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Beltane Beyond Sex

Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Posted: April 29th. 2012
Times Viewed: 4,021

Pagan Sex Holiday! That’s the focus. That’s what everyone grabs onto and imagines when thinking of Beltane: those ‘Pagan orgies’ you always hear some not-so-accepting of us spew on about. It’s not really like that, is it? From what you might read on Pagan sites though, you might think it all so true. Lots of advice on how to have a safe-sexy Beltane. Now, I do recognize that the most obvious way to celebrate the fertility of the world is through exercises in human fertility; however, practicing safe sex (as I would certainly hope you do) poses the problem of blocking the fertility aspects of coming into play and to focus so much on sex (and doing so safely) seems to be using a religious celebration as an excuse for sex with random strangers.

If you have anonymous sex with random strangers, that’s fine (provided you do so safely and everyone is in agreement) but to use your religion as an excuse to have that sex (or to attend that orgy) seems to be a cop out (unless your patron is Eros…or maybe Loki…I might have to let it slide then) . Having sex is not what Beltane is all about. Yes- you can have meaningful religious sex, but that’s not the feeling I get from most of the people who go on and on about Beltane sex; it might be a holdover from the free-love of the 1960s during which American Paganism really gained its footing, but in this scary age of deadly STDs (not to mention gross over-population) , why does it get so much attention when there are plenty of other religious rites that belong to Beltane?

Beltane is basically the summer version of Samhain. The veil is just as thin, but usually the travelers to our world are faeries and not the spirits of the dead. There can be some overlap, though. For example, the Asatru perform rites known as alfarblots (not at Samhain or Beltane, but I’m using this as a word lesson) to honor male ancestors (don’t fret, female ancestors get their disablots) ; alfar is a word for ancestor but it is also the word used for elves. The Otherworld is both the home of the faeries and the home of the spirits of the dead, and there may be more connection between them than that (given examples such as the tales of the Wild Hunt and the Ballad of Tam Lin) .

With pesky (and sometimes a sight more than pesky) faeries hanging about, Beltane had as much to do with protection from the Gentle Folk as it did with fertility. Cattle were driven between two fires, close enough to singe their hair to cleanse them and protect them from the illnesses carried by faerie bolts. This was especially important as they were to be driven to more open pastures for better grazing (a well-fed cow gives better milk and has more meat during the lean winter months) . This provides a window into the human sexuality-portion of Beltane.

The shepherds, goatherds and cattle drovers could be gone for months, as long as the weather held and there was grass to graze. They may not see their wives or lovers again until the wheat harvest (the hottest days of the year are in August, so the grass would be less palatable for the cows and the sun would be apt to scorch the wheat if they didn’t have enough people back for the harvest) . If your job was taking you away from home for three months, you’d probably want some crazy monkey-loving before you left; so it’s no wonder that what people did to blow off steam before getting to work got wrapped up in the purpose of the religious rites themselves.

Faeries are especially dangerous to cows for some reason. In ancient Celtic times, cows were a symbol of wealth, power and prosperity (another form fertility can take) . Many of the mythic tales of Ireland involve wars that start as cattle raids, usually brought on by jealousy or greed, other times to put someone who’s gotten too big for their britches in his or her place. Having cows is a sign of fertility, and of human domination of the land over which the faeries once reigned more freely. To attack cows is to attack human sovereignty (and hurt humans in their wallets, which seems to be what many of us care about…why else bother that leprechaun for his crock o’gold?) .

How do faeries attack cows? They make their milk go sour, make it unable to be churned into butter, and sometimes they braid their tails. Sounds suspiciously like those “Pagan Cult” fear-mongering tales the media puts out every so often when a horse is found with an unexpectedly braided tail, pointing fingers at Witches, doesn’t it? Well, since having horses is usually seen as something only the wealthy can afford, and the wealthy being those that own and have developed most of the wild lands…maybe faeries have switched their targets (this is just suggestion, but you have to remember faeries are not little annoyances that hide your car keys and that can be placated with a tiny house and some plastic shiny baubles; some are just as likely kill you as look at you…those touched by the being known to the Irish as The Fool are doomed to die, as are those lead astray by the Puca or the Kelpie. So please, we’ll have none of the nonsense spouted about how nice faeries are and how they’d never do any real harm. Leave that to fantasy writers.) .

