Wiccans along with most other
NeoPagans celebrate the sacredness of all natural cycles. These cycles are particularly clear
within regions with four distinct seasons, and I think it is natural that we,
whose origins most recently hail from the British Isles, emphasize the ever
changing and eternal seasons to concretely symbolize the most basic of these
cycles. We have eight Sabbats,
four synchronized with the solar cycle of Solstices and Equinoxes, and four
linked to the old Celtic agricultural cycle. These last four are generally the more important, I think
because the cycles of birth, life, and death are at their most concrete.
Of these four days, two are
particularly important: Beltane and Samhain. Samhain honors the powers of
death, as Beltane honors those of life.
For these are the two biggest themes in all embodied existence. Without life, the rest of embodiment is
irrelevant, and everything that lives also dies. As one joker told me, “Life is a sexually transmitted
And that is why Beltane, which
most unreservedly and exuberantly focuses on life, also most unreservedly and
exuberantly focuses on sexuality.
In most of the temperate world
Spring is far along by now. In
most places Beltane fittingly marks Spring’s transition to summer. The sexual energy of spring is flowing
into the generative abundance of summer.
I think of Beltane as a celebration of beauty and delight for its own
Flowers, the sexual organs of
plants, are blooming abundantly, soon to set seeds. Birds are building their nests. Throughout the world the energies of reproduction, of
sexuality, are at their most visible.
It is through sex that we come into physical existence, and sexuality
enables us to connect most intimately with the powers of life and with one
another. It inspires the greatest
beauty in the biological world, from flowers to plumage to the celebration of
beauty among us two leggeds. The custom of having a May Queen is an
acknowledgement of this, and it is fitting that it emphasizes physical beauty
and vitality. (There are other Sabbats where we celebrate balance, wisdom, and
the other forms beauty can take.)
Beltane begins at sundown, April
30, and extends until sundown May 1.
Those fortunate enough to be able to meet outside in the country will
often have bonfires on the 30th, which young couples can jump
through, celebrating their hopes for love and perhaps fertility. That night, weather permitting, many
will sleep outside, and fertility will have another chance to manifest. In this
day and age many of us honor fertility in all its forms, there now being quite
enough of the human kind.
Covens will meet with friends to
celebrate the time, often with small fires safe for a living room as a symbol
and reminder of the big ones we’d like to have. Often our rituals will honor the symbolic wedding of the
Goddess and the God, or the revival of the Oak King, to reside until
Samhain. The rituals will often be
followed by a feast.
Before dawn many of us will be up,
myself among them, to watch and applaud Morris Dancers who
symbolically dance up the summer sun.
The first time I experienced this wonderful ritual there seemed
something deeply primordial and right about it. A couple hundred of us had arisen long before dawn to be at
Inspiration Point in Berkeley. Today, many years later, Morris Dancers are far more widespread
than they were over 20 years ago, and these dawn celebrations are far more
common. Here in Sonoma County,
Sebastopol’s Apple Tree Morris Dancers now perform the same ritual. They
are very good, but this year I’ll be down south with old friends.
Those of us who are hard core even
come out in the pouring rain. I
will never forget one May morning, joining perhaps a hundred other of the
really hard core huddled under umbrellas, watching the dancers as the light
slowly grew until a watch told us the sun had actually made its way above the
Afterwards, in Berkeley, many of
us repair to a Pagan’s house, a generous soul who lays out a wonderful brunch
to begin the rest of the day. More
of us than normal will be able to do it this year because it’s a weekend. I have no idea how widespread this
particular custom has become, but it’s a wonderful one, whether as a gift to the community and offering to
the Gods, or as a pot luck.
As the day progresses public
Sabbats will sprout all over our country, in parks and other large open
spaces. This year some will be on
Saturday, others on Sunday. It’s a
chance to be deeply immersed in sacred time for long time for those who wish. May Poles will rise, whether as magickal centers of
intention or simply as fun. In
Berkeley NROOGD will give a public celebration with its “Obby Hoss,” a old British tradition that, along with being a lot of fun to watch, is said
to bring fertility to any woman who gets caught under its cloak. I know it works. Here are some pictures from last year’s festivities.
We celebrate Beltane because it is
fun, because it honors the sacred dimension of fun, because it celebrates life
and love, because it more than any other honors the gift of life and the
blessings of delight.