Living in the southern hemisphere, our seasons are opposite to those cycling through Europe and America.
The ancient Celts worked their calendar cycle of events according to the seasons, not dates, so the fire festival of Beltane was celebrated at the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.
Many here, however, still follow northern hemisphere traditions, so we are in a complex situation where, as we prepare for a season of fertility, the local children are knocking on our doors in Halloween costumes on the eve of October 31 with death and ghouls and shadows on their minds.
Pagans celebrate Halloween as the festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-wen’), also called the ‘Feast of the Dead‘, and that is actually a time of joy since it is about being with deceased family and friends, and honoring their memory – but even though my grand-daughters know that, and know that this is the wrong season for Holy Eve, they still want the gory darkness of the popularized commercial Halloween with their friends, where spooky witches dress in black and purple, cobwebs and spiders adorn perfectly lovely spaces, and blood and gore, skeletons and monsters prime the day. Kids will be kids, after all.
For my family and pagan friends, though, our real celebration on this coming weekend will be for Beltane, and we will gather on Sunday the 2nd of November for our annual ritual of putting up and decorating our Litha tree (Litha is the mid-summer or summer solstice celebration for the Season of Love).
Like the old nursery rhyme, ‘Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick‘, we’ll be jumping over a candle on the day instead of dancing around a bonfire, because the days are already so hot here in sub-tropical Australia that no one would want to light a bonfire.
As well, instead of the ancient mode of dousing all candles and fires, and relighting them from the bonfire, we’ll just turn off all the electric lights and switch them them back on, ( as well as lighting other candles ), as we carry our Beltane candle through the house.
You get a small idea of what this picture entails in that process. It’s sort of an ‘out with the old, in with the new‘ ‘breath of fresh air‘ ritual. It’s about renewing energy and reaffirming the life force.
In that same mode, as new age pagans in a small suburban home, we’ll pick flowers from the garden and drop them into the fish pond and swimming pool as gifts to the ‘otherworld‘, asking for life-refreshing rain. (We got a bit recently, but the drooping leaves on our trees say we need more…).
It all sounds a bit quiet when compared to the rowdy and full-blooded events that are celebrated for Beltane in Europe, today, but for us the ritual is about connection and reconnection. It doesn’t have to be rowdy to be relevant.
The ancient traditions also see a mating of the Green Man and the May Queen (Green Woman) on this day, and in those olden times young people not yet wedded could partake in temporary conjugal bliss in the name of the God and Goddess, and any babies born from those unions were said to have birthed from divinity.
The concept of this mating was, however, the fertility that comes from Father and Mother Nature, and the burgeoning of their offspring. It was an acknowledgement and celebration of the powerful blessing of life in this garden of Earth.
All spiritual faiths and religions have their own modes of celebrating and honoring the divine. Pagan modes are not that different to the expressions of mainstream religion, despite whatever long term propaganda has been perpetuated. The only differences, in truth, are in the concepts and names shaping the mythologies behind those expressions.
Paganism is an inclusive spirituality, and accommodates all other religions and faiths. Even among celtic themed pagans, there is a wide variation in expression, including of the concepts and names.
Our own expression is not so much about the ancient traditions, mythologies and names, ( which may be partly because of a disconnection from them due to our southern hemisphere locale ) but is more about the themes and rites of passage these celebrations evoke.
Not all my children are pagans in their religious modes, nor are all our friends or workmates, yet they do understand the neutrality we bring to our ceremonies, and the wide scope it has of encompassing all life, in all its forms. They can partake in our rituals and celebrations without feeling that their own modes of worship have been maligned.
As suburban pagans in Australia, we don’t dance around bonfires ( at least, not in our backyard ), and we don’t go off into the garden to have sex.
Instead, we decorate our tree for the next big ritual at Litha (it stays up until the New Year), sending blessings back to the divine for all the blessings given to us through the year so far as we hang each bauble on the tree.
We turn off and turn back on our lights in the presence of the blessed Beltane candle. We jump over that same candle for good luck in the coming year. We throw flowers into our ponds and pools to encourage rain.
If the night gets cold enough, later, we may light a small brazier and toast some marshmallows on sticks over it ( but with the night heat already lingering in our locale, I’m doubtful that will happen this year…)
…and while I’m no longer a ‘spring chicken‘ and will never bear more children, if I’m lucky, sex might be a ‘ fountain of youth ‘ bedroom event after all have gone home… ( oh…my…god…)
Check this YouTube video clip of a recent family moment, when possums came visiting on our upstairs balcony. This is for us an ultimate expression of Beltane…
Blessings for Beltane, and may life continue to bring you gifts and especially the ability to enjoy them !