Friday, May 01, 2009

Bread and Roses for Beltane

If, like me, you are a small frog croaking joyfully in the lily pond that is modern Paganism then you, too, will receive emails this time of year asking if you know of any Beltane events occurring your town. Whenever I receive such correspondence I refer folks to the events pages at The Witches Voice (1) yet even as I do that I wonder if I'm doing the right thing.

It is natural for someone to want community, especially during the great festivals. Yet many of us find public events disappointing when we come to them. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the one I want to focus on today centers around this question: If we do not take the time to tend to a chosen, core and trusted community throughout the year, then how do we expect to find the circle fulfilling at Beltane?

Nothing Wrong With A Bit O' Fun and Feasting

If all you want is some drumming and dancing around the Maypole or if, as an adult, you are after a bit of merry making in the lusty month of May, then, go, be safe, and have fun. You take my blessings with you. I've been to such celebrations and had a great time. But if what you wanted was a deeper experience, if you want meaningful ritual or, better yet, a powerful sense of your connection to the life that quickens all around you this month, what we in my tradition consider to be a connection to the sacred, then I don't quite see how that can be accomplished in haste, among strangers.

Tending The Fire

Over the years, I have seen two types of Beltane celebrations that move me the most. The first is group orientated but at the same time, deeply personal. It involves people who know one another, who have a feeling of comfort around one another, and who have shared commitments and values as well as healthy boundaries. And it doesn't have to be a Pagan group.

A good group experience might be found at the fireside or in the dance, but it can also be found, as my friend
Owlmoon finds it, while hosting a full moon hike for children and parents. These people comprise a nature group she works with on projects all year long. Of the dozen or so families there, only two identify as Pagan.

Good groups, all kinds,
tend their relationships over the course of the year in the same way I tend my garden, by pulling up weeds that sprout and feeding and trimming what needs it. What they have, they have nurtured over time and it comes to fruition, as so much else does, at Beltane. Take, for example, my friend Sage who will be out this weekend doing wetlands restoration. She'll bring that experience into circle in a ritual centered around clean water for all, and some of the people from the restoration project with be there with her.

Form Follows Function

Beltane celebrations
aren't something we put on awkwardly once a year like fancy dress and tight shoes. They are something that grows organically out of who we are, what we value and what our connection is to one another.

The best Beltane celebrations for me, are joyous and easy
because I know and trust the people I'm with. Such celebrations strengthen our bonds and we leave the event inspired and joyful. We all find the meaning of Beltane in our own way. What matters to me is this: The celebration takes it's form from the meaning, not the other way around.

Celebrating May Day As A Solitary:

There is another kind of experience, one which we choose for ourselves and celebrate alone. It does not require that we be by ourselves; we can be in a group setting, it simply means that we might be the only one aware of it's greater significance. For example, this Beltane my friend Jo will go into the animal shelter where she volunteers and help find foster homes for homeless mother cats and their kittens. It is only Jo who knows she does this to honor her connection to the Goddess. Her ritual that morning will be private but her service will be done with others. The Mamma Cats will know, of course, but they're not telling.

Blessings at Beltane:

Beltane is what we make it. It can be quiet and peaceful, joyous, sensual, awe inspiring or meditative. It can shake down our house like an earthquake and require we rebuild or caress us gently like a breeze and bring peace to a weary heart. The readiness is all.

For me, a Beltane blessing often comes in the form of that still, small voice that tells me to turn a corner. This is not some stern revelation. Such a blessing is fertile and fair like the arrival of migrating birds bringing their songs with them or like a sudden bloom of wildflowers in an open meadow.

There is a wild park near our home where I walk our dog and such flowers bloom there every year around this time and they seem to do so almost overnight. Beltane gifts can be like that. Yesterday for example, a bright collection of messages I've gotten for months suddenly came together and made sense. They appeared in my meditations like butterflies in a flowering meadow where before there was only frost and dead leaves.

When openness and
preparation meet at exactly the right moment our culture calls it an epiphany. Artists, singers, crafters and writers recognize this as the spark that lights their creative flame. Others experience this turn of the wheel as a time of greater freedom, and greet it with relief. Some see it as a time of renewed dedication or can be a moment of grace, a joyous leap around the fire, or the dropping of a burden we've carried far too long. In a season of renewal and growth, many things are possible.

Bread and Roses

When I think of Beltane, I think of bread. Like the baking of bread, a celebration of the life force is a common experience, one that is both nourishing and fruitful. It's power can be observed in nature, as our ancestors observed it, by closely watching mammals, sea creatures, birds, flowers, trees and plants.
When such a celebration is done well by us humans; when it's done with care, consciousness, gratitude and joy, it is both fulfilling and delicious.

