This past weekend was Beltane. Aradia and I celebrated out at Camp Gaea with all the madness that usually entails, and a little bit extra besides. Last year, Beltane (along with Heartland Pagan Festival, 28 days later) coincided with a Full Moon. This year the Moon was Dark, and the differences were … interesting.
Beyond the sacred/ritual nature of the entire weekend,Aradia and I participated in four distinct rituals: the public ritual, a ritual toast, an underworld journey, and our ultimate ritual with Pasiphae and Aidan. Each was stylistically and thematically distinct. Half of them were purgative. By the end of the weekend, each of us – myself, Aradia, Pasiphae, and Aidan – had injured ourselves in some way.
The first ritual was the public one on Saturday night. More than two dozen people gathered in the Old Way ritual space – several entire families were present, and at least a half-dozen children. Aradia and I were there early, of course, and volunteered to light the torches. In the process, we also cast the first layer of the circle. (We’ve gotten very good at that.) The ritual itself was done in two parts. In the first part, the children raised energy by running in circles, then channeled that energy into a chalice full of seeds to be planted on a newly rebuilt berm and led out of the circle to do so. The second part of the ritual was for the grownups. We talked a little about our passions and art, then raised energy by singing tones. I wish I’d brought my drum. Then, without a closing of any kind, we were sent out in the world to “do something” with that energy – the ritual leader warned us, though, that she wouldn’t be held responsible for any consequences of that action.
Why, yes, I did go promptly drop that lust-bomb on the unsuspecting Cauldron. Did you even have to ask? Dionysos and Pan are very good friends, and it is for very good reason I have been more than once accused of serving the latter. I also charged my thyrsos with it and saved a lot of it for later use.
The second ritual was the ritual toast – a blot (trigger warning for rugged masculinity and associated memes) – performed at the behest of an Asatru gentleman we met while unpacking Friday night. The rite was simple and straightforward: each participant makes an offering to the sky and to the earth, then makes a toast; the others repeat the toast, then each offers their own toast (shared by the others) in turn.
The Asatru gentleman offered his toast to his mother, who had recently passed, and later returned to our camp with a bewildered look on his face. “I think that blot was the whole reason I needed to come out here,” he told us. He had fallen off his practice and his gods were calling him back. Though I did not particularly like him – he was the sort of person you might expect a self-identified redneck, knife-dealing, kinkster to be – I was honored to have served him in that fashion. If I am to serve the neo-Pagan community in the ways I envision – helping with rites, putting on traditions as masks for solitaries and disconnected traditionalists, among other things – I must be prepared to answer to individuals and traditions that make me uncomfortable, so long as they do not outright violate my ethics.
The underworld journey was semi-spontaneous. I had planned on doing one over the weekend, but when I felt called while watching the post-ritual fire and dancing in the Old Way, I also invited the nearby folks from the KU Cauldron to join me.
To my surprise, six of us wandered down to Thoth’s Grove (after nearly getting lost in Key Pass). We started by casting the circle in near-silence, hand-to-hand. “Visualize East,” I told them. There was a struggle, briefly, as everyone tried to find the “same” east, but once we chose it, all the other points were synchronized. The circle cast, I opened a portal to the underworld and introducing them all to the World Tree. My own journey was … fruitful, but I did not find what I was looking for. Most of the Cauldron didn’t speak of what they saw, but I was later told that they had all found the experience to be meaningful.
The fourth and final ritual was performed with our regular ritual partners, Pasiphae and Aidan, who were only able to make it out for that one night. We had two major ritual goals we wanted to accomplish: I wanted to dedicate my Kouros figure, the male half of the goddess/god duo I have been experimenting with; and to purge ourselves of our accumulating troubles, symbolized by the too-old and unlabled herbs from our magical pantry. The first went well: I felt Him awake with a sort of quiet humor. The second went even better, evolving spontaneously into a shouted litany of “Fuck you!”s as we pounded an ounce or so of whole cloves into dust in Pasiphae’s iron cauldron/mortar. Each of us ended up taking a second turn, and a new Beltane tradition was born.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the Dark Moon Beltane was of a somewhat different character than the Full Moon. Besides the purgative rituals and underworld journeys, everyone in my intimate circle ended up giving flesh to Gaea. I was bitten by a blackthorn branch I never managed to find, and reinjured my shin while hobbling about camp. Despite her best efforts, Aradia got a vicious sunburn, numerous bugbites, and reinjured the foot she wounded while traipsing about Nashville and Chicago with me last month. Pasiphae and Aidan were both attacked by the fire – he burned his hand, and an ember landed right under her eye.
Finally, though it didn’t play as significant a role in this years rituals as it did last year, I cannot leave out the mead. I bottled last years a week or so ago, as you may recall. We drank most of it over the holiday. It was awesome. I started another gallon for next year. It, too, will be awesome.
Despite the unintended blood-sacrifices, I declare the festivities a resounding success.