Howling Into the Wind: A Different Beltane Perspective

Yesterday, I was starting to come out of my self-imposed “burrow” mode from Beltane. I do this nearly every year, where I step away from social media and most of the people around me. For me, Beltane is an intensely private moment. I usually take this time to reflect on where I am concerning goals I laid out in October of the previous year. Seeing that most of what I had envisioned exploded in my face like a badly timed and poorly mixed chemistry experiment, This time of the tear has been about resetting all of that into something far more on course for the rest of this turn in the wheel.

Coming back into the miasma that has been the wider expanse of the internet, I ran across a re-posting of a blog post by Jason Mankey from the Patheos Pagan platform. The post was written back in 2019; however, many of its salient points are still relevant in today’s Pagan community. The basic point came down to how Beltane is represented by male and female coupling – ONLY. Personally, I would disagree with the “ONLY” part – unlike the Sith (May the Fourth be with you), I try very hard not to deal in absolutes. But the point of many examples of the overtly sexualized aspects of Beltane being strongly depicted as hetero aspects is a particularly strong one.

That leads me into a twin-forked perspective. First, for me, is the aspect that Beltane should only be represented by straight aspects of Paganism. The second, grates against one of the reasons that I prize Paganism over other aspects of Spiritual practice: that the only person that can tell you what is right and wrong within your own Spiritual practice is you. I have slammed the world constantly on the second perspective, so I will let that one set – for the time being. But I will dip my toe into this entire concept of sexual gender identity within ritual aspects of Paganism.

To preface things a bit – I am a straight, white male. I am a Pagan. I am a Druid. I am a Polytheist. I am a Libra – and have been told I am nearly the quintessential aspect of a Libra. All those labels and a tenner will get you a cup of coffee at the local Big-Box Coffee shop. In other words, none of those labels really mean much more, except to create some aspect of meta-tagging for those that need to categorize humans. The truest meta-tag I have for myself: I’m just me.

Within the Pagan community, we tend to pride ourselves on being accepting of others. Your gender identification, your hair color, how many eyes you have, how many fingers you have, your sexual preference, your education level, the kind of vehicle your drive, your socio-economic status, whatever other descriptive you can figure out – none of that matters within Paganism. Or does it?

Back when Pantheacon was running, I heard whispered conversations in the hallways about various rites that were “specified gender only”. Ok. Women’s Mysteries and Men’s Mysteries are certainly an aspect of Spirituality to one degree or another. But there were issues over how the trans-gender folks were to be identified. Should someone who was born male but now identifies as a female be denied entry to an event on Women’s Spirituality? My personal take has been if that is the gender you identify with – that’s where you should be. But what about those with fluid genders? Or those who do not identify with a gender at all? Going forward, I am not sure how to resolve such an issue, but considering that I would balk at a Men Only gathering – despite the fact that as a straight male, such an event would be right down my alley, so to speak – I am not entirely certain I would be speaking out of turn with my thoughts.

But then, as Mankey wrote in 2019, how do we approach a celebratory seasonal rite that is long ensconced in imagery of straight male/female coupling? Again, as a straight male, I am not sure I have any true answers – except to completely remove the imagery. That would be my original thought. But it does suggest the idea of creative solutions.

When I first started down my Pagan Path, Paganism was decidedly female in its outlook. The first ten years of being in various groups, I found that the ratio of women to men was not a one-to-one paradigm. It was closer to seven to one. In many respects this is still somewhat the case; although I would note that the eye-balled ratio that I noted at Pantheacon was closer to one-to-one. From a factual, statistical overlay, I would essentially be accused of spit-balling my ratios – and that would be correct. However, I do recall many rites where the female-to-male ratio was so lopsided that someone would be asked to portray a role that was not their chosen gender. For one rite, I was asked to portray the role of the Maiden, as an example. At first I was flustered and embarrassed over the fact that I was portraying the role of a female within the rite. Later, it was gently explained to me that the gender of the individual portraying the role was not completely important. What was important was the heart and passion one placed into the role during the rite. The role is about the energy portrayed, not about the gender portraying it.

