Originally published on the blog of my brick & mortar site, The Kindred Cauldron, on April 26, 2021.
This post is speaking largely to those who still celebrate some semblance of the Wheel of the Year, or certain aspects of it. In my own secular, non-Wiccan practices I know from experience it can be challenging replacing, modifying or eradicating those influences to fit your own beliefs when you have spend any amount of time in Pagan culture. It's OK if there are holdovers. It's OK if some parts you just damn well like and enjoy and don't want to take out. You do you.
Beltane is a cross-quarter holiday. It's one of my favorite, aside from Samhain. Beltane and Samhain are sabbats I still call by those names. Maybe one day I won't, but this is where I am on my journey. I have modified my practices around these sabbats to fit my secular, non-Wiccan views but would feel completely comfortable at a Pagan ritual where these were being celebrated.
This cross-quarter falls between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. It's a fire festival and celebrates the peak of the Spring season. There's a clear distinction between what's happening in Nature now versus at the beginning of the season. The flowers are blooming, the temperatures are rising, the Sun is growing brighter, the Earth is blooming. In my practice, it marks the end of the frost season for most years, and time to move my carefully nurtured seedlings outdoors and direct sow for others. It's also when me and my family do blessing ribbons on our trees.
Inevitably, if you travel in circles even remotely close to the Pagan scene, you'll run into the Beltane Sex Culture at this time. You'll bump into every kind of messaging, including ones like:
"Beltane reminds us that sex is not only a crucial component of life, it is sacred."
"Beltane is a powerful time of year to reclaim, and to reconnect with your own sexual energy."
"Sex is an amazing, and sacred part of life. Beltane is an opportunity to experience deep, transcendent, overwhelming pleasure."
Sex doesn't need a special holiday to make it awesome. It's awesome on its own if you enjoy it well enough. It doesn't need to be revered or saved or metered out or treated any differently than we treat any other activity that brings us enjoyment or connection. Of course sex can be special and mind blowing and earth shattering and transcendent. But so can the right piece of cake, or a really good journeying experience, a beautiful sunset, or a good trip on Psilocybin.
The point is we don't need to have special holy days where we give ourselves permission to be more sexual if that's what we want. I'm so against purity culture shitting all over perfectly fine consensual adult sex with whoever and whenever with their stink-eye and shame.
As a spiritual and magickal practitioner, I also recognize that sex has benefits when used in ritual or ceremony. Not because it's inherently 'special' or sacred, but because it has the potential to raise a shit ton of energy. Just like dancing, breathwork, chanting, drumming or singing can raise a lot of energy, sex is just another tool on the menu. So I absolutely support the choice to practice ritual sex (what some call sacred sexuality but I don't want people here to get stuck on the sacred part so I'm just saying ritual sex) or fertility rites while also supporting all other kinds of awesome non-magickal sex.
But let's be real, real clear. The days of celebrating 'sacred sex' holidays like Beltane just because we 'should' is out.
In recent history, Beltane has become the 'sex holiday'. Only, Beltane wasn't actually practiced in this way by ancient Celtic people (yes, you've been mostly lied to). However, when the words sex and holiday (or sabbat) collide in the same sentence they come with the attachments and perceived obligations of one's spiritual or religious practices. That changes things a bit, like putting some pressure and expectations on you to have the sex on that particular day for reasons you may or may not agree with, understand or connect to.
If you've been paying any sort of attention to the last decade, you know by now that terms like pressure and expectations in the same neighborhood as sex ooze an unmistakable smear of non-consent. And I'm a firm believer in sex being enjoyable, consensual and enthusiastic for all adult parties involved. Thanks to the gross decades-long practices that shamelessly and erroneously hog-tie sex and Beltane together, most Pagans blindly accept this is how it was always done and try their best to embrace what they are told their ancestors did at Beltane.
For the record, I happen to LOVE modern Beltane traditions and celebrations. Even as a secular non-Wiccan this one just appeals to me on so many levels. The community, the maypole, the potential sex in the woods with your lover or someone you took a shine to earlier in the day, the colors, the fire, the rituals, the food, the laughter and games, the banter, the flirty competition between the sexes, the dancing, the intoxicating magick, potential and mystery that always feel heavier in the air. I also love the kids running around, the playfulness, the tricks and treats of the Fae, the outdoors, sunshine and green landscapes. I've always enjoyed the family-friendly aspects of Beltane as much as the adults-only after-party aspect. Having grown up in a repressed religious culture where sex and sexuality was taboo, Beltane always felt refreshingly free and permissive in a way I had longed for.
