Tuesday, April 26, 2011
It is a time to celebrate the Earth's renewal, to glory in life's power and its wonders. If you are an adult, it is a time to delight in sensual pleasures, and to dance with abandon and sing in the moonlight.
As a Solitary Practitioner of Wicca, I observe the holidays (Sabbats in honor of the gods, and Esbats in honor of the goddesses) as the Wheel of the Year turns. I follow these basic religious laws, which can be consolidated as:
"Bide the Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust...Mind the Threefold Law ye should — three times bad and three times good...Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill — an it harm none, do what ye will."
The Sacred Sabbat Beltane officially begins at sunset on April 30. Although most celebrations don't get into full swing until May 1, most Wiccans and Pagans acknowledge May's Eve in some fashion.
A nice tradition to start is to take equal lengths of white and silver ribbons, then tie them in a bow around one of the lower branches of a tree, preferrably a Hawthorn, one of the original Sacred Trees. Do this at sunset, and focus on the beautiful tree, then ask the Goddess for Her blessings.
As a significant Sabbat, I am presenting some additional Beltane rituals in this Part II of the post.
The word "Beltane" literally means "bright" or "brilliant fire," and refers to the bonfire lit by a presiding Druid in honor of the proto-Celtic god variously known as Bel, Beli, Balar, Balor or Belenus. It has been suggested that Bel is the Brythonic Celt equivalent to the Goidelic Celt god Kernunnos.
The third of the two Celtic fire festivals, Beltane was a celebration of the return of life and fertility to the world, and was celebrated on or around April 30, athough in these later years has become more commonly celebrated on May 1 ("May Day").
Beltane is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain which means "opposite Samhain." Beltane was the last of the three spring fertility festivals, and the second major Celtic festival. Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, Winter and Summer.
On the eve of Beltane the Celts build two large fires, created from the nine sacred woods, in honor of Summer. The tribal herds were ritually driven between them, so as to purify and protect them in the upcoming year. The fires celebrate the return of life and fruitfulness to the earth. Celebration included frolicking throughout the countryside, dancing the Maypole, leaping over fires, and "going a maying". It was customary for young lovers to spend the night in the forest.
Beltane was the time of sensuality revitalized the reawakening of the earth and all of her children. It was the time when tribal people celebrated with joy the vivid colors and vibrant scents of the season, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture of summer after a long dormant winter.
It was customary that Handfastings (weddings,) for a year and a day, take place at this time. On May Eve, people would tear branches from a Hawthorn tree and decorate the outside of their homes. The Hawthorn, or Whitethorn, is the tree of hope, pleasure, and protection. The strong taboo on breaking Hawthorne branches or bringing them into the home was traditionally lifted on May Eve.
Another custom was to leap over the Beltane bonfire. Young people jumped the fire for luck in finding a spouse, travelers jumped the fire to ensure a safe journey, and pregnant women jumped the fire to assure an easy delivery.
Traditional Beltane Activities
— Arise at dawn and wash in the morning dew, for the woman who washes her face in it will be beautiful, the man who washes his hands will be skilled with knots and nets.
— If you live near water, make a garland or posy of spring flowers and cast it into stream, lake or river to bless the water spirits.
— Prepare a May basket by filling it with flowers and goodwill, then give it to one in need of caring, such as a shut-in or elderly friend.
— Beltane is one of the three "spirit-nights" of the year when the faeries can be seen. At dusk, twist a rowan sprig into a ring and look through it, and you may see them.
— Make a wish as you jump a bonfire or candle flame for good luck—but make sure you tie up long skirts first!
— Make a May Bowl —wine or punch in which the flowers of sweet woodruff or other fragrant blossoms are soaked—and drink with the one you love.
— Celebrants sometimes jump over broomsticks, especially at Handfastings (weddings) that are very common during this season, or dance around May Poles, as both of these are symbols of fertility.
— Traditional activities include blowing horns, and gathering flowers. Solitary Practitioners might consider the weaving together of ribbons as an alternative to creating and dancing around the May Pole.
— Many like to celebrate Beltaine by decorating their homes and themselves with fresh flower garlands, or by stringing up greenery around their homes and places of work.
— Sending flowers to loved ones, planting new gardens, cleaning out the cupboards and general spring cleaning are all traditional Beltaine gestures.
— Plaiting and weaving straw, creating things with wicker, making baskets and fabrics are traditional arts for this turn in the Wheel of the Year.
Outdoor Beltane Ritual for the Solitary Practitioner
— Prior to this rite you should have made ready a wooden wand. This should be from a fallen branch of an Oak or Hazel tree. Remember, never take the wood from a living tree, as it disrespects the life force of the tree, and the Goddess!
The wood can be cut into the rough shape of a phallus, if so it should be of the appropriate size and shape. On the other hand, a simple branch, peeled of its bark, and about 13 inches long and half an inch thick is also acceptable. Place the wand upon your altar, within the the area you will be casting for a Sacred Circle.
— Prepare a dish containing earth you have gathered and place it upon the altar beside the wand. [The dirt will symbolize the entire Earth in the ceremony.]
Cast the Circle and invoke the Lady and her Consort. After the invocation, dance and chant to raise power for magickal activities, and then send that power from the earth and into an unlit candle, which has been placed inside the cauldron and is at the center of the circle.
Chant the following (or make up your own):
"Beltane! I dance with delight on Beltane's night. All senses freeing, I dance for being. The flower and the flame of love's own rite shall blossom. Sun embrace Earth, bright."
