Reflections of a Queer Witch for Beltane: Eros, Ecstasy & Belonging
Updated: Apr 29, 2019
The month of May approaches, a dynamic time in the landscape where I live in West Yorkshire, Northern UK. Here, I share a compilation of musings and reflections from the past several weeks, which are of course my resonance with this seasonal time and stories that provoke meditation. However, I also share podcasts, quotes and the inspirations of folklore - contemporary and marginal - as well as broad, vast-reaching in time, space and the ancient. I hope they provide some questioning and connection with seasonality or the myths that surround this, or some platforms from which further exploration can happen. With reverence for all who came before, all who bring their stories into circle now, and the resilience of the co-created future to come.
The Ancestral & Celtic Lore of Beltane
The greening of the hills as this wooded valley comes alive in all shades of emerald, with tender leaves of beech with their citrus-sharp flavour delighting the tongue and the promise of heart-nourishing hawthorn flowers, the sweet apple blossom buzzing with happy bees. These are the Earth's gifted trackways leading up to the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane (May Day). In Celtic linguistic origins Beltane means "bright fire" - the festival between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice (on the Wheel of the 8-festivals; blended pre-Christian Celtic & Germanic lore; with far more ancient origins for the celestial / seasonal observations some of these festivals ride upon) . The fire of endings, death and final harvest in October at Samhain is the further extreme from Beltane - some say it's opposite from the Celtic calendar. I feel they are in symbiosis as seasonal energies. Samhain being winter's beginning / overall new beginning to Celtic peoples, who revered darkness and nightfall as a start, not an end. Beltane is the festival of new life, surging earth-energies and fertile growth.
To the ancient Celts, Beltane is a major fire-festival (as is Samhain), often associated with the health of their cattle and livestock, upon which their livelihoods and nourishment depended. Ruminants were sent to pasture at this time - driven between roaring fires - into which humans also would jump with great revelry, an act of purification and protection against disease or misfortune. With the influence of fire here, we see the primeval connection of this element and life beyond to Beltane's origins, we can feel the magic observed by the first bow-created fire of our hunter gatherer ancestors across the globe, the awe and magic of creativity & destruction. The sensuality and ecstasy of ritual beneath the stars...
With the many customs of the Gaelic countries and wider Britain, there is fascinating folklore & ritual, often involving spring-time plants, trees, flowers and the element of fire. The Neopagan / Wiccan and largely fertility-focused pagan stories speak of the binary God and Goddess in some form; their consummation in the wild wood and how young couples would often be made / married at this time of year. May pole dancing was an innocent school activity in my Christian village school, but the pagan symbolism of the phallic pole with the dressed-up usually female / young girl dancers, emphasised this fertility "Rite" (also Morris Dancing - common from May onwards in village squares and folk festivals) - a more tame version of the likely erotically-charged fire-dancers of old! The May Pole could also be a May Bush - decorated with ribbons, alongside the reverence of holy wells and springs and the energy-points of the land where people and cattle found health and vitality.
The Archetypal Energy of Spring's Vitality
But what is the energy of Beltane now? - Or even the archtypal energy-root that holds timelessness and experience for all - regardless of personal beliefs and cultural-religious framework? - in a world where few drive cattle between fires or perceive need for such rituals to ward off disease or ill-fortune, when antibiotics and hormone treatments are a (excessively toxic) staple of even smaller-scale farming now! Despite the likely multi-functional purpose of such ceremony for the health of a whole village or tribe of people.
Fundamentally, even prior to cattle and agriculture, which drive many of the more recent recorded folklore associated with the festivals celebrated by Celts & Northern Europeans, the end of winter time or colder times would be visibly observed in the land by April-May. The solar energy in land and spirit would be felt - psychologically with the pure relief of longer days after lacking daylight of winter - and bodily, as stagnancy after periods of cold winter rest and withdrawal became busy, sun-warmed excitement in the outside world.
