24th April 1987
Dear Tessa and Glyn,
Already it is nearly Beltane. I hope this will get to you in time. The fine weather we have been having this spring makes Beltane, the time of union and pleasure, seem a lot more appropriate than it does when cold winds blow all day on 30th April — and all through May. Now it is warm, the Sun shines, there is blossom on all the trees. It is just right. Even if it rains on May Eve, we have already had a promise of summer.
To our Pagan ancestors 1st May was the first day of summer. They celebrated on the eve of May Day, with dancing, feasting and, in some cases, a full invocation for fertility. This was a ’greenwood marriage’ and was understood to be a union in which the Horned God, through the medium of the man, impregnated the Goddess, through the medium of the woman. It was undertaken for the celebration of both life and love and to ensure fertility and fruitfulness in fields and among the animals and in the human tribe. Many young people would go into the forest together where, apart from making love, it was also customary to stay up all night, to watch the rising sun appear at the dawn of summer. All this was, of course, much frowned upon by the Church, when Christianity became the official religion in Britain. But the Beltane Rites remained popular with ordinary people. They were pleasurable and were felt to be vitally important to the well-being of the Earth. As the Christian years went by, however, the sexual enactment of the Sun’s union with Mother Earth became symbolic, rather than literal. Maypoles and hobby-horses and garlands and dances, all the May Day pageantry, continued, while the greenwood marriages did not (at least, not officially). Then the rise of Puritanism discouraged even these more respectable forms of celebration, except in remote places. Maypoles have long since been allowed back onto the village green, and are now part of the modern May fair, though few people understand what they mean in terms of sexual symbolism. Thus, in the past, was the God (who must be understood as Father of Life, whether in the guise of Sun King or Horned God) symbolically joined in union with the Goddess. The dancers connected themselves and their village to the web of magical energy that was created.
No one nowadays would invoke for an increase in the population of their town or village, but seen as a metaphor, the harmonious and fulfilling sexual union between the Lord and Lady is the clearest statement witchcraft can make about the way to happiness. It is about the reconciliation of all opposites in love, and the fruitfulness that arises from this. Fertility, too, can be seen as a metaphor for all kinds of things. It does not have to be about crops and babies. Even so, there are many mouths unfed, in our modern world — and many endangered species.
I hope this is not too confusing. The spirituality of pleasure is an alien concept in our present culture, but it is the theme of the Beltane Rite: innocent pleasure in sensuality, and the creativity which arises from union of opposites.
So what can you do, short of setting up a maypole in your living-room? If either of you were in a magical partnership, the answer should be obvious by now. And sometimes it can be that simple. But Beltane Rites which culminate in complete sexual union are usually happier if more informal, that is, if they take place outside the circle. There was nothing formal about the greenwood, after all.
A solitary witch, after casting a circle and invoking the presence of the Goddess and the God, could first dance and chant to raise power for magical activities, and then earth the power into an unlit candle which would be in the cauldron, at the centre of the circle. The chant could be this one, which I wrote a year or two ago, or something of your own.
I dance delight
on Beltane’s night.
All senses freeing,
I dance for being.
The flower and the flame
of love’s own rite
shall blossom. Sun
embrace Earth, bright.
Light the candle to the Sun. This is your Beltane fire, your substitute for the big bonfire you could have had blazing on some hilltop if we lived in more open and accepting times. Kindling the Bel fire is an invocation to the Sun God to bring blessing and protection for the coming year. This fire, traditionally, has many healing and purifying properties. In the past, cattle were driven through the dying embers to banish diseases. Pregnant women leapt over it, if not too far advanced in pregnancy, to ensure a safe delivery. Travellers would jump the fire for a safe journey. Ill people left their diseases in the flames. Others might simply make a wish as they jumped. Couples could jump the fire together, to protect their union and to bring them luck in marriage. As you light the candle, be aware of its power and significance. State, I light this candle to the Sun.
Next, take a dish of earth. Bless it in the name of the Goddess. Lay your hands upon it, and say, I bless, consecrate and set apart this earth, in the name of the Triple Goddess. May this be sacred earth, set apart for magic. For earth is of the Goddess, being her sacred body. (Remember that the Goddess is not only of the Moon, but of the Earth and of the farthest stars. She is Triple Goddess of the Circle of Rebirth, the Mother of All Life.) Decorate the earth with flowers.
