as fresh. I can only imagine how excited the ancient people were when planting season was in full tilt.

I also read the Maypole comes to us from the Germanics. I learned it was outlawed in the 1500’s when King Edward the VI came to power and was reinstated under Queen Mary when she took over the throne. Support and opposition of the practice changed with whoever was holding office, and it varied by region. The Presbyterians who ran Scotland were against it, and today, of course, it’s just used as a Springtime celebration because it’s fun and festive all over the world.

I will say, though, that we THINK the Germanics used it in connection with fertility rites, but we are not entirely certain. It might have represented the Yggdrasil, or the World Tree. In Sweden, Maypoles are used at Midsummer, not May Day.

Technically, in Germanic and Scandinavian places, it’s Walpurgisnacht- or the day Witches supposedly used to gather in the Brocken, or the highest peak in the Hartz mountain. What witches supposedly did while communing with their gods, I do not know. Perhaps the association with “witches” after Christianization is due to the fact that this region was once a sacred site for veneration of the Allfather, Odin.

The weather at The Brocken is extreme to say the least. It gets no warmer than about 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the Summer, and it gets more precipitation than anyplace else in Northern central Europe. Many months, the land is completely covered in snow. Being somebody who dislikes cold, myself, I have to wonder why ancient Saxons chose such a frigid place to hold sacred rites to Odin. But perhaps the very fact it was so extreme made it seem all the more sacred to them.

Today, some European towns have Walpurgis Night festivals still. They celebrate the feast day of the Saint Walpurga instead of honoring their ancestral gods. Some have music festivals and some do things more like what you see in Fourth of July celebrations where mom and dad bring the kids and the local auxiliary clubs put on concerts. I imagine back in Saxon days, the revelers behaved just as the people in this video I share did.

We sometimes imagine ancient Pagans as being somehow more wild and barbaric, but I seriously doubt they were. They were just ordinary people leading ordinary lives. Religion was an ordinary part of everyday life. While the bonfires might look big, what they did, even when there was human or animal sacrifice was not lewd, wild, exciting, or romantic.

It was just normal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fs9wn9W2t60

People all over Western Europe still light bonfires around the last week of April or first week of May because cultures and practices may have changed, but basic human nature has not. There is some small part of us that still needs the sympathetic magic of the bonfires to emulate the lifegiving heat and power of the indestructible sun.

Seeing as people now celebrate this Saint Walpurga, let’s explore who she is a bit more.

She was born in either 710 in England, the daughter of St. Richard the Pilgrim, who was the brother –in-law to Saint Boniface. Saint Boniface was the first one to establish organized Christianity in the German lands, and recruited woman as well. He sent Walpurga to Germany as well.

Walpurga’s early portrayals show her as holding sheaths of grain and it is speculated veneration of her replaced worship of a grain goddess. Due to belief she prayed while on a voyage, which calmed a storm, she is the patron saint of fear of water, called on for protection from storms, and a matron of sailors.

In Antwerp, Belgium, a church was built and named after Walpurga. The church was confiscated and used as a warehouse by the French in 1798, then by the Dutch, who destroyed it shortly after. Little was salvaged from the church which stood as a sanctuary for about 700 years!

What little survived, including one of the painter Ruben’s masterpieces and a small piece of the original altar was taken to The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Ruben’s painting can be seen here at this link to the Wikipedia article about it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elevation_of_the_Cross_(Rubens)

Whether the old gods, or a missionary to the Xtian god are being celebrated, one thing is for sure- all over the world, May Day is a big deal. People are so happy the days are warmer and the growing season is begun that they have to sing and dance and make merry well into the night.

However you celebrate, may your gods bless you, and may this season of new life bring many new things and joys into your life.

Blessed Beltaine!

Blessed Be!

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