With that said, that's how I personally experienced Beltane for most of my Pagan life. Moving beyond my own experience, though, I started to see and understand how Beltane could be problematic for others.
Let's start with the sex. It's one thing to believe in free, open and consensual sex and it's a whole different thing to put the messaging out there that you should be having more sex lest you be accused of not being body or sex positive or accused of not being a 'real' Pagan. This kind of pressure and expectation leads to abuse. Imagine being part of a coven or group and being told you have to have sex with someone- possibly the leader- because, well golly gee whiz, it's the sabbat and you're just darn well supposed to. There are countless stories from people who experienced exactly that, as well as plenty of other types of abuse in the name of the sex sabbat.
Another problematic issue with Beltane often involves exclusion of people who are non-heteronormative, LGBTQ+, non-binary, and gender non-conforming. This meant that in recent history, Beltane has almost exclusively been marketed to cis gendered heterosexual men and women who practice and celebrate their religion or spiritual beliefs from an overtly binary (masculine / feminine) perspective, especially with regards to the sexual union of their deity.
That doesn't mean that people who are non-heteronormative, LGBTQ+, non-binary, and gender non-conforming can't or don't enjoy or celebrate the sex aspects of Beltane or simply choose to leave that part out and celebrate the rest. I personally know plenty who do. And in my memory at least, cis lesbian, gay and bi people were always welcome, present and participating in the more adult parts of festivities. That still leaves a huge gap for everyone else, not to mention even lesbian, gay and bi people had to ignore or modify certain ritual language and symbolism to make the sabbat work for them.
Becoming aware of how this particular sabbat is branded in blog posts, articles and books, though made me more aware of how many more obstacles some people had to overcome to be able to comfortably practice this sabbat.
There are lots of reasons traditional Beltane rituals or celebrations might be off-putting for you. If you aren't Wiccan, if you aren't Celtic, if you don't observe 'The Wheel', if you aren't in a relationship or interested in sex - these are a few that come to mind.
As a cross-quarter holiday, you can still mark this time without using Beltane as the excuse. And if you still want to celebrate Beltane, that's OK, too. You can look to the traditions of the Sabbat that feel right and comfortable for you. There's plenty of things to enjoy that aren't part of the outdated sex holiday rodeo.
Firstly, let's acknowledge that it's 2021 when I'm writing this, and for the second year in a row, COVID is an asshole who ruins everything. If you are among the majority of humans who aren't selfish shits, you're probably not attending a large gathering or festival for this sabbat. Instead, you're conscientiously and responsibly looking at being on your own again this year, or with a very small number of people you either live or bubble with or who are all vaccinated. So even if you wanted to celebrate Beltane with forest sex and a maypole and free-flowing mead, that's probably not on the menu during the pandemic. For some of you, that might be a relief and a good reason to find an alternative.
Here's five sex-free ways to celebrate on your own or with others:
1. Celebrate the Sun!
Just six short weeks ago we were celebrating the Spring Equinox and the balance of Dark & Light. Today we can look outside and see that the Sun is sitting higher and longer in the sky. Our days are expanding and we can finally sit down to dinner without having to pull the curtains, turn on indoor lights or have no choice but to stay in for the night. The joy of taking an evening walk when the sun is still out is worth celebrating on its own.
Tap into that morning Solar energy, too! Let yourself become aware of the birds singing and the way the Light shifts in your bedroom and other spaces in your home. Allow yourself to become awake and aware as the Sun rises and attune to the Solar cycle.
Take advantage of these longer days to indulge in more time dedicated to hobbies and personal interests, gardening, meditation, Sun or weather magick, art and creative pursuits, outdoor rituals and spell work, extra cups of tea, walks or hikes, park visits, bird watching, sun rises and sun sets.
And after the Sun goes down, indulge in a ritual fire!
