When asked what Beltane is all about, the answers most people give you will include the word ‘sex’, probably in a rather prominent position. And even though I am asexual myself, I concur. However…
Many interpretations of Beltane tend to revolve around the union of the masculine and the feminine, as God and Goddess. And yes, this is indeed a powerful and important theme, however, we risk missing out on so much if we stop there. Moreover, such a rite can very easily feel more than a bit alienating if you are not in a heterosexual relationship yourself. And so I would like to argue that we may need to rethink things a bit, to create a celebration that is truly inclusive for everyone.
As an asexual, I’ve struggled quite a bit with Beltane over the years. Because for me, it has often felt like ‘everybody else’s party’, and participating in Beltane celebrations to me felt mostly as a stark reminder of how I was different. (And I can imagine that for people who are involuntarily single, or in a same-sex relationship, it can sometimes feel similar.) When speaking about that to people, the answer was often something like ‘but you can make it be about creativity as well’. That is true, but it feels somewhat like being relegated to the lesser options. Like a buffet which is full of exquisite food, and then having a few dishes for people with diet restrictions as well, added at the last minute as something of an afterthought. (Or think of the vegetarian who is told that ‘they can eat the salad’).
How do you create a Beltane ritual that speaks to everyone, without having to compromise on content? I am not going to advocate that we need to do a ritual that is only about being creative and the fact that summer is about to begin. That would be like solving the buffet problem by putting everyone on a strict diet. (I’ll admit that up until a few years ago, I would have advocated for precisely that. But then I did some divination on the subject, and in reply, my oracle deck gave me precisely all the cards that had the most explicitly sexual imagery on them. That was a pretty clear ‘no, you are going the wrong way here’ :-))
So, what is Beltane about then? If I can take the liberty to widen the meaning of the word sex a bit, then the answer would be, that
At Beltane, we celebrate the mystery of how the coming together of two (or more) souls leads to the birth of something greater.
The core of Beltane is the realisation that, in love,
So, let us unpack that statement a bit more.
The first, literal interpretation of this is that, everywhere in nature, from the union of the masculine and the feminine, seeds are formed, which will later grow into new living beings. This is and remains an important mystery, and it should be part of our Beltane celebrations.
And yes, this does include the sexual union of a man and a woman. But does that lead to the creation of a child every time? I sure would hope not… Overpopulation is already bad enough right now. Instead, I would argue that the ‘something greater’ is that ‘a new entity’ is indeed being created, but that entity is the soul of ‘the couple’, which is something new and different from the man and woman that created it.
The obvious advantage of this way of defining it is that it already includes all non-heterosexual relationships as part of the mystery. But we should not stop there.
We celebrate Beltane, and in fact all festivals, in an attempt to reconnect with the natural world, to stop seeing ourselves as separate from it. And so let us make Beltane the ultimate celebration of that. Let us, for a moment, look at this from the point of view of a tree or plant. In this case the true sexual dance is not so much between the masculine and the feminine, but between the flower and the bee. Between two creatures who are not even of the same species, yet need each other if they want to bring forth new life.
So, let us include this dance in our Beltane celebrations. I see at least two ways in which this is relevant:
- to reconnect humanity to the natural world: in your next Beltane celebration, I invite you to send everyone out into nature for a while, to go and experience that connection. Hug a tree, sing to a flower, listen to the song of rustling leaves. Allow your soul to be touched by something other than yourself, then return that love by giving back a small offering of who you are. (And may this be a falling in love, a relationship that does not end when the ritual is over, but one to be carried away and to fertilize your own life in the future, so that 1+1 can truly equal three).
- in inter-human relationships: Each of us is an individual. How do we create a group, a community from that? By fertilizing each other. By being like the flowers and the bees. By giving everyone an equal chance to express themselves, to contribute ideas to the group mind. By learning to listen to opinions that are not our own, and growing wiser through that. Let this, too, be a part of our celebration.
Now suddenly, we have a lot of things to celebrate within our ritual. How can we include all of that without ending up with a multi-day rite? A simple suggestion could be to give the maypole ritual a wider interpretation.
This ‘creation myth’ which I wrote a while ago can be a starting point for that.
Interpreted in such a way, the maypole dance can become a truly inclusive version of group sex magic. But if, after that, you feel called to celebrate that union a little bit more intimately with a single specific individual, well I’d say: follow nature’s call, go out and have fun!