A Pagan friend of mine mentioned recently that Beltane isn’t really a holiday they celebrate; being single and not all that interested in sex, they don’t connect with a lot of the symbolism associated with the holiday. I can totally relate. It may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t happen to think that sex is the pinnacle of my existence. I like lots of things more than sex, including good books and really clever puns. Don’t get me wrong! Sex is fun and beautiful, and as a woman who is child-free by choice and in a loving, stable relationship, I’m having pretty much the best sex of my life right now, free of the pressures of procreation, with a partner who knows what I like and likes what I do. And I fully expect it’s only going to get better. (Lucky us!)
Still, my friend’s comment gave me pause. Surely, Beltane isn’t just a holiday for horny lovers. As part of the ever-spiraling dance of the seasons, there are a lot of blessings that this time of year brings that can be enjoyed by those of us who are chaste, single, or otherwise just not that interested in turning everything into a metaphor for girl-parts and boy-parts.
So in the spirit of the season, here are seven things to love about a sex-free Beltane!
Maybe you’re not having sex today because you’re single, and maybe you’re actually kind of pissed about it. Never fear! While happily committed couples are making googly eyes at each other, you can indulge in another tradition strongly associated with this time of year: the ultimate tragedy of desire. Call me morbid, but I’ve always found the relationship between sex and death to be rather fascinating. From the tragic love triangles of Celtic mythology that often led to the heroes’ deaths to the spawning salmon traveling thousands of miles only to die after mating, there’s a reason Beltane is opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year. Take some time to revel in the dark, gothic truth of it all.
To look on the bright side (pun most definitely intended!), there’s the sun. Having celebrated the balance of light and dark only six weeks ago on the vernal equinox, the hours of daylight are now rapidly overtaking the night. You might find yourself waking up in the mornings with more energy, or suddenly realizing that it’s already past dinner and the sun’s still up. Lots of us can suffer from a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the dark doldrums of winter. Take advantage of the lengthening days to get up a little earlier than usual and treat yourself to an invigorating morning cuppa, or enjoy a relaxing walk in the park after work and watch the sun set.
With its emphasis on the agricultural cycle as a defining metaphor, the Wheel of the Year can feel somewhat out of sync for those of us living urban, industrialized lifestyles. But even in the heart of the city, now’s the time when plants start to push their way through the cracks in the sidewalk, whether we want them to or not. If autumn is a time of fruition and harvest, spring is the season for life on the edge. Take some inspiration from those bold dandelions and stubborn thistles: take a risk, put yourself out there, push yourself to try new things, ask yourself what dreams you’ve been harboring that it’s time you brought out into the light. You never know what might happen. (If things don’t work out, next year you can always try Item #1: Tragedy.)
Flowers aren’t just for winning your sweetheart’s affection or getting into the pants of the girl next door. (Okay, let’s be honest, even plants know that they make flowers mostly for sexy-time reasons. But work with me here.) Everywhere I go these days, it seems like some new color has burst forth into the world, or some sweet new scent lingers on the breeze. After the drab browns, grays and washed-out greens of the late winter and early spring, the first days of May bring forth a rainbow riot of colors and textures. Sit back and enjoy it as the landscape takes a tumble into Oz. Or join in: make some art, take some photographs, put on your best and most colorful clothes, cook some delicious-smelling food. Don’t do it for anybody else. Just delight in the pleasure of your own senses.
Now’s a great time of year to lighten up and learn how to be a kid again. No, seriously. Spring is a time of youthfulness, playfulness, adventure and anticipation. Remember what it was like back when you were young: gazing out the classroom window at the blossoming trees, and realizing that you only have a few more weeks of school left and then you were free! You had so much to look forward to, you could almost taste it: summer camps, s’mores, fireflies, fireworks, picnics, hours spent lazily reading or climbing trees or swimming with friends. Back when we were kids, we were so anxious to grow up and become adults, somehow imagining that life would be easier and the world would make a little more sense. Now that we’ve made it to adulthood, it’s probably nothing like we thought it would be. But one of the great things about being a grown-up is that we can learn how to be good parents to our own inner child (even if our real childhood was actually kind of shitty). So stop trying to be so goddamned serious and trendy and edgy and jaded all the time, and have a little fun. Let your inner 6-year-old out to play. The world won’t come to a screeching halt if you stop being so responsible for a little while. You know this, because you’re a grown-up now and one thing grown-ups know is that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Right?
Lots of folks see Beltane as a time for planting seeds, either literally or metaphorically. Take a second to think about what a seed actually is. Inside that tiny, unprepossessing shell are the spiraling DNA blueprints that can grow anything from a delicate daisy to a towering oak. Even if you don’t connect powerfully to the symbols and traditions of your ancestor’s agricultural past, you can still geek out a bit when thinking about how a seed is kind of like a hologram. All that information and potential stored within one tiny acorn, including the information necessary for the once and future oak tree to produce more acorns, which will in turn grow into more oaks that will produce more acorns… and so on and so on. It’s acorns all the way down! If you’re an eco-freak and sci-fi nerd like me, spend some time meditating on the seeds of potential in your life and the universes upon universes they contain. You might discover that, just like the T.A.R.D.I.S., you’re bigger on the inside.
I’m not talking about sex here, I’m talking about love. Love gets a bad rap these days. In an age of cynicism and sarcasm, lots of people have come to see love as a sign of weakness, naiveté, simple-mindedness, even laziness — all white-light and law-of-attraction — an unwillingness to acknowledge the dark and difficult parts of life. But love is not merely the romantic attraction or sexual tension between two pretty people on the television. It’s so much more than that. Love is passionate and risky, unflinching and courageous. Love not only lifts us up into the heavens, but drags us down into the underworld in pursuit of our deepest fulfillment. It’s dangerous, not because it is indolent and banal, but because it has a beauty that burns away our self-possession and self-delusion. Love rages within the heart of reality. So whether you have a sex-free Beltane, a naked neighborhood orgy, or anything in between: embody love. It’s the reason for every season.
UPDATE: My dear friend, Cat Chapin-Bishop shared her thoughts over on my Facebook page:
As someone with a strong spiritual identification with deer, I find Beltane pretty much of a bust, actually–always have. Deer rut in the fall. They give birth in May. And birth is work!
Which reminds me…
8. Work! — Throughout the world, May 1st is celebrated as International Workers’ Day, commemorating the Haymarket Massacre in 1886, when during a workers’ strike in Chicago, police attempting to disperse the crowd fired at civilians and killed four people. In many countries today, May 1st has become a focal point for protests in support of workers’ rights and other social and economic justice issues. So however you celebrate Beltane, remember to take a moment to honor the spirit and sacrifice of all those who have worked so hard to make the world a better, more just place for everyone.