This is the timelessness of seasonal transition, the energy that connects us to the ancestral stories and customs and peoples of the Northern European lands that witnessed this seasonal, solar-governed change, where many of their rituals, customs and stories originated. The further North, the more profound this welcoming of the light felt! Their stories can support our own, as new inhabitants perhaps to northern lands and seasons or as those with heritage in these places. The commonality of human experience in change. The love and togetherness with land and the dance of seasonality.
Living in a valley bottom, gorgeously wooded and ravined, but also darker than more open landscape has been a challenge for me, and may be a contributing factor to my journey with chronic health / energy issues peaking this winter. I am now preparing to move to much higher ground, with more daylight and wild winds, but potentially a softer, stabilising influence on the spirit and body. Likely, prehistoric and nomadic peoples would've moved with the seasons too, a definite wake-up call for their bodies and spirits when new food and wider more varied landscapes were sought in the lighter months. In our modern often same-all-year-round life routines, these seasonal changes can be more difficult to relate to or cope with (40-hour-week-plus stressful, fast-paced jobs in the winter, often in buildings seeing little natural light in the darker season - a tough deal for many), or to even be conscious of - unless we live in rural areas or are close to natural cycles - spiritually if not physically.
What does it mean to celebrate the seasonal turns of The Wheel during the epic age of great change or "Great Turning" (to quote Joanna Macy's reference to the necessary planetary and human-centric shift in consciousness required to heal our lost connection as a species to the Earth in post-industrial, fossil-fuel driven world)? With Beltane's Eros and Ecstasy guiding us as a roadmap (or labyrinth!) into the present...
Eros and Ecstasy: Beltane
With my Seasonal Circles locally, alongside my personal reflections (last Samhain mirrors similar themes with a different place in time and progression), an ever-expanding awareness of this is taking place as the call of the Earth resonates, with specific teachings deepening with each turn of the wheel year-by-year. The individual and collective benefit to channeling the overall energy of the landscape and the wild can be deeply nourishing, whatever we are carrying with us in relationship to this time of year, and even to the land we live in - which may, or may not - mirror the seasonal themes of surging Spring time (in the Southern Hemisphere, for those who observe the Celtic festivals, it is the "Death" aspects of this "Sex and Death" festival spectrum - Samhain!).
Eros is (re)learning to feel into the animal body and senses and the heart-place of intuitive wisdom, and for me I am coming into this as a part of my queer-identity, not seperate from or a side-note to it. In Love and Rage, I now explore a renewed appreciation for embodiment, as the queer female-body I am spiritually taking residence within. Initiation through illness and (safe) total surrender has woken me. Fuck the white-supremicist, hetero-normative, toxic body-politics of patriarchy, etc...
"Eros...felt in our encounters with nature, in our experience of symbols and story, music and ritual, in our relationship with others, and in the feeling body itself. Eros is our desire to connect with life, to relate with another, to share and feel our closeness. It is love, yes, but it is also a way of embodying our experiences and experiencing embodiment with others...In the broadest sense, Eros is that quality of belonging that we so ache to feel in our lives."
From: Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home by Toko-pa Turner
Eros is the awe-that-feels-embodied, the wordless pleasures of connection and surging energy that creates total immersion in the moment, revives the truth and fuels the way ahead. As mentioned, many hetero-focused stories in Neopaganism / Wicca focus on Beltane ritual and story which consummates the union of the young Maiden Goddess and her virile God at this time. This resonates to heteronormative cis-gendered folk of course, but to those of us in queerer-sphered or marginalised identities, or those who perceive sex or birth beyond this fertility-archetype , including the "other-than-human" world - this is only one story that can tune-in to this precious Eros energy. The land and life show sex, sensual embodiment and the joy of life in myriad ways and results, with a diversity that expands and offers belonging to all. This resonates as May-time's / Beltane's message of ecstatic renewal.
