Queering Beltane: Magic in the friction of opposites

Everything is in the process of becoming.
Glennie Kindred, Sacred Earth Celebrations 

In Celtic tradition, the year is divided in two halves – dark, then light.

The ‘dark half’ begins with Samhain (31st Oct-1st Nov) and ends at Beltane. The light half begins at Beltane (30th April-1st May) and ends at Samhain. The name Beltane is of Old Irish (and then Scots Gaelic) origin, but the day is also marked in Wales as Calan Haf (first day of summer) and England as May Day, as well as by other names and with varying regional customs.

For the ancient Celts, each day began at evening, at sunset, with a descent into darkness. This is why traditional festivals begin on the eve (or in modern terms, ‘the night before’.) Likewise, the year began in the same way, with Samhain marking the fist day of the Celtic calendar. So here, on Beltane, we are entering the second half of the year – traditionally the time when animals would be put out to pasture and in many areas, farmers would move out to summer dwellings where they could tend to their herds out on the land.

From Danielle Barlow’s Wheel of the Year Blessing Cards

This is also a time of emergence after darkness.

Beltane traditions from all corners of the UK involve drinking, dancing, socialising. Fire also plays a big role. Fire is life force and a Beltane fire celebrates the coming forth of plants, crops, blossom, sunlight, warmth and more.

The energy at Beltane is expansive, very ‘upwards and outwards’. In six weeks, it will be Summer solstice – peak fire time. Beltane sits at the mid-point of spring’s ‘air energy’, and summer’s fire. The union of these elements, air and fire, is a potent and explosive combination.

Read more: Sarah Gottesdiener shared a wonderful musing on Monday’s full moon in Scorpio, transformation, sex and death.

Themes of union/marriage and fertility are central to Beltane traditions, the original intention being to ensure the fertility of the land upon which everyone depends. Sex – especially procreative, hetero sex – is typically a big part of Beltane festivals (whether figurative, enacted or real). Many rites involve reenacting the union of the green man and green woman, god and goddess, or another horned male figure with a fertile female. The famous Maypole dance is a fertility ritual, with the pole as a phallic symbol (traditional May Day celebrations were banned by the Puritans in the 17th century).

It can all get pretty bloody hetero, and I have personally found Beltane to be alienating in its focus on ‘uniting the god and goddess’. It’s not that I don’t understand or appreciate the deeper spiritual and agricultural meanings of this tradition, but rather that, as a queer person who is continually finding my own ways to honour and celebrate the turning seasons, I seek to playfully re-frame heterocentric traditions and explore the metaphors that sit beneath traditional rites.

Where and how can we draw lines between ancient spiritual and agricultural rites, the seasons shifting around us in the present, and the shifting of our internal landscapes? How do the deeper themes of Beltane (and other festivals) show up in our lived experiences?

The Green Wheel Oracle

I frame Beltane as a union of two opposites, and a celebration of the friction and magic between the two.

This may involve sex and/or procreation, but the metaphor extends beyond that: whenever opposing energies come together, magic and alchemy can take place. This is incredibly exciting as an opportunity for shadow work, for self-growth, for reframing challenges and seeking different kinds of solutions.

Where in your life are you bringing together opposing energies? What power, what magic, lies in the tension that exists between these things? Where can we turn friction into electricity?

Following a natal chart reading from the wonderful Corina Dross, this year I’m working with a particular place of tension in my life: that between my hard-working, rigorous, down-to-earth stability-loving south node in Capricorn, and my north node, which is in Cancer, and pulls me towards living in the mystery, being all up in my feelings, never needing to rationalise or structure. I’m deeply conscious of these two energies in my life, which continually pull me in two directions, and often feel irreconcilable. It’s a source of frustration in my life, and seesaw space where I often become stuck.

I’ve been looking for the sweet spot between the two, the best of both worlds, an apex, a balance point. But in celebration of Beltane, I’m looking for the spaces where these energies bump into each other, where they create friction, like storm clouds. I’m looking not for temperance, but to magnify the power of each extreme through the way it meets and clashes with the other.

What does this look like? I’m not sure yet! But I’m excited to watch how the results will come through in my work this year.


Other activities and Beltane/May Day traditions to inspire you…

Give hawthorn blossom as a gift to a friend, but do not take it into the house as it is considered to be unlucky. Wear it outside as you enjoy the best of spring days. It opens up the heart, and liberates your ability to love. As a result good and positive energy is released. Go to the hawthorn when you need to find the love in your heart.
Glennie Kindred, The Sacred Tree

You might also experiment with…

  • Holding a Beltane fire – for gathering with friends, for ritual, for yourself…
  • Making flower essences. (You could infuse these in the sunshine of May Day, or the full moon light of the 30th.)
  • Working with the here-opening energy of the hawthorn, or May tree, which is covered in frothy white blossom in May. You can collect these flowers for tincture, for flower essences, for salads or tea.
  • Visiting and tending a well or spring – places, real or imagined where we can honour and thank the earth for the nourishment it freely offers, and where we can request healing.
  • Planting, building, drawing or walking a labyrinth as a meditative practice or one of spiritual pilgrimage.
  • Creating a talisman for protection, luck or healing.
  • Dowsing.

Love following the Wheel of the Year?

Many of the ideas in this post are borrowed from Glennie Kindred’s wonderful book, Sacred Earth Celebrations, an accessible guidebook to the Celtic year, with crafts, activities, poetry, rituals and inspiration for each.

You can find this, and many other seasonal resources, in the Little Red Tarot Shop.

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6 comments

  1. Ryn says:

    I was so excited to read this post, and I’m still excited about the wisdom that comes through you here! I’ve often wondered how we can decenter heterosexism in this holiday. Jewish tradition has a similar issue in Kabbalah, where the male and female energies of the Divine are supposed to come together. This is inspiring me to think through some of those quandaries with a similar playfulness!

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Right? So personally I’m trying to find alternative frameworks that don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – for me talking about “male and female energies coming together” isn’t especially enticing or significant, but thinking what the characteristics of those energies might be is fun. I’d love to hear how you queer (or play with queering) Kabbalah Ryn! xx

  2. Jane says:

    Thank you so much Beth for posting this. A Trans Woman of Jewish heritage I’ve really struggled with the focus on biological sex in any pattern of belief or self empowerment. Those elements of male and female reside in us all whether we care to acknowledge it or not. I’ve always thought it more useful to consider their interplay within our lives. I found your post really inspiring and refreshing.

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