The Bad Witch’s Guide to Beltane
I love Beltane. The flowers are just blooming. The green is just covering the hedgerows. It also happens to be my wedding anniversary!
There are huge celebrations all over the place, though not nearby it’s just that this year I am craving something quieter. Something a bit more romantic and I can’t quite put my finger on it. One of the best things we ever did was to do the Hastings East hill drumming and dancing in the dawn. On a hill in the ruins of a castle overlooking the sea we watched the light, a sliver of silver light creep, and turn red, then gold.
I’ve never done anything like that before or since. We were all done and dusted by 5.30 a.m. It was magickal. There were Morris dancers dressed in white. Pagan folks in regalia. Folks walking their dogs and people to watching the people.
After some food and a really good nap it was time for the huge parade. More Morris dancers and figures dressed as green men and women and Horned Gods drummed and danced through the streets. Dabbing people with green sponges. It really felt timeless. It felt like the whole town was magickally awake. The whole county!
A lot of pagans I know do camps from about this time of year. Where I had been busy, camping is not an option for me right now. Yet the pull of the wild still draws me. There is something utterly pagan about my island this time of year. Just under the skin of it.
Formal Beltane rituals can seem a bit hetro-centric but at its core Beltane is about the warmth of attraction. About reception and giving of energy. It is, at its core a ritual about balancing energy and understanding; within and in the world around us. It is the internal anima and animus finding momentum to create. It is about harnessing rather than repressing our wildness and turning it into something alive, be it art or science or poetry or an offspring. It is about the power of being alive and being grateful. Grateful for another year, another sunrise, a new day. It is a celebration of life.
It is not about what is in your pants, or whom you want to have sex with (if you want to have sex). That is a very limited view of self, sex, gender and identity. It is about the ritual. The receiving of energy, the channelling of energy, the using of energy to create something new. Ritual is a dream language, a psychological and social tool for healing and re-balancing a group and the self. When we exclude ourselves from the group or ritual we lose out on much of its power and deeper understandings.
As with all things this is a celebration of life has a touch of death with it too. Within Beltane’s warmth is the chill tingle of Samhain’s death. Acknowledging life means accepting death too. This roots you into and puts you out of time. You can see and feel the echo of your actions. Of course the bonfire was made of bone as well as wood. The death in the life as well as the life in the death.
For the May-pole and ribbons are only half of Beltane. The other part is about cleansing, warding off disease and illness through the power of death and fire. Cattle were driven through the ashes of bonfires, or between two large fires to do just that. People would dance around the fires and even jump over them. It was about dousing the hearth fires and re-lighting them from a group, a community fire. It was about re-igniting the heart within the home and community. Within the home. Within the self. It is to be in the dark, to be outside the usual bounds of social norms and to return changed for the better.
I recommend, if you are lucky and privileged enough to have folks nearby, to have get some folks together dance naked around a bonfire with at dawn. If that is not your bag, go and find a high spot. Climb a hill or go to a bridge or ancient ruined castle in the dark. Stand and wait in the darkness facing the east. Drum if you can. Or just be in the silence. Light a candle, or a fire if you can too. Watch the sunrise. Dance if you can. Or just stretch. Be at the mercy of the weather. No-one is outside the circle of life and death. After all it is the impulses and desire and joys that make us fully human.