A sex-free Bealtaine?

It’s perplexing, in a way. I love spring but have historically detested Bealtaine — which is utterly unfair to the holiday.

It’s the hinge of the year, the start of summer according to the old reckoning; its counterpart, Samhain, was the other hinge. Being pastoral, the Celts divided their year into two rather than today’s four: summer and winter, light and dark. Summer is when the cows went out to the far pastures and the young people followed. Winter is when the cows come home.

On Bealtaine, the cows and the people who followed them were driven between two fires or leaped a single fire (depending on context) to mark the transition. As with all transitions, it’s a vulnerable spot calling for protection — in this case, the warding offered by fire. For the agriculturalist, the holiday also honors and promotes the land’s fertility. Flowers bloom and birds court, a marked departure from the stillness of winter.

But I have to say I’ve been pretty uncomfortable about how certain parties in modern Pagan culture appear to view Bealtaine: the sex-fest. I’ve never known May Day orgies, reputation aside, but I have been in places where the holiday is an excuse for cheesy pickup lines and unwelcome invitations. But we’re honoring the land’s fertility!

You can keep your fertility to yourself, buddy.

Yes, it can be a time for trysts and trial marriages, although the real thing was contracted at Lughnasadh, a tribal festival; Bealtaine marriages were unlucky. Maybe I’m not “sex positive,” as they say, but I’m uncomfortable with the making of assumptions about a person’s status, character or willingness.

What I do as a private, married individual is my own damn business. I may want to honor that in private rites, or I may not.

So how to these thoughts affect my own honoring of Bealtaine? Our grove of two — three, in spirit — will honor the pastoral tradition of the purifying flame. We’ll honor the land and its creatures through the offerings of bannock and caudle, although I’m not a good enough baker to actually make the nobs on the bannock look like nobs…. We’ll honor Danu and Bel/Bile, the Earth Mother and the Holy Tree.

There won’t be any maypoles (not Celtic anyway), May Queens or trysts with strangers in the woods. We’ll let the May bushes decorate themselves with forsythia blossoms and leaf buds.

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About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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2 Responses to A sex-free Bealtaine?

  1. Thank you! A recent post over at Patheos.com’s Pagan Portal had me grumbling over the idea that Beltaine was a day for marriages! So glad I’m not the only one who is less than over-the-moon about how modern Pagans celebrate (and sometimes misconstrue) the holy day.

    Vernal blessings to you. 🙂 Enjoy the day!

    –Ali

  2. Briar says:

    Yay! Couldn’t agree more. 🙂

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