Welcoming the May-O

Wow, another long Beltaine weekend somehow survived! Every year I think that I must be getting too old to do the all-weekend-outside thing, and every weekend (so far at least) I’ve proven myself wrong. I did manage to get an early start on preparation, packing my ritual items a few days early, and also getting the order of service and Shiny Late Newts written and copied on Thursday. Every little bit helps!

Friday morning as I left work, I put out the Grove Flame on my stovetop, since the Flam has to be rekindled every Beltaine and Samhain. Gen picked me up and I loaded everything into her car, then after work I picked up a few things at the store and headed to the nemeton. Several folks were there early as well, and I got the fire started without difficulty. (Some day I may even try to do it without matches – then again I remember the one time I saw Fox try to start a fire with a bow drill. Painful to watch!) Throughout the evening we had fifteen people stop by the fire at some point, including several of the campers who spend the summer tenting in the preserve. About half part midnight, after I drove back to the flower store to get Gen her car back, I stretched out my blankets a little ways from the fire and slept as best I could. Occasional burst of dirty jokes came through from the fire circle, reminding me how all-pervasive the social bonding power of a fire can still be.

4:30 came early (doesn’t it always?) and I got everyone woken up so we could make the drive to Big Lake. Fox and his family didn’t come out this year, so we had to make do without his canoe. The Kellers took their own vehicle up, and Sam drove me up. We left a bit later than usual, but with no canoe-related activities to deal with, I figured we’d still make it to the lake with time to spare. I’d brought my glass bowl from home for the purpose (planning ahead pays off!), and after we sang the river song and threw our offerings into the lake, I bent down and collected water from the lake. We waited by the oak tree and listened to the calls of geese, woodpeckers, and even a turkey in the pre-dawn stillness. The sky was clear, so we actually did see the solar disc while it was still on the horizon behind the trees. Sam held the bowl aloft and we sang the blessing song, then collected the water into the bottles we’d brought, and then we drove back to the nemeton, where I managed to get a few more hours of sleep. (It was actually easier to sleep once the sun was up, since it was a bit warmer. Next year, I need to dress more warmly.)

One advantage to being at Botsford overnight is having more than enough time to prepare. These days I haven’t been getting to the rituals until after 1, which can be frustrating when it doesn’t give me time to both physically get things set up and mentally prepare myself to lead ritual. No such problem this time, I had the tables by the fire circle decked out by 12:30. I forgot to bring the nice red drop cloths we’ve been using, though, but the dollar-store tablecloths I got looked good enough. And since Gen was doing a wedding all afternoon, we didn’t have access to the hospitality bin, but Mike was nice enough to get plates and cups and such that morning. Rod and Liz arrived early with the ritual gear, and we had the nemeton pretty much completely set up by 1:30. It’s the kind of super-early readiness that makes me worry that something disastrous will happen later to compensate for it, but the closest we got was when the folks putting the ribbons on the bilé forgot to tie them to the shaft before putting the bilé back in the ground, and they flew in the wind about six feet over our heads. Regular members and new faces continued to arrive early, and gather around the upper fire circle and talk.

Once I was convinced that U of M graduation traffic hadn’t delayed anyone else, we got started. This being our Beltaine rite, we do things a bit differently, in celebration of the boisterousness and joyousness of the spring season. We did the Outsiders offering first, followed by selecting our May King/Queen, in this case Steve, who comes to our Beltaine rituals with his wife and daughter. We did a “follow the leader” processional, which probably should have had a song with it, note for next year. The purifiers used face paint instead of ochre and an electric dragon bubble-blower instead of incense. The invocations were, well, fairly standard now that I look back at it. But I guess doing the whole ritual topsy-turvy would be a bit much. Once we had called upon Aren, we passed a glass flask of oil for the individual praise offerings. I was glad that people were more vocal than usual in their offerings, and even gladder than I save my own offering for last, as I always worry that my over-the-top offerings scare the new folks into not saying anything. (“I don’t have a song ready, I guess I should stay quiet.”)

My offering? Back in 1996 when we first contacted our local god of love and freedom at An Bruane, we tried to figure out through our trance work what name he was known by. I know I heard “Arawn”, which made no sense because Arawn was Welsh god who didn’t have anything to do with that. Others heard “Aren”, and that’s what we went with. But a few people said they heard “Arn”, and I thought, “Oh great, he’s the god of pirates. Arrrrrrn!” So I out on a pirate hat and wielded a pirate sword, and in honor of the great gods Arrrrrn, I taught two chants to the assembled congregants. Those on the east (port) side of the circle:

We are bloodthirsty pirates
And your ship we’ll smash and burn
Like a little twig
Snapping on the fire

And on the west (starboard):

Hook and sword, hook and sword
All your booty’s our reward
Shot and gun, shot and gun
All our pillaging is fun

The crowd learned it, well, about as well as I expected. (I actually got complaints that I hadn’t included these on the song sheets. A, individual praise offerings aren’t official ritual songs, and B, the surprise of the pirate offering might just have been dampened if anyone had read those before the ritual started.)

For group praise, we did our traditional “Dance of Transcending the Boundaries” (Hokey Pokey), followed by the Maypole dance. Sadly, since we were low on ribbon spools this year, I asked the Maypole topper makers to only do sixteen foot ribbons instead of our usual twenty feet. It wasn’t too awkward for most folks, but the circle was definitely a little on the tight side. Still, the dance itself was, well, as organized as ours ever are. Paul was nice enough to drum, and I scattered the rose petals on the ground, since Gen was still doing her wedding. Actually, the ribbon pattern on the bile afterwards was much neater than usual, maybe we should go with short ribbons every time?

After that, for our main sacrifice, we poured the flask of oil on the fire, and Steve jumped over the fire on behalf of the community. Rodney took the omen (Ehwaz – Fehu – Iera), and we shared May Wine (actual May Wine from St. Julian’s this time!) and sparkling strawberry as our return flow.

Back up at the fire circle, we had the usual potluck and raffle, and folks stayed around late. I think my time sense must have been off from spending a day offline (which is like a normal person spending a week offline), and most of us didn’t leave until after 6! gen did arrive to pick everything up and chat with those who were still there. I put the flam into a few soy candles and brought it home with me, where it now burns on my stovetop and will keep burning for the next six months. And so the summer half of the year begins! My thanks to everyone who joined us at some point during the weekend, and I hope to see you all at the summer solstice, if not sooner!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

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