witchcraft

Beltane: The Witch’s Great Sabbat

I don’t write often about Sabbats or particularly neopagan holidays because I don’t really celebrate them as is common, and I don’t follow a standard Wheel of the Year. I could go the rest of my life without hearing about how Easter was originally a pagan festival called Ostara (no it’s not) or how Christmas was originally Yule (no it’s not). Christians celebrate their own holidays and the symbols of their holidays have their own meanings regardless of how cultures merged over time, so no, they are not unconsciously celebrating paganism. Rabbits and eggs aren’t only about fertility. Trees aren’t only about resurrection. Beltane isn’t only about sexuality and fertility.

I’m a solitary witch in a relatively conservative city in Minnesota. We just had snowfall two days ago. I felt the Spirit of Spring return in March, but the Spirit of Winter has a death grip in Minnesota. This is why I haven’t done any yard work, haven’t cut back anything that was dead. The dead protected the new growth that’s coming through when the temps went back down to freezing. Spring is a fickle season in Minnesota.

I recognize Beltane as a seasonal celebration of spring, though May has seen tree-splitting snowfall where I live as well. The Wheel of the Year for me is seasonal and nuanced by the reality of the everyday, not habituated by particular dates. The only dates I officially recognize are Samhain, Beltane, and the Solstices, but they are culmination dates of special celebratory rituals for the seasons. Autumn is the Season of Samhain. Winter is the Season of the Winter Solstice. Spring is the Season of Beltane. Summer is the Season of the Summer Solstice.

Spring is about hope and responsibility. It’s a season of promise. Life expresses itself in the commitment and work of growing. I celebrate in the food I eat (moving away from heavier comfort foods into lighter meals), the treats I make (I’m all about rabbit-shaped and flower-shaped peanut butter cookies), and by planning and eventually planting and tending my many gardens. I notice and give thanks for the return of the birds who sing me awake in the mornings. I notice the new growth sprouting up and welcome the return of all these spirits. My agnostic guy and I also like to add a little ghoulishness to spring with zombie-themed celebrations à la resurrection motif.

Maybe it’s because my devotions are to Hekate and the Lady of the Lake, but I’m not particularly interested in the romance of Beltane. I’m especially disinterested in excessive focus on sexual relations, or the pressure for neopagan women to be “sexually free” for the pleasure of men who have either lowkey or overt expectations of getting laid. I’ve heard enough horror stories of those who have experienced predation and coercion at the hands of neopagan men at Beltane festivities and other festivals. As an advocate against all kinds of abuse, I would be thrilled to see the tides turn away from this and into a deeper understanding of and respect for consent and sovereignty. Beltane can and should be a time of sexual healing and affirmation for all those who choose to engage sexually (inclusive of all orientations), not an environment for rape culture to thrive in.

I’m not neopagan, even though I’ve used the label “pagan” in the past for simplicity’s sake. I’m not interested in resurrecting a dead religion or trying to reenact exactly something that may or may not have occurred in the very distant past, and I have no current need for fertility rituals. I’m interested in what exists in the Unseen here and now, and connecting to these spirits from who and where I am now.

Since Beltane is the Witch’s Great Sabbat, it is a time when these connections can be made, felt, and fed in more accessible ways through divination, spiritual journeying, rituals, offerings, and magickal practices. The divinatory powers of fire and water can be utilized with great results at this time as well. There are a plethora of witchy activities that don’t center around the “traditional” Beltane celebrations that can be indulged in at this time.

I trust the Earth to do what she’s done long before humanity existed. I celebrate the fires of Hekate and the healing waters of the Lady of the Lake and how together they support and encourage life. Each season is an invitation to go deeper into the mysteries. Beltane is so much more than a fertility celebration. It is an invitation to take up the torch and light your own way, with thoughtful responsibility and respect, into the nebulous network of the Otherworld, and to come to know deeply the true Spirit of Spring.

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