Those that choose to work with faeries have to be brave, steadfast and clever. Think of how Darby O’Gill got his way in Darby O’Gill and the Little People; if you’re quick-witted, some may take a liking to you, but that is extremely rare. However, there are things you can do to placate or keep on the Gentle Folk’s good side: never disturb a hawthorn tree (not sure there are any native to America, but it’s a sound rule all the same) , never build onto the west side of your house (the Gentle Folk tend to walk on the west side of buildings apparently and you could disturb their track) , be respectful of nature and your area (should be a no-brainer) , they are partial to offerings of cream and butter (interesting considering their history of cow-pestering) and also enjoy alcohol (typically a good dark beer or whiskey) and maybe some bread. This being said, the native land spirits of America are not the same as the European Gentle Folk, so you may want to add cornmeal and tobacco to those list of offerings over here (and be wary of where you leave alcoholic offerings as Native American spirits find alcohol offensive) .

Ok, I think I’ve waxed philosophic about faeries enough; you should get the idea. Beltane has also historically been a time for witches (and just knowledgeable country folk) to perform baneful magic. Mostly, it involved neighborly squabbles. Think of it as magical feuding. You notice one year that your crop is mediocre while your neighbor’s is abundant. You might think they put a curse on your land (or hired someone skilled enough to do so) . Therefore, the next spring, you take similar action against your neighbor.

This type of magic was typically done Beltane morning. Maybe someone the faeries liked may have been able to enlist their help in such matters, or maybe the power to do such magic was more powerful then. Again, the magic is focusing on fertility, or rather the revoking of said fertility. This might be why both purification and sexual rites are important this time of year, to counter-balance the harm we do and the harm some may do to us.

Then there is Walpurgis Nacht, which also occurs at Beltane. This is a German holiday that is as associated with Witches in Germany as Halloween is in the United States. This is the greatest Sabbat of the Witches, who fly on all manner of things (brooms, pitchforks. distaffs, goats, cats, etc.) to get to the hollow hill to commune with Dame Holle. In medieval imagination, they went to commune with the Devil. This is where true Witches were made; they made their pact by traveling to the Underworld and swearing allegiance to the powers there. Swearing allegiance to Underworld beings does sound scary, but those beings are the spirits of the dead and the faeries I have spoken so much of as well as the dwelling place of certain gods and goddesses that have been associated with Witchcraft for a very long time. It’s really no different than pledging allegiance to a solar god and a lunar goddess and beings of the “heavenly” realms; though the energies can be more disconcerting to those used to a more “love and light” path.

Beyond sex, Beltane can be used to perform rites that not only aid fertility but also protect it from outside influences (whether faerie or jealous neighbor) . You can also use it to try to placate and get on the good side of faeries, as well as use it to re-establish contact with those that have died. It may also be a good time to renew vows, whether vows of love to your mate or vows of fealty to your gods. The veil is again thin, and your words more easily echo across the realms. Use your words wisely and you may have an abundant harvest, use them unwisely and you may get unpleasant surprises. Oh, and if you absolutely must go to that Beltane orgy, be sure to practice safe sex (and if you want to blight your neighbors crop, practice safe hex) .

Have a happy Beltane everyone!

Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch by Lora O'Brien

In Search of Biddy Early by Edmund Lenihan

The Witching Way of the Hollow Hill by Robin Artisson

Irish Witchcraft and Demonology by St. John D. Seymour

Hedge-Rider by Eric De Vries


BellaDonna Saberhagen

Location: Sunbury, Pennsylvania


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