Beltane, one of the core celebrations of the Wiccan faith. A time for joy, and honoring the Goddess, fertility, family and her union with the God. I was blessed this year to be at the Southern Delta Church of Wicca ATC May Day celebration with all my Mid South ATC family. We had 8 ATC churches represented and were blessed to have our Arch Priestess Belladona LaVeau and her partner Dusty present as well. As usual new friends were made as well as old friendships renewed. Kerr Cuhulian was on hand as special guest and a wonderful time was had by all. As I reflect on the purpose of this celebration and the amazing community I am part of I am truly blessed to be a Wiccan Priest. Beltane means many things to many people and in our great Pagan/Wiccan world many different celebrations occur. Let us examine the root of this great festival.
In Cormac’s Glossary “Beltane” is derived from bel-tene, “a goodly fire,” or from bel-dine, because newly-born (dine) cattle were offered to the god Bel. Beltane was a festival of life, of the sun shining in his strength. Others say comes from the word belo-ste[p]nos – belo-s, “clear,” “shining,” the root of the names Belenos and Belisama, and te[p]nos, “fire.” Thus the word would mean “bright fire,” perhaps the sun or the bonfire. The many ritual survivals of the Beltane show that it is intended to promote fertility.
One of the chief ritual acts at Beltane is the kindling of bonfires. The fire wards off disease and evil, hence cattle were driven through it, or, according to Cormac, in past times between two fires lit by Druids, in order to keep them in health during the year. Sometimes the fire was lit beneath a sacred tree, or a pole covered with greenery was surrounded by the fuel, or a tree was burned in the fire. These trees survive in the Maypole of later custom, and they not only represent the God and the act of “fertilization” but the vegetation-spirit, to whom also the worshippers assimilated themselves by dressing in leaves. They danced sunwise round the fire or ran through the fields with blazing branches or wisps of straw, imitating the course of the sun, and thus benefiting the fields. For the same reason the tree itself was sometimes carried through the fields. Houses were decked with boughs and thus protected by the spirit of vegetation.
The custom of leaping the Beltane fire can be found in the eighteenth century custom in Perthshire, when a cake was broken up and distributed, and the person who received a certain blackened portion was called the “Beltane carline” or “devoted.” He then had to leap the fire three times. Also from Perthshire, part of a cake was thrown over the shoulder with the words, “This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep; this to thee, O fox, preserve thou my lambs; this to thee, O hooded crow; this to thee, O eagle.”
The bonfire was a sun-charm, representing and assisting the sun. Sacred wells were visited and the ceremony performed with their waters, these perhaps being sprinkled over the tree or the fields to promote a copious rainfall for the benefit of vegetation.
The May king and queen embody the spirits of vegetation and fertility at this festival, and whose marriage or union magically assisted growth and fertility. The sacred marriage is an appeal to the forces of nature to complete their beneficial work, as well as a magical aid to them in that work. The May King as the representative of the spirit of vegetation is ritually slain and his energy is unabated and in some rituals is reborn with a “kiss” by the May Queen. Today many Wiccan and Pagan groups get together to celebrate this great union as well as honoring the death and rebirth of the May King for the continued benefit of the community.
On Saturday morning cup of coffee in hand, I watched as many children were running around on the grass in front of the main hall and wondered what amazing things the generation these 8 and 10 yr olds would do for themselves, their churches and most of all the Goddess. We live in changing times, we have seen the days when only a few Wiccans stood out in a world that did not understand us. They equated us with the Hollywood “worshipers of the devil”. I remember well that there was a time when I wore a pentagram in public and was stopped many times a day and asked if I was a devil worshiper. Now, I do get those questions sometimes still, after all I live in the Bible Belt, but it is far less than it was in 1999 when I first “came out” as a Wiccan. We have seen other growth as well, Wicca a ‘recognized’ religion here in the USA is still relatively new, but at least we are recognized. I am blessed to be an agent of the Goddess in several hospitals and some of my associates are “out” Wiccans in the prisons as well.
Rev Belladonna LaVeau spoke about the WISE Seminary and I was pleased to see all the faces light up with the revelation that the ATC has been here a long time and the Seminary is an amazing tool that can be utilized to further our acceptance and to have our voice heard in the larger world. I looked around at the people in the audience who had come with curiosity from their home groups and covens that were not part of the ATC and saw peace, relief, and love reflected in their spirits and eyes. They “got the message” that we are truly one family that can work together despite all the individual paths.
The “birthing” of acceptance have been hard, but we have made amazing strides in our communities and the world. THIS is what Beltane 2012 means for me. The main ritual was held inside due to inclement weather but Rev Terry Riley led us all in a spiral dance that culminated in a massive group hug in the center of the dinning hall. The laughter was deafening the joy in the Goddess was awe inspiring. We truly are a community that can put aside our differences in path and come together for celebration. Often we hear of groups that do not work well together to the ultimate detriment of their communities pagan and non pagan alike. How wonderful it is to be part of the mid south community way deep in the bible belt working together to educate, explain, and model the love the Goddess has for the world. Let us keep Beltane in our hearts and in our deeds for the entire year.
Rev. Alfred Willowhawk
Wite Rayvn Metaphysical Church ATC.