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.