Utilizing that aspect, I wonder about the need for specific roles within any given rite. Yes, I can hear the shouts of anger over a male portraying the role of a High Priestess. The Gods would certainly be angry with us over this, right? I would submit that the Gods would surely not give that much of a shit about such a gender change in the role. I would further submit that any emotion – even what I just ascribed in the previous sentence – is our projection of our own emotions on to the Gods.

So, let’s say that a yearly Beltane celebration has utilized a male/female aspect in its advertising. If they were to show two females kissing, or alternatively two males, as part of their advertising for next years, would you be offended? If the emphasis of their ritual was a same sex coupling to portray the love and passion between two lovers for Beltane, would you be offended? If their portrayal was of a love between more than two individuals together, would you be offended? Me? I certainly would not. Any of those scenarios are depictions of love between two consenting adults.

That brings up one final point. Children. A heavily sexualized aspect of Beltane should never be presented before under-age children. I remember, far too vividly, the accusations of child abuse and sexual molestation that were leveled against Pagan parents during the Satanic Panic. In this, it is far more prudent to follow social mores where minors are concerned. It is also the reason that we need to do better in the care of alcohol at gatherings as well. Better to be more conservative where minors are concerned than to provide unnecessary ammunition for those that would prefer the destruction of Spiritual Paths not the same as their own.

Yeah, this turned into the Beltane rant I was not going to write this year. But this has taken a far different turn than I really envisioned. I may be a straight male. However, I have many friends who are not the same as me. I don’t love the way that they do. But I love them. I also acknowledge that they have just as much right to live as freely as I do. Furthermore, while they do not live free, neither do I or anyone else. Altering the aspects of Beltane’s male/female coupling may sound like a small thing or even a petty aspect but trust me it’s not. Symbology is important. We all talk about the importance of allowing people to love who they love. Changing some of the symbology concerning Beltane sounds like a good, strong step in that direction. At least it does to me. I’m just one, single voice in the wider Pagan wilderness – howling into the wind.

–Tommy

Not Another Beltane Rant…No Not Really

Its Beltane time again. I’ve written so often about how the very public aspect of this point on the Wheel of the Year is one of my least favorite times of the year. Plus, I have explored my move away from basing my entire Spiritual Path on the Wheel of the Year, so it might be a better step to look at where things are these days. Maybe. 😊

As I get older, the timing of the Wheel of the Year means less and less to me, with the sole exception of Samhain. I use this point in the Wheel as a marker of time, so it’s a useful part of my Spiritual practice. But the rest of the Wheel, just does not carry the significance for me that it used to. Instead, my focus tends to be on the weather around me. I mark the seasons as the weather changes.

Yes, that is correct. I moved away from date-based applications to my Spirituality to event-based application. The shape of the moon carries some aspect to my daily practice, but not much. I am more of a Sun person than a Moon one. Thus, I look at what is taking place within my local environment to work certain aspects of my Spirituality.

For this time of year, I look to the budding of trees and flowers. For me, that signifies the beginnings of Spring. Since I grow no crops, I don’t aim anything towards that aspect. When the weather stays warm, and the trees and flowers are well into their new growth, I spend a few minutes in a self-created ritual in thanks for the new season. My idea of Beltane falls far away from the overly sexualized aspect that it has seemingly become within the wider Pagan community. Spring marks the advent of new beginnings for me.

I understand that much of what I am putting forth here flies in the face of what is taught in today’s contemporary Paganism. The Wheel of the year provides a map towards ritual aspects for many practitioners. I also grok that this works for so many folks out there. What I am not saying is that what I am doing is something that should be followed by ANY SINGLE Pagan out there – save for myself. Laying down “rules” and “laws” within a Spiritual structure that provides such open and fertile ground for exploration…well, that would be completely fucking stupid of me. I know what works in my own Spiritual practice. Telling others what to do would be completely inane for me to do.

Why would I do this? Stepping away from what can be claimed as “established” Pagan practice would mean that I am no longer Pagan, right? Well, if that’s what you think: awesome. For me, part of being a Pagan is finding out what works for you Spiritually and doing that, rather than staying within a strict, confined set of rules that do not let you grow Spiritually as an individual.

