Everyone’s getting ready for Beltane. In the face of climate change, the Anthropocene, mass extinction, and all the scary stuff, it feels important to celebrate Nature and all its diversity. That does not imply to me in any way that we should focus only on heterosexual fecundity. Nature is diverse, and that includes humans. All acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals.
The very first time I ever heard the word Beltane was listening to Ride a White Swan by T-Rex:
Wear a tall hat like the druids in the old days
Wear a tall hat and a tattooed gown
Ride a white swan like the people of the Beltane
Wear your hair long, Babe, you can’t go wrong
I remember feeling intrigued and excited by the word, and wanting to know more. Beltane still seems full of possibility and expansive joy to me.
Themes of Beltane
The sexual aspects of Beltane should definitely be about ALL acts of love and pleasure, not only heterosexual ones.
Of course, if you’re single or asexual, you might not want a celebration that’s all about sex. Mark Green over at the AtheoPaganism blog offers some alternatives. Here’s a Beltane post I wrote when my beloved was away and I was feeling sad, which also offers ways of including LGBTQIA+ people in Beltane rituals, and links to Beltane rituals for families and solitary practitioners.
Beltane isn’t just about celebrating sexuality, though. It’s also the time when the herds were moved to the high pastures, and purified and blessed by the smoke of the bonfires (presumably the smoke from the fires helped to keep down ticks and other parasites).
I have also written about making Beltane more inclusive for disabled people. I was especially pleased with the idea of using two bonfires, so that people who cannot jump over fires could run or walk or wheel between them. In the past, people used to drive their cattle between the fires to bless them. There are more suggestions for accessible rituals in my post on Accessible circles.
And here’s an inclusive wheel of the year, in which I have offered suggestions for making the rituals as inclusive as possible. You could adapt these suggestions for your own needs.
Beltane in Ontario
To the ancient Romans, May 1st was Floralia, the festival of the goddess Flora, who is the goddess of flowers. This seems very appropriate here in Ontario, as the first flowers have just started appearing in April. We have snowdrops blooming in the garden, and the various other garden flowers (July lilies and tulips and crocuses) are just starting to put the first shoots out of the ground. Here, instead of a gradual transition from winter to summer, Spring is one big burst. This adds even more meaning to Beltane as a festival of the renewal of fecundity. (And when I say fecundity, I am not being heterocentric: same-sex partners can create fertility, as the story of the Fisher King and the Grail Knight reminds us.)
In England, the snowdrops appear in late January and early February, just in time for Imbolc. Here in Ontario, the ground is still covered in snow at that time, and it seems a bit early to be wassailing the orchards (although we did).
Now that the frozen ground is thawing out and the trees are budding and the grass is starting to turn green again, it’s actually starting to feel like Spring. By the time Beltane arrives, there will be more flowers. I am so looking forward to seeing the flowers.
Beltane and climate change
We need to think about climate change and act in response to it. Creating wildlife havens in our gardens, campaigning for climate action, living in a sustainable manner: doing whatever we can to promote awareness of the climate crisis, and to galvanize politicians into changing the economy and policy in response to it.
Even in the cold Canadian winters, a couple of degrees can make a huge difference, as what is happening to the jays in Algonquin Park shows:
As winter approaches Canada jays collect up all sorts of treats to see them through the winter – juicy beetles and centipedes, mushrooms, berries, little voles and mice. These tasty morsels are hidden throughout the forest and help to see them through the lean winter months. But new research, published this week in Royal Society Open Science, shows that Canada jays living at the southern edge of their range in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, are struggling. The data shows that over the last 40 years the number of winter freeze-thaw events has increased. It appears that this frequent defrosting of the jays’ winter larders is leaving the birds hungry and unable to bring up large broods the following spring.
I was listening to Sheila Rogers on the radio yesterday and heard about a poetry book for our times, Self Defence for the Brave and Happy by Paul Vermeersch. One of the things he said stuck in my mind: that poetry is a form of incantation or spell, with which we can change our minds and our culture. This reminds me that ritual and magic are not just an escape from ordinary reality, but a means of changing consciousness. And if you believe that all consciousness is interconnected, then if we change our own consciousness, we are also changing the collective mind. And if you don’t, then at least we can use magic and ritual to change our own minds, and empower ourselves to do something about climate change. That something will need to be collective, though; individual responses are great, but we need systemic change and collective action.
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5 thoughts on “Beltane is coming”
I like how you’ve linked Beltane to climate chaos. This is particularly appropriate for Canadians as we see the polar ice disappearing and creating a feedback loop that heats the whole earth. On a personal note when I left Canada to live down south I was amazed to see the symbol of the sun (fire) transform from representing the source of warmth and life into something perhaps better connected to death. This realization started with something kind of small. As a gardener I was so excited to be able to grow plants year round. But with each year that passed I saw that frost was in reality a frenemy. The sun was much more dangerous: bringing terrible droughts, deadly heat waves, fires and floods. Of course, the real cause is not the sun but our toxic life styles. But, over time my relationship to Beltane has been shifting away from pure celebration to a more contemplative time of thinking about balance.
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Yes, it’s particularly worrying that Canada is warming at three times the rate.
Having moved from the UK to Canada, I’m noticing that the cycle of the seasons is very different (partly down to the Gulf Stream that warms Britain, but also because Turtle Island has a continental climate and Britain has a maritime climate).
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The only wildlife haven my garden seems to be able to create is one for gophers and voles! Still, the Grey Jays have left for northern climes and the stellar jays are back. There seems to be a cycle – some species are more prevalent in some years compared to others.
I too, still have some snow, and am still looking for that one spell that keeps plants growing where I want them to grow.
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Thanks for sharing this. As someone who doesn’t connect with the sexuality part at all I really like the idea that fertility can be created without sex by two (or one or more persons) like Peredur and the Fisher King and will be thinking on that more.
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Yes, that’s another way of looking at it which I hadn’t thought of. I was too busy going “Look! Two men making fertility! Nyah Nyah Nyah!!!” (This aspect of the story is also important though.)
I’m also looking for an example from mythology of two women making fertility, so let me know if you can think of any.
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