For me as I lay in bliss, the Faery and elementals were dancing their welcome, weaving their timelessness that has entranced many a starry-eyed, Fae-kidnapped folk-song & folk-tale protagonist...
Queerness & Ecstasy as Activism / Reclamation
One of my soul-spoken identities is as Queer Witch: two words I choose to bind together in a reclamation that speaks of edges, boundaries, a liminal existence in a contemporary culture that still reacts to both of these concepts with stiffness and ignorance at best, or with outright mockery and dismissal at worst. Words steeped in complex history, politics, gender ideologies influenced by limiting binary and misogynistic wrath to the feminine and fluid and the resulting social discrimination / persecution, even torture and death.
To be born into witch-hood, or even into a culturally sanctioned and safe queer-dom, is rare and more than likely to be created later into adulthood; with great perseverance, courage, activism and finding the right people, in the right circles (no doubt after much personal discomfort and wounding). How can Ecstasy, the tool of the Witch and the particularly at-home-with-the-ecstatic-and-liminal Queer Mystic, provide a healthy bridge for anyone & all - to authentic selfhood, to alternative self-made communities, to creating chosen-families, or to understanding these new, more expansive stories of how we connect to the human and other-than-human worlds? Ecstasy begins with the individual's journey to re-assimilating all that they were told was "wrong" or needed to be split-off to survive - a vital starting place for all transformation, and then reverberates or resonates into a wider web of diverse connection and sacred activism...
The power of ecstasy is not remaining in that timeless transcendent moment...the power of ecstasy is that of creative destruction. It is the psychic blast that reveals the ego as nothing more than a sometimes-useful illusion...It is the paradox of letting go of everything you think of as yourself, in order to make the leap across the Abyss and find your Higher Self waiting for you on the other side, because you are the one you have been waiting for.
From: the Queer Journey of the Wheel by Steve Kenson from Queer Magick: Power beyond Boundaries (Ed: Lee Harrington & Tai Fenix Kulystin)
Ecstasy, in their many forms, involves total vulnerability and leaving behind the ego-mind during a particularly pleasurable or consciousness-altering activity (trance, dance, artistic revelry, raising sexual energy, exercise, meditation, otherworld-journeying, chanting, song...). Ecstatic states help us to navigate through to the belief that more expansive worlds are being birthed and we are part of this (starting with the lush green around us!) and the (Wounded) Healers, Activists, Artists, Writers, Podcasters, Herbalists, Gardeners, Makers, Crafters, Witches, Seers, Speakers, Cooperatives, Mentors, Wisdom-holding Elders and Safespace-creators...are doing this. Folks on the edges of mainstream culture, like the Witch or Healer at the edge of the village, have the gift of sight.
Being able to witness events with a outsider-perspective, and often with empathic and highly-sensitive traits, edge-dwellers are gifted to innovate and provoke through communicating or living truth. Truths that are often perceived as shadow-truths or threatening to the mainstream in some way, but often hold the keys to a more integrated, honest, progressive world. This has been a deeply empowering realisation for me, allowing the reintegration of my spirit-walking gifts to also blend with my queerness, and my group-facilitation skills with running community events and seasonal circles.
However, I acknowledge I have been born into a privilidged white, well-educated status, I can navigate the world with relative safety and wear the masks of supposed "straight-passing christian / secular female" or as of more recently, access the support I need with ease and literacy. Learning to balance the strengths of the gifts we are born-into, blending those with the empowering gifts we are born with, is not always easy, accessible or even socially / culturally / politically safe to many more marginalised people. A large important topic I will not go into here, but feel it is important to acknowledge. This is where diversity is vital for healthy, resilient, supportive communities. Just like in the sun-lit Beltane forest (the margins are often the most lush, biodiverse places!).
What gifts are you born with, or latent skills or values are you holding back from expressing and embodying? What (safe, even if challenging) sacrifices can you make to live them?