Usually, the next question is what would I do at a public event that follows the Wheel of the Year for its ritual? Well, that’s simple. I would follow what is being done. Attending that event, I would already have been aware of what was being done. If I was asked to handle a role in the ritual – and I have done this in the past – I would do exactly that. I would handle the role to the very best of my ability, putting every aspect of myself into that collective set of moments. When working in a public ritual setting, I am working the requested role for others – not just myself. I am adding to the collective experience. Pissing on that fire…in my opinion, is bad form. Plus, being honest here, if I attended a gathering of folks – I am there for the folks. Like anyone else, I do enjoy the company of like-minded people.

So, that handles the Beltane and Wheel of the Year stuff, but it adds in the complications of doing ritual with others when my personal and daily practices are different from theirs. Yes, I am a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Yes, I have – and continue – to learn the materials from the Order. Yes, I strive to make it through the three grades. However, I do not utilize everything that I learn. Does that make me a bad Druid? Does it disqualify me as a Druid? Should I have my Druid license revoked? My answer to all three of those questions is “no.” I do have a question about what a Druid license is, and what public government facility I need to visit to obtain one. 😊 However, if my utilizing some aspects of what I learn from the Order’s material and not all of it would disqualify me from what would be considered a “Druid” – I would completely understand, and quietly walk away. I’d still consider myself a Druid though and find other ways and sources to learn from. Much like drinking water can be found at one well-spring, should I be forced away from that source, I can certainly find other places to quench my thirst.

After nearly thirty-five years on my Pagan path, one valuable lesson I have learned is that you get to decide what does and does not work for you. You decide what “rules” and what “laws” can apply to your own Spirituality. You get to make sense of the world around you. Or, to quote Pink Floyd:

While you were hanging yourself on someone else’s words
Dying to believe in what you heard
I was staring straight into the shining sun

Pink Floyd, “Coming Back to Life”

Certainly, there will be those that disagree with me. Some will be vehement in their perspective. Others will say that I am not a true “this” or “that”. Me? All I can do is shrug and answer that I must stay true to myself.

–Tommy

Moon photo, Hillsboro, Texas (4/26/2021)

Why I Celebrate Beltane Alone, This Year

Ah. Tuesdays. And, I guess another year to bring up Beltane, which is literally on the doorstep right now. Back in 2014, I wrote a post titled “Why I Celebrate Beltane Alone – An Opinion“. I discussed, not in great detail or length, my dislike for this particular celebratory part of the Wheel of the Year. Most of that comes from the extreme over-sexualization of this particular celebration. Not that I am against sex. As an act between two consenting adults, its a wonderful, beautiful moment in time. Back in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, it certainly seemed that this time of the year was an excuse for everyone to have relations with everyone else. Essentially, the celebration was seemingly being used as an excuse to get your rocks off with someone else. In my world, consent is a big thing. And this “celebration” seemed to be used as an excuse to get around that consent. You know, “its Beltane, you have to.”

Over the last six years, the Pagan community as a whole, has started putting the brakes on the lame excuses to get around the concept of mutual consent. That’s something I welcome greatly. As an individual that mostly practices alone, I welcome the idea of keeping the sexual matters of two or more people between them and not on overt display for everyone else. As a for instance, at one Beltane gathering, a group of younger (20-something) Pagans took it upon themselves to create an “orgy” under a tarp in sight of a little over a hundred participants. Who knows what did or did not happen under the tarp. It might have all been good, clean fun – just making a “joke” as it were. It certainly was not in good taste.

The point here has nothing to do with what people do sexually. Rather, it is about decorum at public gatherings. At the particular Beltane I am noting, there were several Christians who had been invited to see what a Pagan gathering was like. I can only imagine what a fake orgy under a tarp conjured as “normal activities for Pagans” for those folks.

