Tag Archives: Sacred Fire

On this, our desexualized fertility festival

Religious holidays can be difficult things to explain to those who fall outside of one’s faith tradition.

Just pretend for a moment that you know nothing about Christianity and imagine someone trying to describe Easter to you…,

…think about it…

…a god briefly sacrifices himself to redeem humanity for the sins of two people who hadn’t been given a moral compass to know they were sinning in the first place…

…and Christians the world over commemorate these events by dressing up in their finery, spending an hour in church, watching their children gather colored eggs, and then filling up on a big ham dinner (just like the apostles would have done).

And yes, I’m glossing over all of the finer points, and it’s all in the presentation, but still…,

…it’s a lot to take in.

Now imagine the difficulty of describing a holy day for which there is no one accepted or even remotely authoritative description.

Welcome to Beltane!

So let us begin from an traditionalist perspective.

A well reasoned polytheist, using a reconstructionist approach, based solely on what we know of the folk practices of the pre-christian Irish, would tell us that Beltane, marked by the first blooming of hawthorn trees, was a time of purification and blessing.  It was a day when maidens collected the first dew of the season.  It witnessed the release of livestock into the summer grazing lands, but was certainly best known for the lighting of great fires, the light and heat of which was believed to provide magical blessings and protection to man and beast alike in the coming season.

Who?  What?  Why?!

That whole Easter thing doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?

Again, I’m glossing over some of the finer points, but not by much, because the stone cold truth of it is, we really don’t know much about why any of those things were done.  And frankly, I’ve begun to wonder if we haven’t been a little too willing to take things that just happen to have occurred on or near Beltane, as being part and parcel of the holy day itself.

Was it really so much about the movements of cattle into the seasonal grazing areas?  Or is that just something that happened around the same time, and over the centuries we’ve colluded the two things.

It’d be a bit like assuming that watching American Football was part of the celebration of the Christian Sabbath in North America.  A scholar, in some post-apocalyptic future might conclude that feasts of pizza and libations of cheap beer were likewise, part of the weekly observance, based purely upon the evidence at hand.

Now there are a couple things going on here.

Firstly, there is the importance of honoring our ancestors and finding our own way to the traditions and beliefs that they held sacred.  We do this through careful examination of the evidence at hand, with an eye toward preserving and reviving that which they left for us through the ages.  In this way we do service to them and to the gods which called us to this path.

That’s part of it.

The other thing that is going on is a negative reaction toward anything which smells even vaguely of NeoPaganism.

Where the festival of Beltane is concerned, the general opinion seems to be that the old Victorian occultists who started the revival in Beltane observances, were really just looking for an excuse to shuck their knickers, alone or in groups, and that adding a ritual component to the lusty month of May was all the provocation they needed.  As their spiritual descendants, the NeoPagans may have picked up a reputation for treating Beltane as an orgy at fireside: all drum circles and gypsy dancing, while ignoring history and tradition.

And maybe that’s fair.  It might be a good idea to pop over to the Wiccasphere and see if there’s anything unseemly going on.  You know…, for science.

10 Ways to Celebrate Beltane

(oooh, this ought to be good)

Light a bonfire (a little on-the-nose, but okay)

Pick flowers (ooookay)

Wear a Flower Crown (at least those flowers from #2 aren’t going to waste)

Do some Divination (actually, that’s entirely historical, something’s wrong)

Dance (also appropriate to the holiday)

Leave out offerings to the Fae (am I reading from the wrong lists)

Decorate a tree or bush with ribbons (…)

Take a Ritual Bath (NOW things are finally getting saucy)

Volunteer at an animal shelter (what just happened?)

Roast Marshmallows

Marshmallows!  My hand to the gods, I saw this listed on two of the dozen or so lists I rooted through in the course of my “research”.  Sure, there were indeed a few references to fertility magic and love spells, but a good naked frolic in the wild seems to be largely off the menu.

That, or I’m just not being invited to the good parties anymore.

Either way, we’ve got a majority of folks advertising Beltane like it was your local craft fair, while a small but vocal minority would like to point out that Maypoles are an imported tradition from English and German speaking folks, and if you could all please just be careful with your frolicking, as you are likely to frighten the cows.

The truth if it, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle.


There are plenty of things to suggest that Beltane IS, among other things, a fertility festival.

Those maidens I mentioned earlier, collecting the first dew of the season?  They bathed in it.  A ritual intended to increase and preserve their natural beauty.

The light and heat from those Beltane fires, was believed to not only protect the herds from harm, but to bless them – to increase their bounty – make them more fertile.  I wonder what we are supposed to think that same light and heat would do to the men and women who danced around those fires?

I wonder how anyone could believe, after standing near a great fire, feeling the energy of it moving through them, that joining in dance around those flames and sharing in that energy, passing it each to the other, could be anything other than a sexual act.

Standing at to opposite end of the year from Samhain, during which we honor the dead, Beltane comes to us at that moment when the generative power of life is at its strongest.  The veil between this world lifts but twice a year, once to allow the spirits of the dead to transcend this mortal plane, and once again at May Eve, to allow them back in where they might find new life and new lives to inhabit.

Fire Festival – Fertility Festival – Craft Fair

Celebrate it however you like, but don’t deny the energies at the root of it.

Sex is in the air folks, otherwise my eyes wouldn’t be itching from all this pollen.


Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Holidays, Religion, Traditions, Uncategorized

It would be so easy…,

The sun sets and the fire is kindled.
It would be so easy to feel alone.

I think of my friends and family,
Of confidants and strangers countless,
And I know that for so many of them,
This is just another sunset, another night,
And my energies, to them, seem wasted,

It would be so easy to feel alone,
If not for the fire.

All over the world these fires burn,
Each connected to the others,
One shared light against the darkness,
The warmth I feel against my skin,
Is the growing heat between young lovers,
The sparks which leap and crackle,
Bring wonder to the face of a child.

Separated by miles,
Yet close enough to touch,
All of them.

On this night and thousands more,
Both past and yet to be,
I feel them,
Generations of us,
Basking in the same flickering light.

I think of my friends and family,
Of confidants and strangers countless,
And I know that on this night,
It would be so easy,
For them,
To feel alone.


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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Poetry, Religion, Traditions


The Imbolc fire burns low.

It was a small fire this year, although it would be fair to say that the flames I kindle for Lá Fhéile Bríde are always on the smallish side.

Winter still holds us within its chill grip, but beneath the cold, there is that first fleeting hint of Spring.  I say ‘hint’ because it is nothing so sure and trustworthy as a particular smell or budding leaves in the naked canopy above, but it is there all the same, stirring at the edges of our perception.  Change, as they say, is in the air.

Imbolc, like its counterpart Lughnasadh, is a time of transition, and the energies seem uncertain.  These are times of reflection and divination, best done in the warm blush of a simple hearth.

The great roaring, spiraling column of flame will whirl its way into the space between the worlds again come Beltane, but for now, a more sensible blaze will do.

It is a small gesture of devotion to the ‘exalted one’, the sacred flame of Kildare.

The fire has burned down to embers now.

I am no flamekeeper.

The embers will cool and their dull red glow will dissipate.

And that’s okay, because I don’t believe that the flame ever really goes out.

Olympic Ritual

This was the scene in Olympia, Greece, in September of last year.   In the ruins of the ancient Temple of Hera, the priestesses called out in benediction to the solar god Apollo, while using the rays of the Sun, focused by a specially polished parabolic mirror, to ignite the sacred Olympic flame.  And in only a few days time, that same flame will arrive in Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea.

Well, not really.

The flame went out in October.  It sputtered and died and then was relit by some Russian official with a Zippo, on camera, for the world to see.  And that’s just crazy because they keep multiple spare flames, ignited from the same original flame in Greece, which are toted along in special little lanterns, to restore the “official” flame in just such an emergency.

They go through all this trouble, because the flame is important.  It’s sacred.

Well, not really.

I mean, the flame is kindled on the site of the original Olympic Games, but the circle of women calling out to Apollo and Zeus are actresses.  The ritual is a show.  It’s a fake.

Olympic Propaganda 1936For that matter, while the tradition of burning a flame during the whole of the games, is a tradition that was indeed observed by the ancients, the whole business with the torch relay bringing the flame from Greece to the host city, was concocted by the Nazis for the  1936 Games in Berlin – Hitler’s Olympics.  The relay was yet another bit of Aryan propaganda, a symbolic passing of the ‘torch of civilization’ from ancient Greece to the supposed ‘master race’.

So, I ask you: Is the flame that arrives this week in Sochi, the one born from the ‘Flick of a Bic’ any less sacred then the flame which left the Temple of Hera so many months ago?

Is there anything of the divine to be found in a ceremony conducted by paid performers?

Do the Olympics themselves mean anything beyond advertising revenues and jingoistic chest thumping?

I contemplate the embers of my own sacred fire, and I wonder.

Olympic Flame

It is easy to become discouraged.

In the whole of the world there are only a tiny fraction of people who share beliefs similar to my own.  We are a small community.  Our neighbors scoff at our efforts, if they deign to notice us at all.  Closer to home are the tolerant, the confused, and the sympathetic who quietly pray for our souls.  If we are lucky we have people in our lives who love and respect us enough to ‘go through the motions’.  Most of us are lucky if we ever meet face-to-face with more than a handful of the truly like minded.

We complain incessantly about the politics, the divisiveness, and corruption (of one sort or another) within our community.  In many ways these are the same kinds of arguments I have heard people make against the Olympics.

“It’s all about politics and propaganda,” they say.

“Everyone,” we are told, “is in it seeking money or power or attention, and no one really cares about the sanctity or sport or the high ideals of cooperation and universal brotherhood.”

So which is it?

Are we all just a bunch of misguided frauds?

Or is the idea bigger than the day to day reality in which we find ourselves?

Jesse Owens 1936The Berlin Games and the Olympic Torch Relay were used as a platform to express a horrific ideology.  And what we got instead was the triumph of Jesse Owens – the perfect expression of the Olympic Ideal.

Don’t tell me that there is no power there.

Certainly the Sochi Games have had controversies of their own, mostly related to the issue of Gay Rights within the Russian Federation.  Maybe the power of the Olympic Ideal will overcome Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic agenda.

One may always hope.

And what about those very few of us who choose to honor the gods of our ancient ancestors?  When the one public ritual that is performed in their honor, before the eyes of the gathered world, is little more than a choreographed performance…, does that ritual have any true meaning?

If an actress recites a prayer and if I believe in it, am moved by it, does it have power?

The flames of our ancestors burned out long ago.

Others came, and relit them for their own reasons.

But still they burn, and the embers of those old fires have been awakened.

We need only fan the flames.

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