Beltane and Mayday are very close to my heart. To me they are different things that happen at the same time but they are linked. Beltane is mostly spiritual and Mayday is mostly political, but they overlap and merge. While I am certainly not an Anarchist (politically speaking), Beltane and Mayday do engender a healthy element of personal anarchy. They both promote and celebrate the wisdom and experience of ordinary humans. Mayday is a celebration of ordinary workers, a reminder of their huge contribution to society and a declaration of their absolute right to be treated fairly. It is a time when those of us whose political morals lie to the left of center can come together, party and dream and plot for a more socialist world. And it was also the artisans and craftspeople, the agricultural workers and wise women who kept the various pagan traditions of Beltane and Walpurgis night alive in their hearts over the centuries. Beltane is therefore still in my mind one of the most archetypal pagan festivals of the year. It celebrates the joy and wisdom of the people who toil and work the land, their reliance on the Earth and it’s fertility and the utter magic and witchcraft embedded in the soil.
I have had some raucous Beltane celebrations in the past and some more peaceful, meditative ones. This year circumstances dictate a quiet, little ritual on my own and I admit I am feeling a bit nostalgic for times past.
Some of my favorite Beltane celebrations were those that happened a decade ago while I was living in Austria working as an Au Pair. Most of my pagan friends were also very left wing so that overlap was still there… We used to get up fairly early on Mayday (which is a public holiday in Austria) and head to the center of Vienna where there was always a “workers march”. Then at about lunchtime we would head to a cafe which was known as a place where left wing intellectuals hung out and sit outside eating schnitzel and drinking large amounts of beer or white wine spritzers. Some of us would then head of to the Prater park where there was always a concert with some middle to big named stars organised by the socialist party of Vienna. In the evening my coven friends and I would take a train out into the country carrying robes, tents, blankets, food, wine and various ritual items in our bags and rucksacks. As an acolyte in training I was usually given the besom to symbolically and actually sweep a space in the woods where we would cast our circle. Strangely (as somebody who isn’t particularly house-proud) I always enjoyed this activity and found it therapeutic and grounding. Then we would cast our circle and perform the official part of the ritual. With hindsight, I deeply respect and admire the way our High Priestess and Coven Maiden choreographed proceedings. The ritual, the chanting, the drumming , the mead, the wine and the bonfire all conspired to alter our state of mind and induce a magical trance that lasted for hours. The highlight of the evening was leaping over the bonfire. By this stage we were all skyclad (it would have been dangerous otherwise). After the fire leaping and accompanying chants we all used to scatter and run off into the darkness of the woods playing a sort of hide and seek game. That was when the sex part happened (for those who wanted it, many just went to their tents or huddled round trees telling stories through the night). I enjoyed hiding from my lover and teasing him until I was ready to be caught. And when we did make love it was charged with the special magic of the ritual and of the whole day. I remember at one point having a sort of out of body experience, seeing myself covered in mud, leaves and dirt, I had a few small cuts and bruises from running through the bracken, there were a few minor burns from the fire, some ants and a small spider on my arm, my lover was astride and inside me and I felt so alive! I felt as if my heart were beating in time with the Earth itself. It was a beautiful moment.
Several articles and blogs I have read recently seem almost apologetic about the sexual aspect of Beltane and are keen to stress the many other ways in which fertility and creativity can be fostered through Beltane rituals and celebrations. Well all of that is true; I have written about and promoted the non sexual aspects of Beltane myself. However it seems to me that to deny the sexual aspects of Beltane would be like Christians minimizing the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Beltane is many things but certainly it is primarily a sex and fertility festival. I don’t think pagans should be ashamed of that.
Writing this has rekindled something inside me. I am in the mood. So perhaps my Beltane will not be as quiet as I had first envisioned. I am between work contracts, looking after my sick mother and doing all sorts of legal and financial stuff on her behalf while clearing her house and feeling a bit depressed. Enough of this girl! Do your little private ritual as you had planned but then why not put your glad rags on, make yourself up, go out drinking, flash your eyes at somebody and get yourself laid!
Take the flame inside you
Burn and burn below…