Now, I get some of the attitude towards non-Pagans. They (non-Pagans) have persecuted Pagans over their beliefs. I was in the DFW area during the Satanic Panic. I have many distasteful memories of children being taken from their Pagan parents and placed into foster care. I also have painful memories of being slammed into a rack of Post Office mail slots and nearly assaulted over being highlighted in an article in Stars and Stripes newspaper one Fall. However, doing distasteful things to get back at people who probably had nothing at all to do with those actions, is not the way to change perspectives on what Pagans are. In fact, it only reinforces much of the misunderstanding of what Pagans are in their minds.

I still celebrate Beltane on my own, for the most part. At the moment, I live too far from the folks that I would prefer to celebrate with – and I know next to nothing about the local Pagan community around me. In the near future, I hope to make changes to that.

On Facebook, I had someone query me in Messenger, asking if I was going to lead a Beltane celebration or ritual. The answer to that is “no.” Not because of how I feel about Beltane. My issue is not with Beltane, but with those who use this time of year as an excuse to be what is essentially a sexual predator. Its because I know my own limitations. I have no experience at leading a group ritual, of any kind. As such, I would be the very wrong person to do such a thing. A good group ritual leader will know the techniques and methods to engaging entire groups effectively during a ritual. I haven’t the first clue how to do just that. Second, no one has invited me to do any such thing. If they had, I would have pointed them to other Pagans that I know that do have this kind of experience. Like I said, I know my limitations.

Now, would I participate in a Beltane celebration, if invited? Sure. Given enough lead time to make sure my mundane life is fairly well settled before I travel there, I certainly would. In this day and time of #CoronaPanic? I would honestly decline, for this year. I have underlying health conditions that make me very nervous to be in public with others, even with whatever PPE I can find or is afforded to me. Thus, this year’s Beltane will be a very quiet, private time for me. Invite me for next year, I’ll see about making plans for it now.

So, this year will be another fairly individual Beltane for me. I usually celebrate alone during this time to avoid some of the inane behaviors I have seen in the past. Trust me, it has nothing to do with who you see or how many. I don’t have hangups in those areas. I do have a hangup on proper behavior in public. And by proper, I don’t mean not holding the hand of the person you love, or not giving them a proper tonsil massage during that romantic snog. I think both gestures are terribly romantic and affectionate moments that people can share with you through their own eyes. Nope. I’m talking about keeping your clothes on, unless you’re doing a nude ritual, and just not doing the hunka-chunka out in the open. Remember, you’re at a public ritual or gathering, not a porn shoot. Personal, individual responsibility folks. Or if you prefer “adulting”.

With #CoronaPanic starting to come about to “re-opening” of the world, I would still caution folks against gathering for Beltane. In pandemics, there’s an event called “the Second Wave” where folks start feeling safe, and discard their protections, only to have the virus rise up again – and usually even more terrible than before. Me? I’ll remain home, even as Texas opens on May 1st. I’ll continue to avoid contact with other people, wearing my mask in public, staying indoors to insure minimal contact, and constantly washing my hands. Beltane has shown up at a strange time in this year. I’d honestly like to be around next year for another one. You, on the other hand, need to make your own choices. I’d prefer to be able to see you at Beltane next year. Nine Hells, you might even invite me to your celebration.

–T /|\

The Spokes of the Wheel

So, another Beltane has come and will soon be gone. I’ve said it before, this is not my favorite festival of the year. In fact, it rates right down there with Samhain for me. And what makes that even stranger for me – these are two festivals that are directly across from one another on the Wheel. But I have had plenty of Pagan folk ask me why these two in particular? And I have answered time and time again – its not really the festivals that make this time of the year not so much fun. Its the over-emphasis on these two points on the Wheel.

