Friday, January 18, 2013

Pagan Blog Project Week 3: B is for Beltane

(I am two weeks behind on this.  How did I not know about the Pagan Blog Project?!?!  So, I start right now! PBP is found here.)

Beltane is a long way off right now.  There's still snow on the ground, freezing temperatures and bare trees.  However, Beltane is easily one of my favorite of the holidays.  It is also, from my not-so-distant travels, seemingly one of the most misunderstood.  It is the big fertility holiday and there are so many misconceptions that surround many of our Beltane practices.

I have heard initiates of non-hedonistic traditions say, "Beltane is all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll."  What?!?  Beltane is about getting shitfaced and being promiscuous?  Really?!?  (I've actually asked that question and taken some with that stance off guard.)  I've heard other, non-initiates, say things like, "I hope I'm single during Beltane."  When I asked them why they hoped to be single, their response was, "Well... because... You know, it's a fertility holiday."

Beltane is not about getting smashed on mead and having sex with whomever you please in the name of fertility.  It is not our hedonist holiday.  So many people want to point out that in antiquity people danced around Bale fires naked and paired up to go and do their thing in the woods, and that is why Beltane is about sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

They don't think about the fact that those people didn't have modern conveniences like central heat in their homes.  For nearly half of the year, these people hunkered down in their huts around the hearth to keep warm.  They bundled up in furs to keep warm.  They hoped like hell there was enough food to get through to spring and they didn't starve to death.

Come Beltane these people had just really begun to get out of their homes to plant the crops and let the livestock out to graze.  It had only been a couple of months since the worst was passed and the light was back.  The days got longer and warmer.  Beltane is the first Sabbat where you can even think about running around half clothed, much less naked.  It is the first Sabbat where the threat of frost is past and the warmth of summer is evident.

Our ancestors celebrated this fact because Beltane meant that they had survived the winter, the darkness, the unknown.  They thanked their gods for giving them another growing season, another year.  In their thanks for making it through the darkness, they drove their livestock between Bale fires to have them blessed in the hopes that they mated and had lots of babies for slaughter come the fall so, once again, they wouldn't starve.  They jumped the bale fires themselves for luck and prosperity and fertility of the fields and animals.  Even more importantly than that, people used this holiday to handfast for a year and a day or to confirm their handfasting from the year before (or alternately, dissolve it).  That's also a forgotten bit of lore in our let's-get-drunk-and-screw society.

So, if there is a difference between fertility rites and promiscuity and there is a way to celebrate this holiday with reverence, what is it?  Well, that depends upon your tradition.  In my eclectic tradition (because I really can't speak for other traditions), we spent Yule hailing the birth of the young Sun God, Imbolg celebrating his childhood and waxing strength and the young, Maiden Goddess.  At Ostara, we wake the earth from Her deep slumber and at Beltane, we celebrate the union of the Mother and Father.

Everything is in bloom.  There are young birds and baby animals everywhere.  We work magic toward fertility in our lives, sometimes a continuation of the magic done at Ostara.  Fertility isn't about just sexual union.  Fertility is about putting energy toward the things in our life that will make us better people, things that will help us to grow.  It is a celebration of the Sun God's rise to power and coming into his strength.  He who warms our skin after a long, dark winter.  He who makes the crops grow and fruit so that we may live through yet another dark half of the year.  For it is He who is born, lives, and sacrifices himself year after year to ensure that we can keep living.  We celebrate his life and strength at this time of the year because of his selfless nature.

From this stance, is there a place for the Great Rite at Beltane?  There is, in my tradition, always a place for the Great Rite in ritual, though it is performed symbolically.  There is no need for the literal performance of the Great Rite, unless it is specified within your own tradition or unless it is done specifically for the health and growth of the community.  It is a sacred thing to be done with reverence, not something to be done willy-nilly with anyone and everyone just because it's Beltane.

Beltane is such a misunderstood holiday.  In today's society, people assume that Beltane should be celebrated in a hedonistic way suited for adults only.  That is simply not the case.  When the reverence of our Gods is removed from our high holy days and replaced with lustful, physical satisfaction, we are forgetting the reason for celebrating.  When our intent is focused on partaking of mind altering substances and promiscuity, we leave the Gods out of our celebration.  Our Sabbats are a celebration and remembrance of Them, not for the satisfaction of our own physical nature.  So, next Beltane when you are celebrating naked, or mostly naked, remember to be thankful to the Sun God for warming your skin.  Thank the Goddess for the fruits grown to produce whatever cold drink may wet your lips.  Remember that we are here because they allow us to be here.

Brightest blessings my friends!

**A caveat should be noted here that these opinions expressed do not come from a tradition that is hedonistic.  Every tradition is different and every tradition expresses itself differently.  No matter how you may celebrate Beltane, the thing to remember is to do it with reverence.  We can not celebrate our high holy days without including our Gods and I have, unfortunately, seen this particular holiday celebrated in a very irreverent way.**

No comments:

Post a Comment