Out of all the holidays, Beltane is by far the weirdest for me personally. Over the last few years I have developed my own way of conceptualizing it that works for me, and if I’m going solo or running a group ritual with that in mind it’s fine.
However, this year I’m attending a group ritual run by someone much more traditional, and I’m honestly kind of dreading it. Not because I don’t enjoy ritual, or even this person’s rituals, but because Beltane itself is all kinds of awkward for me. It kinda feels like I’m back in Christian church.
I am well aware that’s not a common response, especially to this holiday in particular, so I figured an explanation might be handy.
First off, what’s Beltane?
Beltane, or May 1st, is the absolute favorite holiday of a ton of people. Traditionally it’s the day when flocks and herds were returned to the fields after being cooped up all winter, and that aspect of things does play a part in the season. However, these days Beltane is more commonly considered the day the Goddess and God get together, or the day the Holly King fights the Oak King for the Goddess’s hand. The emphasis is heavy on sex, fertility, and marriage.
Sure, there are other associations too – protection, community engagement, sensuality and self-appreciation – but most public rituals bypass them in favor of the sex/fertility/marriage triad. Makes sense, really, as it’s so easy to work with that in a ritual setting. It’s also a way of declaring, loud and proud, that sex is a holy thing and not something to freak out about in the dark. For many of us from more puritanical backgrounds that kind of reminder is incredibly welcome.
Like I said, it’s all perfectly understandable. I simply don’t really relate to it.
I promise this isn’t just me being difficult. There are some pretty fundamental disconnects between me and the way Beltane is commonly celebrated.
The sexual focus of Beltane is fairly lost on me. *shrug* I’m asexual.
“Asexual” means I am rarely if ever sexually attracted to someone. I can appreciate pretty people, but it’s like appreciating a sunset or a piece of music. I have no visceral “damn I’d like to bang that!” going on. That doesn’t mean I’m celibate – orientation is based on attraction and not action, which is why a gay man having sex with a woman while fantasizing that he’s banging Channing Tatum is still a gay man – but it does mean that who I choose to have sex with is based on other factors. (Usually, for me, it’s either because I’ve seen them have sex with someone else and thought that looked like a good time or because they’re awesome people and I like their skin on mine.)
While sex is fun, it’s by no means required for my health and happiness. Roller coasters are fun too, and I don’t see many rituals devoted to those. Sex is the same way. Awesome if I can get it, but if not? Eh. Not exactly a crisis.
A whole ritual focused on something I can take or leave honestly isn’t all that meaningful to me.
The fertility of people and the land has been important for the entirety of human history. I absolutely get that. And I can appreciate the latter – it’s part of my own observance.
However, I am personally childfree. Militantly so. I have no children, I have no desire for children, and I find my life perfectly fulfilling without that. The idea of being pregnant makes me physically ill. I know I’m in the minority with this, and that’s fine, but just thinking about it is horrifying. I am unspeakably grateful, every day, that I am infertile (thanks PCOS!).
While I realize that fertility in all areas is part of this holiday, and that “all areas” includes things like my creativity, the ritual emphasis is almost always on physical fertility. Even if it’s not, that is still the metaphor most rituals run with. In order to relate to that personally I have to do a whole Cirque du Soleil routine in my head, mentally overcoming my revulsion at the idea of physical pregnancy and then substituting that idea with something I actually want fertile.
That, frankly, is a lot of damn work.
Marriage and handfasting, the romantic union of self with another, is a large component of the traditional Beltane. And, again, this isn’t really my thing. I’m aromantic.
“Aromantic” means I have no desire for a romantic partner. None. I have close friendships, and I’ve had some cohousing situations where queerplatonic dynamics ruled the day, but no matter how intimate those friendships get they’re never romantic in nature.
That is wonderful when it comes to my spirituality and my creative projects. As I’ve discussed before, there are only so many hours in the day. All the time I’m not spending with a partner – and that is a lot of time – I can instead spend on other priorities. I can fall into a project for an entire weekend, as I am wont to do, and that’s fine. If someone calls me and needs my counsel I can take whatever time they need without short-changing the other people in my life. I can travel on a moment’s notice, and as long as I’m meeting my work obligations I don’t need to check in with anyone else about it.
I’m not saying that this is the best thing for everyone, because it’s not. But it is absolutely better for me.
There isn’t a lot of room for this viewpoint in a traditional Beltane ritual, though, and that’s a problem.
Observance vs. Ritual
So far I’ve covered how the three main ritual focuses of Beltane – sex, fertility, and marriage – are just not for me. But how those things are focused on is an issue too.
The “observance vs ritual” concept just came to my attention as that pretty recently. It figures in to all the sabbats I celebrate with more traditional Pagan people, and the issues I already have with Beltane just make it worse.
I approach each sabbat as an observance, and Beltane is no exception. For me Beltane is all about the Land. I invite the local land spirits (and anyone else who wants to honor Them) to attend a meal in Their honor, as an act of appreciation and connection, and that’s as far as it goes. If other people are present conversation stays focused on the land, on the seasons, on the physicality of our lives. The spoken invitation to the Land at the beginning of things and my farewell at the end are as formal as it gets.
That’s quite intentional on my part. I am a purpose-driven person, and I don’t often do something if there’s not a clear reason for it. That’s why nothing I do for a sabbat resembles a typical Pagan ritual. I’m not doing magick or raising energy because that’s not what I’m there for, so it doesn’t happen. Casting Circles and calling Quarters is completely superfluous, so I don’t do it. Beltane is not about honoring the Gods or the Ancestors (They have Their own days), so there are no invocations for Them (although my Lady is always welcome where I am, of course). My altar rarely has the traditional altar tools on it, and never has all of them, because they’re not being used. Since the entire thing is a picnic with offerings, Cakes and Ale has no point. Add that in with my complete lack of focus on sex and marriage, and fertility only being referenced as a seasonal energy increase for the land, and the disconnect between what I do and a more traditional Pagan ritual becomes blindingly obvious.
That’s why I find attending a Pagan Beltane to many times feel like attending a Christian church. I attend, I say the things, I do my best to engage, but it feels very “not me” when I do it almost all of the time. That’s what makes it uncomfortable. Of course, a traditional Pagan is likely to be just as uncomfortable attending my observance as I am attending their ritual. *shrug*
I’ll be doing both my personal observance and a much more traditional group ritual this year. After which this day passes for another year, and I can turn my focus to Midsummer – much more comfortable all around.
*For those who were wondering – yes, I sang the title. I’m not even a little bit shamed, either. *grin*