Just After Sunrise - Glacier National Park

Perhaps, I approach things from a far more odd-ball perspective than most Pagans. For me, each day provides a new moment in time, with the eight marked spokes on the Wheel as markers for the rotation. Each moment, each minuscule turn of the Wheel provides a point for reflection, celebration, and marvel. But much like Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter are moments for celebration, I continually remind myself that there are those that will place emphasis on these points for reasons far different than my own. And to stomp all over that would be nothing more than sour grapes on my part. Or so it would seem to someone else. The reality is merely that I just choose to approach the Wheel from a slightly different vantage point.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post talking about why I celebrate Beltane alone. To this day, it still holds true, though I am trying my best to come out of my shell a bit more. I had planned to attend a Beltane celebration today, just an hour away. When the location got moved at the last minute because of events that were beyond the control of the organizers, I had to reluctantly cancel. An hour drive in one direction I can handle. A two and a half hour drive in one direction, that’s not ideal. Especially when it called for traversing DFW traffic to get to the location. Still, it would have been nice if the plans had not changed as drastically as it had happened.

Perhaps next year. Lots of factors will need to be in play for that to be determined. In the meantime, I spent my Beltane in a quiet fashion. Doing my weekly chores around the house, working on my OBOD studies, setting out my morning offerings to the Spirits of Place and the Gods…and observing the day, just as I had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. And as I will tomorrow. And the day after that, and the day after that. The marked spokes on the Wheel are nice observances of moments in time. But my work as a Pagan happens daily. And for me, each day is a special moment in time…which will never happen again. Nor will I be able to revisit it, except in my memories.

Why I Celebrate Beltane Alone – An Opinion

RedRocksWell, Beltane is squarely upon us. My least favorite of the spokes on the Wheel of the Year. Oh I get the celebration part of it – the Maypole Dance, the festivities, the feasting, the fun… All of that is absolutely wonderful. The ritual? I actually have enjoyed the Beltane rituals I have been invited to. I have seen – and participated in – several very moving Beltane rituals. No, none of that is my problem. Its the over-the-top sexual overtones and the “need to get laid by any means whatsoever” that bothers me.

Now before anyone starts wailing about my Victorian scruples showing from underneath my cloak, let’s get a couple of things right here. I have no problem with the sight of a nude form – male or female. I have no problem with the idea of any combination of people coupling together. I have no problem with public displays of affection – UP TO A POINT. I do have a problem with extremely graphic, adult-oriented nature on display, where children can experience it – visually or through hearing. And I have been to far too many Pagan gatherings where this type of behavior has been excused with a shrug and the comment “What? Its Beltane for crying out loud.”

At an adult gathering, I have no problem with it – provided everyone participating is doing so with consent and knowledge of what they are getting into. And honestly, I am not trying to be a prude about this. I think that there should be no issue with the human body or the mutual sexual attraction between two (or more) individuals. I am just not in line with the idea of putting graphic displays of affection (such as oral sex) or coupling between individuals on display in front of everyone. I’m all for a nice time of coupling – even straight down dirty sex, but its not an exhibition sport in my mind. You want to watch? I’ll prefer to charge admission if that’s the case. Well, not really – but its an extreme point being made in a semi light-hearted manner.

Over the last month, we – as a wider Pagan Community – have discussed issues related to sexual nature. We have had issues of child pornography, issues related to consent, and the eventually discussing of issues of power in relation to those as well. Our gatherings and festivals have started to have more children around and involved. It was inevitable. As the Pagan movement grows, individuals become couples, and some of those couples will have children which they will want to include in all aspects of their lives – including Spiritual and Social.

I am not advocating the removal of this aspect of the Beltane celebration or even this aspect of the upcoming outdoor festival schedule. I am only remarking that there’s a pretty big need to rethink some of the aspects of these festivals and gatherings going forward. As I have read many bloggers write – its long since time for the Pagan Community (the wider and local Communities) to grow up a little more. And by this, I mean that perhaps we need to be a little more cognizant about how we act and react in a public manner – and who is around when we over-react and act on certain urges in the open.

I do love the atmosphere associated with Beltane – and have very much enjoyed the Beltane rituals I have been a part of. But its the over-the-top sexual overtones without regard for anyone else around – this is what drives me to celebrating this time of year by myself. I do enjoy getting out into Nature on my own, drawing up my own ritual, and spending time communing with my environment, the Kami and the Gods. I am a Solitaire, after all. But there’s always the need to socialize with others from time to time…and I can only hope that we all – myself included – can rethink some of the aspects of our behaviors when it comes to openly celebrating our time on the Wheel.