The alternative? - Shutting it all away or sanctioning these gifts to shadow or madness (as dominant Western cultures often demand from childhood onwards), creating spirit-death and even physical or psychological dis-ease. Those who are made to fear their truth are often oppressed or are traumatised from having braved showing their truth to the world, only to be hurt, mocked, rejected. Or worse. The ancestral wounds many of us carry (often unconsciously manifesting as illness, addiction, chronic health problems or psycho-spiritual issues) are testament to the far-reaching implications of truth-withholding, of those who have come before. Beltane is stoking the fire of reclamation, truth & ecstasy - fuelling the journey ahead, tending to new life, belonging and contribution!
Tapping into the Energy of Spring-surge for Resilience & Belonging
This is creative, playful, embodied medicine. Spring-surge is like a boost to the tired Spirit (which needs to rest, recover, reflect seasonally - before creativity can flow at its fullest). The ecstatic fire-dancing of the Horned One in the Primeval Forest sunlight or full moon, is symbolic of our deep-soul yearnings for ecstasy, for the liminal, the true wildness of living - and how this can bring brighter definition to our "ordinary reality" conscious acts, choices and developments. Ecstasy is an instinctual longing that many un-knowingly channel into substance-abuse or spiritual tourism; but for healthy expression this vital act must be guided and then grounded into the physicality of time and embodiment in "ordinary consciousness" (as quoted above by Steve Kenson).
This ecstatic soul-fuel energy can then manifest, re-charged, as the medicine of the Activist taking to the streets to risk arrest, raising awareness of the ecocide that the current phase of humanity / human systems are inflicting upon the Earth. The medicine or drum-beat of the Spirit-Warrior, who comes in rainbow forms, walking their/her/his path through weaving threads of creativity, honest expression and radical vulnerability (blog posts, podcasts, social media shares, artwork, sowing / sharing saved seeds in the vegetable garden, pure honest vocalisation or community-weaving - every thread and small action is a gift). The key is, which I am exploring very deeply since I returned from my final Ancient Ways training initiation week, what does belonging feel like to you now? Stay with it.
The hearthfire of Spring is charging this exploration for me. The many layers of belonging, and the ultimate place of belonging - which feels like a heart-space - that the land welcomes, mirrors, expands and communicates to us. The lifelong search through many exiles and forms of outsider-ness, flirtations or (sometimes temporary) successes with conformity, however this may evolve for us - feels linked with this dynamic time. I am loving Toko-pa Turner's book, quoted above, and her recent podcast on Mythic Medicine have been some tools for support in exploring this question, where belonging and home have been with me (literally, as I physically prepare to move house, and psychologically and beyond as I am post-initiation!).
An invitation - Beltane-coming, home-coming: the beauty and floral sweetness and bitter-leaf tonics of more varied and plant-based food sources exciting body and mind, the pleasure of barefoot walking on moss and ravine, the awe of being present at the first opening of the apple blossom, feeling the joy in the dance of bee and butterfly in your own veins, or the sweat evaporating from your skin after having made love or felt the climax of Eros on the forest floor run through you...the extreme at the other-side, yet linked to, of the Samhain death-throes in October; the wild ecstatic dance of the androgynous Horned One of the Wild Forest (in their many forms globally) is present by Fire, in both the Sex and Death festivals, and the liminality they inhabit. Let them guide you deeper...
Trackways for Beltane Ecstasy & Discovery...
Be with your becoming now, in a moment of sun-dappled stillness or solitude, quietly go within and explore. What is rising, charging, seeking sensory exploration in you now? What gifts are being received and given? How are those creative ventures and seeds being sown? What old / invalid / not-belonging systems with-hold your truth and need the fire of ecstatic release? Beltane, in a deeper sense of clarity and vision at this time, feels like we are being called to feel our embodiment, celebrate our sense of Home or home-coming, to share that fluidly with others: and to Rise Up, together, when belonging and home - ultimately the Earth to which we all belong - is threatened.
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