Beltane in lockdown

The wheel of the year turns quickly, doesn’t it?

We are back around at Beltane (for us Northern Hemisphere folks, happy Samhain to those in the Southern Hemisphere), which is usually celebrated on or around 1 May.

Beltane is, of all the eight Pagan festivals, the one that I have the most uneasy relationship with. On the one hand, it celebrates High Spring in all its glory and points to the coming Summer days. On the other hand, especially on the Pagan corners of the internet, it’s the time for a whole lot of talk about “The God” and “The Goddess” laying together.

While there are many Pagans and Pagan traditions that don’t follow this standard Wiccan-ish symbolism and mythology, there is also a heck of a lot of unquestioned cisgender heteronormative reproductive norms going on there.

Given that this Beltane will be celebrated in lockdown for most people, we perhaps have more freedom in how we celebrate it than we might in a large group ritual. If the God/Goddess elements speak to you, then you can celebrate that.

If not, then you can find and create your own Beltane.

The Celts traditionally celebrated Beltane as a fire festival, burning bonfires to purify lands and cattle herds. The name Beltane may derive from the proto-Celtic words Bel and Ten meaning something like “bright fire” or “good fire”. In a smaller, at home sense, Beltane then becomes a perfect time to work some candle magic, have a back-garden barbecue or simply light a candle and meditate on ideas of Spring and new life.

I’m deeply squicky about the word “fertility” but it’s worth considering that fertility does not narrowly refer to cis-het reproduction. Nature is boundless in creativity, and Beltane can honour the “endless forms most beautiful” with whom we share our world. Or you can do some gardening; what speaks of the fertility of Nature more than planting seeds?

If you don’t have a garden, try growing herbs or cress on a windowsill. There are lots of online seed retailers, and even supermarket potted herbs can be divided up and re-potted to grow again. You can even grow cress in an old eggshell (and how beautifully symbolic of new life is that?)

And you know what? It’s OK to skip it altogether.

You’re not a bad Pagan if you don’t celebrate all eight festivals, or celebrate different festivals, or don’t celebrate any at all. Paganism is not, at least as I see it, about a list of rules to follow and things to do – it’s an attitude of reverence to the Sacred (however you percieve it) and to Nature.

I love May Day celebrations, with their Morris dancing, songs, food, drink and fun. This year, we don’t have that. It can be alienating to not have the markers of the year we’re used to, and isolating to celebrate without community. These are not normal times.

Not every festival needs ritual.

Not every moment needs action.

Sometimes, taking time to find stillness and simply observe Nature, whether that’s a tree outside your window, a garden, or even just the sky overhead, is enough.

In fact it’s more than enough. Listening to the Oran Mor, the Great Song of the world, is far more important than trying to sing our own verses all the time, often to a dissonant melody.

What is blooming? What is growing? What are the birds and animals doing? When does the sun rise and set? If you don’t know, see if you can find out by observing Nature over the next few days.

And take care of yourselves and each other. If the “traditional” imagery of Beltane, of God and Goddess as representatives of Nature, is of value in any way it is to remind us that Love is the greatest power in the universe.

Stay safe, and have a blessed Beltane, whatever you choose to do with it.

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