2. Connect with Plant and Land Spirits
Where does the light fall now on your land? Connect to the Land Spirits and plants waking up. Right now you probably already have some dandelion, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips coming up. Cherry trees are starting to blossom and a host of other flowering trees and plants are about to explode into full color. Notice what's growing and pushing through the cracks in your sidewalk as you mow or rake the lawn or walk in your neighborhood. Connect to the baby thistles you find and harvest some for future protection work.
Tend to seedlings or plant new seeds. Water and/or fertilize the land. Speak to the Spirits inhabiting your home, your land, your garden and even your house plants. Croon and sing to the seedlings and chant over them to connect with the spiritual allies where you live.
3. Flower Magick
You don't have to have sex to appreciate the sensual delights of flowers. Tune in to the scents in the air, the colors popping up everywhere, the texture and shapes of petals, and the sounds of bees buzzing nearby. Sit back and just observe, or touch and engage. Either way, this is an excellent time to make art. Take pictures, paint, sketch, or sculpt. Or be inspired by the rainbow of blooms and dress in vibrant colors. If you like cooking now's a wonderful time to add in splashes of color in your dishes to mimic what you are seeing outside. Some flowers are even good at making dyes you can color fabrics and fibers with.
If you like spell work, Spring and Summer can be a fun time of year for flower magick. Some flowers can be made into elixirs (always be sure of your plant identification and do your research- many pretty flowers are toxic), and many can be used in spells for protection, love, cleansing, ancestor rituals, banishing and more.
4. Connect with your Inner Child
This is the exactly right time to frolic. In fairness I think most times of the year are the exactly right times to frolic. But Spring and Summer are well suited for extended, outdoor frolicking. In the cycle of the year, this time right now is childhood. The plants and animals are young and haven't matured just yet. Watch the baby squirrels, kittens and ducks where you live for inspiration.
It's a great time to go be a kid again! Remember what fun is? Remember feeling free and unburdened? Find your playfulness, your trickster, your adventure and curiosity, your youthful glee.
Cloud gaze, chase butterflies (don't catch them!), go on a pic-nic, play in the mud, slide down the slide, swing on the swing-set or tackle the monkey-bars at a playground, hunt for tadpoles or go fishing, climb a tree!
Lay your adult troubles and worries down for a bit and just connect with your inner child. Meditate and speak to your younger self with words of love, support and encouragement. Play a game you loved as a kid and dwell on happy childhood memories. Fully immerse in those wonderful feelings. If you're a parent take that wonderful feeling and share it with your kids. Try to see the world through their eyes and remember what it felt like to be that age.
Magickally you can tap into this youthful energy by writing a spell, poem or story from the perspective of your younger self. Have fun with it!
5. Planting Seeds
While this cross-quarter is perfect for planting actual seeds, it's also a time for planting other kinds of seeds. Seeds like goals, ideas, and hopes. If this cross-quarter were a Moon phase, it would be Waxing. Think of all the potential packed into a tiny seed. Use that energy, that powerful force of nature to help jumpstart a new project or goal you've been dancing around.
Magickally, you can always combine both. Plant a few small indoor potted plants. Give each a purpose and as the plant grows so does your goal. For example, one plant might be 'Buy a Home', 'Run a 5K' or 'Write a Book'. Of course you can't neglect the important mundane actions that must align with each goal. Create smaller goals for each big one your plant represents. Then each time a new leaf or bud comes on you can focus on the new step in your journey to success. As you care for your plant, speak to it and reinforce its job (aka your intention), infusing it with the appropriate energy. Enchant your water for each plant to correspond with the plant's purpose, too!
What happens if the plant starts doing poorly? If you've tied it to your magickal purpose, it's likely communicating that you've neglected the work needed to achieve your goals in the mundane world or you've hit a road block. You might look to divination to see what's what and where the blockage is, what's causing it and what steps are needed to open those roads. It's time to reexamine your priorities, where you may be neglecting something, where you're putting your energy and make adjustments and improvements where needed to get back on track.
And it goes without saying, you can still celebrate this holiday or any holiday with sex! Just as long as it's mutually consensual and not because you feel like you have to or should.
I hope some of these are helpful to you. However you celebrate this cross-quarter, I wish you Blessings in All Things!
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