Light the candle to the represent the reborn Sun God. This is the Beltane fire, our modern substitute for the hilltop bonfires of our ancestors. The Bel fire is an invocation to the Sun God to bring blessing and protection for the coming year. This is sacred fire with healing and purifying properties.
As you light the candle, the cauldron a symbol of the Goddess, be aware of its wonderful power and significance. Say:
"I light this candle to honor the Sun."
Now, raise the dish containing the dirt. Bless it in the name of the Goddess by saying:
"I bless, consecrate, and set apart this earth, in the name of the Triple Goddess. May this be sacred earth, set apart for magick. For earth is of the Goddess, being her sacred body."
Remember that the Goddess is not only of the Moon, but of the Earth and of the farthest stars. She is the Triple Goddess of the Circle of Rebirth, the Mother of All Life. [You might wish to decorate the dish of earth with flowers prior to the ceremony.]
Now, take the wooden wand and oil it with vegetable or some other natural oil. Bless it in the name of the Lord of the Day, the youthful, ardent one, the Lord of Life, the God of the Greenwood Glen. Pass it swiftly through the candle's flame, the Bel fire, so that it becomes magickally imbued, 'charged,' with power. Place the wand upon the dish of earth, gather your magickal intent and focus.
As you hold the wand on the dish, say:
"As the wand is to the earth, so the male is to the female, and the Sun to our blossoming world. Joined, they bring happiness. May the God of Life give ___ [state a request, for example, an end to the wars in the Middle East.] May the Goddess bring it forth!"
Feel the energy spread from the ground, through your body, into your arm and by extension, into the consecrated wand. Close your eyes as your magickal intent increases, sending the power into the dish of earth, which represents our Sacred Mother, the Planet Earth.
Now, sit quietly for a while, picturing the literal blossoming of your magickal intent. The spells and invocations of each of us, all working with similar themes like this throughout the world, must eventually bear fruit because life is, by its very nature, dedicated to survival and peace. Leave the earth and wand upon the altar.
Walk deosil three times around the circle, then spiral into its center. Go evenly, with grace, meditatively. Sit beside the candle flame, allowing yourself to feel peaceful. Gaze into the flame.
The next part will be different depending on whether you are a woman or a man.
For Women: Visualize a red rosebud in your womb. Always your womb is the source of your creative power, whether you are pregnant, or brimming with an idea, a work of art, or a magickal intention. It is the source of all life, the energy-affirming center of joyous sex and desire.
Close your eyes and picture the light from the candle streaming into your womb so that the rosebud blooms, unfolds. Hold the image for a while, feel the warmth spread within you, the sensual silkiness of the flower, its scent, the freshness, the vibrant color of the fully open rose at the center of your being. Feel the strength and power of your own fully blossomed capabilities. Say:
"I am a woman, strong to conceive and to create, to give birth, to tend and to receive tending. As I am a daughter of the Goddess, and blessed by the God, I intend to ___ [state what you wish to achieve at this time in life. For example, to bring healing to others, to write a book, gain a promotion, whatever matters to you.]"
Feel the strength and creative force within your body. See the power being channeled, flowing into the desire you have just voiced. Open your eyes. Always, the rose will remain within you.
For a Man: Visualize a bright flame. This burns within your sexual center, a point at the base of the stomach, just above the pubic hairline. It is your own male strength and energy that will rise through your body to be released as fertilizing power, in any form, or it may be the potency that impregnates, creating a physical child. It is the force that blesses and bestows, a healing and creative energy, like the shining Sun. Visualize that you are sitting in a garden and that a rose tree is in front of you, the roses closed in buds. Say:
"I am a man, and in my passion is beauty, in my warmth is life. As I am a son of the Goddess, and blessed by the God, I offer my strength and vitality to ____ [Name the area of life, the place, activity, or commitment of your choice.]
Visualize the light streaming from you to a rose bud upon the tree causing it to unfold, to blossom. Your flame is lowered by this effort. Much has gone out of you, the flame retreats. Wait and watch, until a pink light streams from the rose toward your body. At its touch, just above the pubic hairline the flame resurges. It burns higher and stronger than ever before. Open your eyes. The flame is always within you.
[Source: Adapted from "The Wiccan Path," by Rae Beth]
Beltane Circle Ceremony for a Group or Coven
Place two white candles are on the altar with a wreath of spring flowers. The candles representing the Quarters should be green.
The spiritual leader should "ride" a May Pole like a child's wooden stick horse if possible, moving about the Sacred Space in quick, trotting steps, chanting:
"O do not tell the priests of our Art,
For they would call it sin;
But we will be in the woods all night,
A-conjuring summer in.
And we bring you good news by word of mouth,
For woman, cattle and corn,
For the sun is coming up from the south,
With oak and ash and thorn."
A ring dance follows after which leader casts the Sacred Circle. You may choose to have a man draws down the Moon upon the female leader. All attending are purified in sacrifice before her, who represents the Goddess.
She purifies the man who represents the God at her own hands.
All partake of Cakes and Wine (Ale) followed by feasting, dancing and singing and the Great Rite [a symbolic or actual sexual union between the two], if at all possible, in token or truly.
Note: For many groups and covens, the actual sexual union between the female and male remains controversial. For those who still do this, the couple is concealed behind some sort of screen so their activities cannot be viewed by those in attendance.
As a bisexual and modest woman, the symbolic representation of the sexual union for the purpose of underscoring the act of literal creation is the only way to go.
— Danu's Daughter