Tag Archives: Sex

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.

FeelTheFire

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.

2 Comments

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

The Mirror

She crouched in the middle of the gallery floor and we stood outside, watching her. She clung to that spot, naked, neither posed nor at rest, her face turned away from us in base humiliation.

And yet she was looking right at us, her green eyes meeting our own, challenging and defiant.

She looked so alone in that barren space, separated from the rest of us by the windows and the locked glass door.

I wondered how it must feel for her as we crowded around her in the confined space of the gallery floor, looking down on her in mingled loathing, and confusion, and lust.

We had talked about her plan a few days before. At the appointed hour, she would lock herself inside the student gallery (having reserved it for the week) and then disrobe. Lined up in a semicircle around her perch, a row of tall dressing mirrors, of various sizes, were all angled in such a way that anyone standing at the glass doors and windows of the gallery would have a clear view of her.

She would then spend the next several hours waiting there, until either she could endure it no more, or the university officials got wind of the ‘happening’ and shut it down.

Unlike other student exhibitions in the gallery, there were no flyers posted ahead of time, no advertising of any kind, except by word of mouth.

I was one of the few she asked to spread the word for her, one of the few who knew what she was actually planning.

I was surprised that she had confided in me at all. I hardly knew her, although I had heard many rumors. People whispered (in overly loud voices) about her. They said that she was ‘easy’, and that she ‘put-out’ for anyone who so much as looked in her direction.

This, I thought, was highly unlikely. She’d have never had the time.

The fact is, everyone was looking at her. She was gorgeous and she moved with a sultry catlike sway that both turned heads and dredged jealous innuendo out of otherwise friendly people.

I was working late in the ceramics lab when she found me and asked me if I could spread the word about her ‘happening’ the next day. She warned me that there could be repercussions for anyone found to be involved. When I asked her why, she told me what she was planning.

As I said, I’d heard the loose talk about her, and I could only imagine what a display of this sort would do for her already poor reputation. When I tried, haltingly, to express that concern (without saying outright “but people already think you’re a slut”) she offered me a smile that said she knew exactly what people thought of her.

The MirrorAnd then she said, “I want them to see how they look at me.”

I didn’t get it.

The following morning, I casually spread the word, and then I joined the small crowd that had gathered outside the gallery.

Everyone in the gathering was talking at once; “How conceited to be making such a show of herself…, she’s always been an exhibitionist, have you seen how she dresses…, slut…, not like she’s showing anyone anything they haven’t seen before…, poor thing…, nice tits…, her parents must be SO proud…, what is she trying to prove…, this is NOT art.”

I looked at her sitting there.

I wanted her, and I felt sorry for her, and I still didn’t get it.

And then I looked up at the mirror, at the reflection of myself and the others framed there. I saw our faces, the faces of people looking at her in condemnation and pity and lust and I suddenly understood what she was trying to do.

“I want them to see how they look at me,” she had said.

She was not the show.

She was not the art.

We were the ones on display, exposed, naked.

It wasn’t a pretty picture.

And that’s the thing about art: sometimes it is ugly and vulgar and even poorly crafted, but those are not the qualities that determine its true quality. Good art does more than just liven up the room, provide pigeons a place to roost, or moulder away in some gallery. Art should make you think and question, it should challenge your way of looking at the world around you by offering you a view of that world from a perspective outside your own.

“…the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

—Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

If art, in whatever form, is the mirror we hold up to nature, it may be then that wherever we see ugliness, we see only the reflection of what is unpleasant in our own selves.

That lesson has stuck with me ever since, although I have not thought about that naked girl on the gallery floor, or the mirrors, or the leering scorn reflected there, in many long years.

And then, last week, all of social media seemed to explode with outrage over Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMA’s and the memories came flooding back.

I cannot claim to have any special insights on what it is Ms. Cyrus is doing.

Are her over-the-top gyrations and silly facial expressions truly meant to entertain? Or is this current incarnation simply another character, a “bad-gurl” caricature, designed to bookend the overtly wholesome “Hanna Montana”?

I don’t have the answers to those questions and I don’t really care.

Far more interesting to me has been the public reaction to her performance.

In the last week I have seen the foul-mouthed, the oversexed, and the neglectful parents making common cause with the puritanical, the self-righteous, and the holier than thou, to cast dreadful aspersions upon Miley Cyrus, upon her parents, and upon the “society of permissiveness” which they claim is at fault for her debauched antics.

