Beltane is upon us once more, yay! This morning it is bright and sunny after all the rain and grey this weekend, double yay!
On Sunday the Anderida Gorsedd held it’s 146th consecutive ceremony up on the little hill at the feet of the Long Man of Wilmington. Damh and I began the Gorsedd back in 2000 at the Spring Equinox and there has been a ceremony on or about each festival day ever since, come rain or shine. The Gorsedd started partly out of a request to hold open ceremonies that local OBOD members (The Order of Bards,Ovates and Druids) could attend and partly because we wanted to celebrate regularly ourselves in a place that we felt reflected our own personal connection to the Sussex landscape and the changing of the seasons.
The first celebration was attended by just seven people, including us, but pretty quickly we were joined by others who also wanted to celebrate the turning of the seasonal wheel outdoors with like minded folk. Since the first gathering there has often been between 40 and 60 people, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always a group of people from a variety of spiritual and life paths.
It is a wonderful thing to see a community of diverse, creative and enthusiastic people build around these regular ceremonies and the camps that followed on. It is also a big responsibility to make sure that you, as a facilitator, ensure that your ceremonies speak to all of that community. It is incumbent upon you to keep a wide open mind, also to keep up with the changing needs of the community you serve. The Beltane ritual is a particular case in point from that perspective.
For many years I was dissatisfied with many Beltane celebrations I had attended. Now, I realise I am a bit odd generally, but, when it comes to Beltane I am odder still. I have always found the over emphasis on giving a human face to the fecundity of nature makes me uncomfortable. For me the return of the green and blossoming face of nature is more than just imagery of the Horned God shagging a Flowery goddess. You could think me a bit of a prude if you didn’t know me, honestly it’s not that I don’t love the idea of all that passion, the sap rising and joyous abandon under the rising sun, in the midst of all that burgeoning life, damn it I’m a hot blooded mediterranean through and through. But, to be honest, I find it’s all just a bit too humanised for my taste and often it leaves me a bit cold.
Horses for courses, as they say.
Also over the past few years there has come to the fore (particularly in Britain) a greater acceptance for the fluidity of gender and sexuality generally. This is not just pertinent to the L.G.B.T.Other community, it applies to all ages, genders and sexualities, who, for far too long have all tried to abide by the strangling limitations of imposed roles. Those outmoded views of what was acceptable for each gender or for that matter age group has caused more strife across the globe than anything else, whether it is religious or for any other reason. For want of a better term I will call these outmoded rules of social engagement ‘Upper classed, monied Victorian’, as for me that age is a prime example of the hypocrisy of social expectations. They metaphorically tarred and feathered anyone bold enough to publicly break the rules, whilst indulging in anything they wanted behind closed doors. This hypocrisy is a scurrilous human pass time and it’s time for us to evolve beyond it.
That being said, Damh and I felt it was time for the Gorsedd to step up and reflect the changing nature of society in our ceremonies. For the most part we have always encouraged anyone who wished to take any part they felt drawn to in any Gorsedd ceremony, regardless of traditional gender attributions. Though if I am honest there are some parts that have felt more traditional than others, such as John Barleycorn at Lughnasadh/Lammas for instance, and part of balancing our spiritually has to be about the honouring of the legacy of myth, folklore and legends too. In true Bardic style I feel we must retain the fundamental elements of the story, but we are and must be at liberty to make the story relevant to our own time and place.
For many years within the Beltane ceremony we focused on the active and receptive aspects of nature. In an effort to give expression to and honour the energies of God and Goddess aspects respectively within us, to this end we would ritually separate into masculine and feminine circles. For a long time these things felt right and needed for both sexes. The circles were a place to express something intimately masculine or feminine without constraint. A May Queen would be divined from the women and then to choose a May King, the men would run to find stag horns hidden in a copse of trees. We would all then come together to crown and honour the May King and Queen as those aspects of nature. It was for a long time many people’s favourite ritual, aside from Samhain. But over the years more women had expressed the desire to be able to run for the horns, not all men wanted to or were able to run and for others it seemed too gender biased and they did not feel able to fully engage with the ritual.
So how do you keep the essence of a ritual but make sure that everyone feels valued and represented?
Well, this year we did not separate into two gender defined circles. We refocused the May King and Queen notions into the image of the open flower or the creative cauldron of Awen, and the Dynamic, thrusting life force of the seedling seeking the sun or Nwyvre. Everyone had the opportunity to feel both aspects with a meditation and then were given a divination card, one of which had been chosen to represent the Awen, in this case it was the Salmon from the Druid Animal Oracle. Having received their cards we then asked all who wished to run for the stag horns to line up and make themselves ready.
We understood that it was entirely possibly that the same person who had the Awen card could easily run and get the horns too, thereby representing both dynamic and creative aspects, which would have been marvellous. However in the end spirit chose two different people, interestingly a man found the stag horns and a woman took the divination card and we honoured both as the communities representatives for the ceremony.
Every year those chosen within the ritual have found the energy had come to them at pertinent times of their lives, I believe this year is no different.
We then took an opportunity to offer a toast to someone in our lives who had influenced us, made a boast for something we had achieved in the past year and then made a promise to commit to something we wanted to achieve in the coming year, then rounded it all off with an eisteddfod whilst sharing the sacred food around the circle.
It felt good at the end of the ritual, better than it had done for a while. I hope the changes honoured the changing needs of a community that means so much to us. There are so many changes happening across all levels of society so it is right and proper that we try to address all of them within an open ritual context. For a long time women needed to find their voices, to speak loud and clear about honouring the goddess within our culture once more. Then the voices of disenfranchised men needed to be heard and a balance found to honour both aspects equally, we are all still working on these things. Now the call is for more understanding and inclusion of those who traverse or stand astride the boundaries of gender and sexuality, these voices too need to be heard and honoured within our rites.
If we are to work truly relevant, spiritual magic within the world today we need to be, not just tolerant of, but fully open to embrace the unlimited energies with which our communities overflow. Every one of us has something to offer from the guileless honesty of the smallest child, to the accrued wisdom of our most ancient elders.
For some it takes time to shift long held perspectives, for others it is easier, but shift we must if we are to find our way into a harmonious world view where all rejoice in diversity and any fear or mistrust of the unfamiliar is put aside.
This is not to say that we should throw all babies out with the bath water, creating rituals that seem to say little or nothing, because we are trying so hard not to offend anyone. It is vitally important that we continue to value and express all aspects of the human condition through our spiritual alignment with nature.
With open rituals we all tread a fine line. We need to feel that what we are offering is something that speaks deeply to our own personal belief structures whilst marrying that to what we believe to be open and inclusive. We also have to avoiding the potentially debilitating feeling that anything we do might offend someone. There are times when we can all see that something is being done either blatantly to offend or harm, then I think we all have a responsibility to step in and say that is unacceptable. But at the risk of seeming offensive, I also believe that we have to try and find a way out of this growing culture of being offended by life in general because it does not always include us and our every last sensibility.
As time goes by I am sure our Beltane ritual will shift and change again in accordance with the tides of existence and the art of keeping our rites powerful and, more importantly, relevant to this ever evolving community is something I enjoy. The community speaks and as a facilitator it is my job to listen and act according to the flow of life, love and nature.
With all that said, I wish a blessed Beltane to all, may your passions be ignited, your creativity flow unbounded and your seeds grow, thrive and bear beautiful fruits.