I have a weird fascination with witch holidays this year. To me, the most natural spirituality is the one you didn’t realize you already had, with no effort or dogma, and I’ve always been a lover of seasons and a true believer in cycles. What is more basic than the continuous, rhythmic cycles of light and dark? The Wheel of the Year? I observed it before I observed it.
Paganism is the religion without a name, springing from the traditional faith of regular folk, based on their natural experiences, what people practiced before there were “isms.” Traditions may follow the farming calendar, but they feel urban to me. So whether you call yourself a Wiccan, a Druid, a Shaman, a Heathen, or just a Human, you can count yourself a Pagan if you believe in the organic vitality and spirituality of the natural world, and the way that natural world endlessly mirrors itself inside of you and out. Count me in!
The next witch holiday on the calendar is Beltane, which is this Saturday night – April 30th – into Sunday, May 1st (in the northern hemisphere). That’s also called May Day. See? You’ve been observing it forever.
It’s also pretty European: In ancient Rome the first day of May fell during the festival of Floralia, a celebration to honor Flora, the goddess of springtime and flowers. When the Romans conquered other lands, they brought their customs, but in Celtic countries the first day of May was already celebrated as the festival of Beltane, where bonfires were lit on hilltops, cattle put out to pasture, blossoms gathered and May Poles erected.
Today’s Pagans believe that at Beltane, the God, to whom the Goddess gave birth at the Winter Solstice, has grown strong and mature enough to become her lover. Earth Mother opens to Fertility God, and the result is healthy livestock and strong crops as well as the birth of new people. Practical! Nowadays, concerns for flocks and fields may have faded, but the fertility invoked on this day can also bless our personal creativity. We can pray for fertile minds for our work, fertile hearts for our families and community, the fertility of our personal expression. We may not plant fields, but maybe we’ve got a roof garden or flower pot. We certainly recognize the longer light, and the green leaves on our humble urban street trees. We certainly feel the liveliness in our bodies, the urge to move, to be out and open, to let the gentle temperature caress our skin, and hopefulness caress our spirits. And when our skin is warm and clothing scarce, that’s a recipe for sex! Or short of that, the tradition of dancing in a circle weaving ribbons around a maypole may contain enough obvious sexual imagery to make up the difference.
Do binary gender representations annoy you? Then consider it Yin and Yang flowing together, integration, a meeting of complimentary opposites, union that sparks creation. Are there more than just two sides? For sure. The way I see it, when all the infinite variables flow easily together, a kaleidoscopic wholeness is achieved that sounds to me like late-spring/early-summer, and definitely a recipe for ribbons.
Where There is Light, There is Social Justice
In many places, May Day also includes parades and demonstrations that got their start here in North America. Why? During the industrial revolution, with machines running around the clock, factory owners wanted their employees to work 16 hours a day 6 days a week. A federation of trade and labor unions in the United States and Canada called for an 8-hour workday beginning on May 1, 1886. When employers refused to grant this, thousands of workers went on strike. In many countries, the first of May is specifically celebrated as International Workers’ Day. Injustice is exposed in longer, stronger light, and a fiery fertility of spirit is stoked to confront it.
My Brooklyn Beltane
There are many little, urban-friendly ways you can honor Beltane if you want. Start with the colors of the season – greens, yellows, purples and blues – dress up like the flowers! Get some sexual imagery going somewhere: fertility symbols like phalluses, sticks, acorns, seeds, cups, cauldrons, wreaths, rings. Make a flower-crown and wear it. Make a May Pole centerpiece for your tiny Ikea table. Make a mini fire your cast-iron pot, or at least light lots of candles. If you have anyone appropriately available, get lusty and frolic with the windows open.
Here are a couple of fun ideas for New Yorkers, and where I’ll be this weekend:
The Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom) Festival happens every year at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and this two-day fair (April 30-May 1) marks the end of Hanami, the Japanese seasonal tradition of blossom appreciation. See? Not even European! It’s a New York rite of spring, and includes a cosplay fashion show, bands playing traditional tunes, dance performances, and all those delicious pink and white petals.
If you’re hard-core witchy: The 11th annual Open Beltane Sabbat Celebration will take place in Tompkins Square Park on Sunday, May 1. The Wiccan Family Temple will once again host a “very Bardic Beltane” to include May Pole Dancing, Jumping the Cauldron, and a Beltane Ritual complete with songs and chants. You are encouraged to bring 30 feet of ribbon in a color that reflects what you would like to weave into your life this year. Everyone is welcome, of all races, creeds and genders – the Wiccan Family Temple is respectful of all spiritual paths and all peoples. But please RSVP!
Best wishes from Brooklyn for more light and more life, and I’ll see you back here for the Summer Solstice. Blessed be!