Passing Time: Beltane

Guest Post, · Categories: Passing Time Rituals Series

meat_lord suggested I include the video for this song since it features a May Pole. I couldn’t say no, even though I always hated this song, have never taken enough drugs to appreciate the video (despite working at a Renaissance Festival for 19 years), and only realized after posting it here (and watching it again) that the awkward arm movement he repeatedly makes throughout the course of the song is, I think, meant to be the letter “S.”

Welcome to the third article in our rituals series. I went with the modern pagan wheel of the year calendar because several of us are familiar with it and it evenly breaks up the twelve months into manageable chunks of time. There will a mix of spiritual and secular practices and observations for each holiday–I can’t promise ahead of time if any will be weighted more one way or the other, but I’ll do my best to include something for everyone. I’ll post these the Wednesday before the holiday date. Thank you to the contributors! You are invaluable.

From meat_lord:

I don’t know about you, Manka-ites, but it feels like the Wheel of the Year is turning like someone’s playing Wheel of Fortune with it. It’s Beltane already.

In my cursory, Wikipedia-based readings, I’ve concluded that original flavor Beltane seems to have been primarily about cows and fire. Ancient (and not-so-ancient) Irish Beltane practices included driving your herd of cattle between two sacred bonfires in order to burn off any bad luck. Myself, when I hear “cows” plus “fire,” I think barbecue–and depending where you live and how the weather’s treating you, a Beltane barbecue might be just the ticket.

Beltane was traditionally the first day of summer in Ireland, and in most places I’ve lived, that has been accurate. From May 1st on out, the days get longer, the sun gets…well, sunnier, and I start my seasonal complaining about the heat. But at the same time, the change in the weather also brings back fond childhood memories of summer vacations spent playing outdoors. Perched in the big, climbable pine tree in my front yard, I invented the most wonderful worlds. I’d romp through in lush grass (not yet parched to straw by three months of drought), I constructed miniature villages out of twigs, brewed weird potions from the choicest leaves, and waged epic battles fought by My Little Ponies and plastic dinosaurs. Around this time each year, I remember the profusion of ideas my kid-brain cooked up and the sheer joy that I took in it all, and my imagination gets a boost, which is pretty appropriate.

Beltane and May Day traditions center on fertility too, not just on the banishing of misfortune by lighting big fuck-off fires. (For example, one only has to look at the popular interpretation of Maypoles as phallic symbols.) Celebrating fertility is something that I personally don’t grok, as an avowedly child-free individual who is terrified by human reproduction. Still, there’s a lot of benefit in focusing on fertility in a non-babymaking (or crop-growing) sense. Abundant creativity, free-flowing productivity, or budding friendships and relationships are all things to hope for/cultivate. And I would like to wish you all a bountiful crop of spoons!

As spring begins to ripen into summer, here’s a quick & easy ritual to promote good mojo and productivity:

  1. Pick an area of your life where you’d like to have more success, progress, or luck, or a goal that you’re trying to reach.
  2. Get two slips of paper, a fireproof container, and some matches.
  3. On one slip of paper, write down three obstacles that you’re facing. On the other, write down three things that would enable you to reach your goal. (Example:  “I want to write more” gets “1. Depression 2. Tumblr 3. Work is eating my life.” vs. “1. Powerful bolt of inspiration 2. Figure out how to block myself from the internet 3. More writing time.”)
  4. Take the slip of paper with your obstacles on it. Burn that motherfucker. Consider the bad vibes dogging you banished, even if they don’t know it yet.
  5. Take the slip of paper with the things you need in order to succeed on it; this one gets to live. Put it somewhere where you’ll see it regularly and give the list a couple of days to marinate in your brain.
  6. (Optional) Feel free to Increase Witches as you so desire.

The process of identifying and physically writing down what would help you and what’s blocking your path can shake loose some ideas, while lighting your problems on fire provides catharsis. You may even be able to generate workarounds for situations that don’t initially seem to be in your control at all.

Good luck and good fortune, my fellow Manka-ites! Happy Beltane!