So much of what we celebrate around Beltane is centered around feasting and flowers. As Shakespeare says, "There's a double meaning in that." The older I get the more I see that a happy life is filled with both bread and roses. My mother, all gods bless her, taught me that a good woman knows how to put both on her table. If you will allow me to expand the metaphor at bit further, I'll say that first she must grow and store the grain and tend the garden in all the seasons that come before this holiday in order to have either ready by May. So here is a question for anyone wanting to find an event this year. Is the experience we create and share at Beltane special, in the same way that the bread we bake for our loved ones is special? I think it can be like that, either in a group setting or as a solitary, when we give attention to it's delights and when our preparation is focused. The blessing comes through us, from our hearts to our hands and then out to the world around us.

Beltane, like any great feast, requires both a fine cook and a good eater to enjoy it. At Beltane, I try to be both.

The blessings of the season to you and yours,


Related Articles:

Connection, Mystery, Joy

May Day - Valborg by Tseka
The lovely photo of the May Day basket comes from her blog - read the article, you'll be glad you did.

In Praise of Pagan Men
A celebration of the Green Man among us

Beltane: Old Style & New Style
May Day lore and links + notes on Lunar Beltane, Solar Beltane, etc.

Now THIS is a Fire Festival - photos and links from the famous Beltane Festival at Edinburgh

Beltane at the Baylands
An old California tradition

A Merry Beltane - from The Wild Hunt

Lord of the Dance

Beltane Pilgrimage
Notes on the British festival and the Old Oss by a Druid writer.

Apple Blossoms of the White May Moon
Poetry and apple lore

Romantic Thoughts at Beltane

Beltane Greetings
Notes on ancient Celtic celebrations and Rosslyn Chapel and it's links to the Gypsy culture by a member of the American Templar Fellowship.

Beauty and Meaning: Gardening Like a Green Witch

Nudity at Festivals

Pagan Festival Tips
A great section at Vox, with lots of good advice, most of which comes from Patricia Telesco

Cultural Creatives and Change


Wren's Nest - still the best place on the net for Pagan & earthwise news

The Wild Hunt: Offering a Pagan perspective on the news of the day

Photo: Columbia-spelt from a wonderful recipe site called


(1) The Witches Voice or Vox, as it is fondly known, keeps an event list on a state-wide level in the U.S. and by country internationally. It has served our community for well over a decade. The quality of the essays posted there is a bit hit and miss, as would be the case with any open, community-minded site, but it is still the best place on the net to do networking or find events if you identify as Pagan, Druid, Wiccan, et al. The creators and founders are Fritz Jung and the Rev. Wren Walker. Remember those names. When the time comes to write a detailed history of the modern Pagan movement the work of these two people will be seen as a vital force which helped us to grow towards our highest good. They have always supported littled known groups and effective service and their site serves to highlight what is best and most effective among us. Unlike other venues, they did not focus on those who shouted the loudest or the prancing sillies longing for their 15 minutes of fame; the folks so often covered by the media while the rest of us cringed in embarrassment. I've said this often and I still believe it: Vox's work, in many ways, helped to save us from ourselves. Wren and Fritz deserve our deepest thanks for their unselfish service, their solid ethics and their deep dedication.


Morgaine said...

Thank you, Sia. I have always celebrated Beltane alone or with just my family, tending our fire, helping the kids with their ribbons for the maypole and feasting, and I find much of what you say here to be very true.

I sometimes wonder what I am missing, and then you go and remind me -- not a thing.


Dj Connell said...

Don't you wish we were missing something great? I mean, wouldn't it be wonderful if most of the open events were as well thought out, and as welcoming and as meaningful we imagined they would be?

I've been to some great ones, but they are rare indeed.

Years ago, I started organizing events in California so I could have something good to go to. I may go back to it someday, but I prefer to do interfaith charity events with an earthwise focus and do actual ritual in small, private groups.

I've always wanted to go to the Beltane Fire Festival at Carlton Hill in Edinburgh but then I think, "Nah, I grew up around drunken Scots. That's half my family tree. So....seen it."

I may change my mind about that someday but for right now, I'm happier at home.


Inanna said...

GREAT post title. Way to capture both meanings of the day.

Greenconsciousness said...

I cannot believe what a good site this is and what a good Bread and Roses article -- I have the song on my permanent may day link. I put a link to this article on my blog. Thanks for all the links. And thanks to Double Jointed Fingers for sending me here!!

Dj Connell said...

I got back from vacation to find your kind remarks in my in-box. They came at the perfect time. Thank you so much.