Behind all the sneering, the rolling eyes, the pity, the slut-shaming, and in the secret heart of the teary-eyed pious, folding their hands in prayer for Miley’s soul, lurk the real players in this little drama.

And to them all I say, “look in the mirror.”

It is one thing to critique the art and quite another to demean the artist.

When you gaze down upon her from your lofty heights and cast your stones, you would do well to remember that.

She is not the show, and the real shame belongs to you.

****

The event in the student gallery was brief. University staff quickly dispersed the small crowd, entered the gallery and escorted the young student out, robed and weeping silently. Word spread, and the details of the event became more inventive with each passing day. The gallery remained closed and dark for the remainder of week and the administration threatened to revoke the privilege of managing our own gallery, should anything of that nature ever happen again. They were deeply disappointed in the irresponsibility shown by those involved.

They were also, they claimed, concerned for her safety. By exposing herself that way, she might have given people the wrong idea, and someone might act on that.

In other words, “she was asking for it.”

Because women who dress or act a certain way always are, right?

Of course the rumors didn’t go away, but then neither did she.

Sometimes when I’d pass her in the corridors, she would catch my eye and smile.

It was the smile of someone who knew she had shared a secret.

We had each stood naked before the mirror.

64 Comments

Filed under Art, Culture, Modern Life

On Bealtaine

The world turns, and we turn with it.

We sway and dance together through this short life of ours.  The seasons pirouette eternally around us, for though our performance is but a brief spectacle, the dance of the gods is eternal.  They move around us every moment, great beings, though we are mostly blind to their passing.  We live and love and die within them, their bone and muscle and flesh, a world not created but awakened and aware!  They know us from our movements and our prayer, to their senses indistinguishable.  They are drawn to our halting dance, illuminated by moonlight and flame.  Recognizing it for what it is, an imitation of their own movements, they hear our invitation and the dance is joined.

The world hungers, and we hunger with it.

The sacred night calls to us.  First we add our offerings to the great fire while whispering blessings into the night air.  Then, like planets around their sun, we begin to revolve about the flames.  One side briefly warmed and the other cooling, goosebumps raised against the chill.  We touch and are touched, by each other and the night and a deeper attention which surrounds us in anticipation.  Waiting.  Wanting but not taking.  I hear a familiar voice, not with my ear but with my heart, and I move aside, not with body but spirit.  I feel my flesh filled and falling.  What more do I have to offer than a share of my own life?  He will see and touch you, through me, with my eyes and hands.  There is no greater trust I can bestow.  This body is ours now.  I feel what the god feels, a fraction of infinite need and hunger.  It is almost more than I can stand.  Who am I now, if not myself?  I am the god and the sacrifice and we are yours if you will have us.

The world burns, and we burn with it.

Who do you see when you look into my eyes?  I would call your name but we are without language now.  There is only the puff and blow of my breath and your hair whips in the breeze of it.  My lungs expand until I think my chest might burst.  Are you in there, or does your flesh also ache with the presence of another?  The roaring fire casts it’s light on the earth around us and our shadows seem to shudder and twist, our shapes changing as we come together.  You glow with your own light, brighter than the needfire which roars beside us, while above you, twin arches of bone climb into the moonlight.  Antlers rising.  And falling and rising again, like tree branches swaying in a wind.  Do you feel the coming storm?  The sky above is clear, yet I can feel the energy gathering in the air around us.  The small hairs on my arms stand on end as the charge builds.  Lightning about to strike.  It rolls and twists, seeking ground, needing release.

The world dies, and we die with it.

Thunder rolls.  Lightning flashes in the violent ecstasy of sky against earth.  We are the storm and perspiration falls like rain.  Fevered flesh on a bed of leaves, mortals and gods, atoms and galaxies, we dance and turn and twist in perfect rapture as the energy of creation passes between them.  Euphoria and triumph, mixed suddenly with loss.  The fire is burning down now, it’s heat diminished against the raw night air.  My heart is racing but my flesh is my own again and the shadows around us have grown calm and still.  What did you feel?  What did you see?  I want to ask the questions but I feel suddenly alone, bereft of the certainty that seemed so close only moments before.  Was it all imagined?  Are we but singular beings dancing our little dance within an indifferent universe?  I feel your hand in mine and the questions drift away on the breeze.  Gazing up with you, at the vast expanse of stars arcing above us as we lie cradled in the soft earth, I see it all very clearly.  Close your eyes and you will feel it moving under you.

The world is dances…,

2 Comments

Filed under Holidays, Poetry, Spiritual Journey, The Gods, Traditions