From Jenavira:

Beltane is the Sex & Fertility holiday. And don’t get me wrong, I think that’s great–sex is a hugely important part of many people’s lives, and I think there should be a holiday to celebrate it. If that’s your bag, this is a great opportunity to do the do, have fun, and enjoy your and your partner(s)’s bodies in all their weird wonderful realness. But as an asexual genderqueer person, I struggle with Beltane. If I’m not interested in sex with anyone but myself, what is Beltane about? If I have a womb but am violently opposed to having another being inhabiting it, what does a fertility rite do for me? I’ve been struggling with these questions for going on fifteen years now, and I don’t claim to have answers, but I do have a practice that I think is fitting for the holiday, that maybe gets at some of the same things at the root.
Beltane for the Asexual: Embodiment
Secure for yourself a couple of hours where you won’t be interrupted (you probably won’t need a couple of hours, but better to have the time than to feel rushed) and a nice-smelling candle or essential oils. I prefer something other than incense for this, because I want something cleaner than smoke, but if smoke is good for you, go for it. Lock yourself in the bathroom and take off your clothes. Look at yourself in the mirror. Really look. All the saggy bits, flabby bits, stretch marks and hairs and zits. You are existing in this body, and that is amazing. This body carries you through the world, sometimes effortlessly, but usually not. It has needs and wants of its own, not always the same as the needs and wants of your mind. Pay attention. Can you feel any of them? What does your body need or want that it might not have had recently?
Remember that you are not separate from your body, but you are a complex phenomenon arising from the interaction of your body and the world. In our culture we live a lot in our heads, but there are other places to live. See if you can move your sense of self out of your head and into your chest or your belly. (This is hard. Think about how it feels when you’re driving, how you know where the bumpers of your car are, how you know when to give it a little gas and when to tap the brake. Try to feel that inside your own body.) If that’s easy, see if you can move your self into your hands or your feet, or your favorite part of your body. What does the world look like from there? What does your body feel like from there?
Do something nice for your body. Take a bath, if you can, or a nice long shower. Take the time to do all the things you rush through most days: put on lotion, or a face mask, or rub your feet. If orgasms are fun for you, maybe have one of those. Or do all of this. Your body is the foundation of you, and you are amazing.
When you’re all done, if you can, go and sit outside for a little while, feel the sun and the breeze on your skin, and enjoy how wonderful it is to be alive in the spring.
From Manka:
Contemplating Beltane celebrations when my libido is lower than it has been since maybe ever is a new (and unwelcome) experience. 0/10 would not recommend to other highly sex-driven people. I am absolutely not inspired to come up with something fresh so I’m just gonna relate a couple of my favorite memories of the holiday. I beg your pardon for my lack of fertile imagination.
I started doing witchy things my sophomore year of college, but my freshman year I celebrated May Day by sneaking out of my scholarship hall with a friend in the wee, still-dark hours of the morning to (illicitly) pick flowers on campus. She was a townie whose parents lived near campus, had been doing this since childhood, and knew all the good spots for blooms. We gathered armfuls of lilacs, irises, tulips, and a few early-blooming lilies and lay them with anonymous notes of May Day goodwill outside the doors of our fellow scholarship hall dwellers.
The local pagan group (which I joined in 1990) had a fantastic May Pole with a highly detailed and lovingly carved penis head at the top. This thing was admirably tall for a portable pole–at least fifteen feet–and when I joined it already had a couple years of ribbons wrapped around it. I remember muttering the mantra bird-snake-bird-snake to keep track of where I was in the order of the weaving. It seems like it would be easy enough to track, but inevitably someone would lose focus at some point and come up against someone coming the opposite direction who also wasn’t tracking and there would be a collision. Bird-snake-bird-snake was crucial to avoid fucking up the pattern. I have fond memories of driving home from the ritual site on Sunday afternoon (about 40 minutes out in the sticks, through small towns and past so many churches) with our giant penis sticking out the back of someone’s pick-up truck–ribbons fluttering and one group member in particular holding it down like Slim Pickens riding the nuclear bomb in Dr. Strangelove.
And of course So. Much. Mead.
I’ll leave you with this, Jonathan Coulton’s song which came out long after I’d dropped out of the pagan group. I wonder if they played it at their 2004 Beltane ritual.

10 Responses to “Passing Time: Beltane”

  1. CleverManka says:

    Inserting the YouTube video at the top inserts a billion /div tags and I don't have it in me to clear them all out, sorry. That's why the formatting is so weird and I don't have it in me to go through and fix the borked HTML when it's still readable. Let me know if you can't read it in your view, though, and I'll see what I can do!

  2. Kazoogrrl says:

    I will be spending next weekend at a Fairie Festival, technically not a pagan event but, you know, it is.

    This also reminds me, this year I have to get to Morris Dancing classes. I'm particularly interested in the Border style, and I recommend checking out videos of Beltane Border Morris (though warning, they blacken their faces for "tradition" and there is quite the discussion going on about that).

  3. Alluvial_Fan says:


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