Now, take a wooden wand (which you should not have cut from a living tree, for no damage should be done to the woods by a witch). Ideally, you should have carved this beforehand, into the rough shape of a phallus, but a simple peeled wand will do. The wooden phallus should, of course, be an appropriate size and shape. The peeled wand, on the other hand, should be any stick of the traditional wand length (from your own fingertips to elbow) and about half an inch in diameter. You should strip this of bark, and then oil it with vegetable oil. Though not directly phallic, it retains all the symbolism of passion and the Sun’s qualities. Oak is the best wood, but hazel is good too. Bless it in the name of the Lord of Day, the youthful, ardent one, the Lord of Life, the God of the greenwood. Pass the wand swiftly through the candle flame, the Bel fire, so that it becomes magically imbued, ’charged’ with power. Place the wand upon the earth, saying, as you hold it there,
As the wand is to the earth,
so the male is to the female
and the Sun to our blossoming world.
Joined, they bring happiness.
May the God of Life give—[Name something you want, for example, peace on Earth.]
May the Goddess bring it forth.
Sit quietly for a while, and picture the blossoming of what you have desired in life. You will not, of course, have now brought about peace on Earth all on your own. But neither will you have been ineffective. The spells and invocations of many witches, all working on themes like these, must eventually bear fruit, because life is on the side of peace. Leave the earth and wand upon, or in front of, the altar.
Walk deosil (clockwise) three times around the circle, then spiral into the centre. Go evenly, with grace, and meditatively. Sit beside the candle flame, allowing yourself to feel peaceful. Gaze at the flame.
The next bit is different, depending on whether you are a man or a woman. Tessa, now imagine (visualize) a red rosebud in your womb. Always, your womb is the source of your creative power, whether you are pregnant with a child, an idea, a work of art or an intention. Close your eyes. Picture the light from the candle streaming into your womb, so that the rosebud blooms, unfolds. Hold this for a while, feeling the scent and silkiness, the freshness and the colour of this fully open rose within you. Feel the strength and power of your own fully blossomed capabilities. Say,
I am woman,
strong to conceive and to create,
to give birth and to tend.
As I am daughter of the Goddess,
and blessed by the God, may I—[Here, name what you wish to bring forth in life, the form you want your creativity to take. For example, bring healing to others or write my book, as I have planned or whatever matters to you.]
Feel the strength and creative force within your womb, the centre of your being. See the power being channelled, as you have just described. Open your eyes. Always, the rose is within you.
Glyn, you should visualize a bright flame. This burns within your sexual centre, a point at the base of the stomach, just above the pubic hairline. It is your own male strength and energy, which may rise through your body to be released as giving, fertilizing power, in any form, or may be the potency which impregnates, creating a physical child. It is the force which blesses and bestows, a healing and creative energy, like the shining Sun. Visualize also that you are sitting in a garden and that a rose tree is in front of you, the roses in bud. (If you prefer, it could be eglantine, the wild rose tree, in a wood.) Say,
I am man,
and in my passion is beauty,
in my warmth is life.
As I am son of the Goddess,
and blessed by the God,
I offer my strength and vitality to—[Here name the area of life, the place, activity or the commitment you choose.]
Visualize the light streaming from you to a rose, upon the bush, so that it unfolds, blooms. Your flame is lowered by this effort. Much has gone out of you, the flame sinks down. Wait and watch, until a pink light streams from the rose towards your body. At its touch, just above the pubic hairline, the flame resurges. It burns higher and stronger than before. Open your eyes. The flame is always within you, giving itself in the ways you choose, and then rekindling.
After this, both of you should sit quietly for a moment. It would be a mistake to get up quickly. When you are ready, you can rise and jump the candle flame, making a wish.
That’s the Beltane Rite for a solitary witch; or one way of doing it. It is a time of pleasure and also of mystery. Hawthorn; the white deer being hunted; the love chase; the blossoming of flowers and the greenwood — they all play a part. Be happy in your blossoming and may your summer bring fulfilment.