It’s Still May, So This Beltaine Report Isn’t Really Late Yet

The week before any of our High Days is always a busy one for me, but the weekend before our Beltaine started off my busy period a few days earlier than usual. The fundraiser at Olga’s Kitchen plus our usual Coffee Hour on Friday, then our rescheduled-due-to-bad-weather work day for our new nemeton plus a stop by Gen’s house for Game Night on Saturday (I ended up heading home at 7, but given that I’d been up since 2:45 AM, I’m semi-impressed with how long I lasted), and then on Sunday my first Bug ID Day with the Huron River Watershed Council in many years, and thus died any chances of me getting any decent rest before the week began.

And then I spent Tuesday getting the raised garden bed reassembled in the back yard and filled with topsoil, just in time for our An Bruane session that evening where we transplanted the emmer wheat seeds I had started, along with some of the barley seeds we blessed at the equinox ritual. Dirty work, but someone has to do it. We also planned the opening ritual we’ll be doing at Michigan Pagan Fest in June. (And if you non-members wonder what we do at An Bruane, yeah, this one was fairly typical.)

My usual ritual preparations proceeded as normal (and thank the gods we only do the newsletter at the solstices and equinoxes these days, not having to write an article or compile the calendar makes getting ready for the “big four” High Days a little bit easier) and so by Saturday evening, everything was pretty well set for Fire Watch. Except for the same problem we had at four of our five Fire Watches last year: That nobody would actually be spending the night with the fire. I still got the fire started, and gen, Molly and I blessed it, but once we were all ready to head home, I had to put the fireout and take the flame home with me via candles. Well, I was going to bring the new flame home with me anyway, but now there was no chance of trying again the next day if the candles went out.

The alarm went off early (but not as early as usual for me on a work day) and I met a few new folks, Lynne and Sheila, at the park and ride nearest my house. I had already decided not to repeat last year’s experience of driving back to the ritual site in case anyone showed up there, so I’d sent out an e-mail telling people, hey, if you’re still interested in doing the dawn rite, call me, or I’m just going there straight from my house. (Given that, unlike at Botsford, we can’t just leave a fire burning unattended at the ritual site, we may need to rethink the whole Dawn Rite process for future Beltaines.) But I did get a late call from Lynne and Sheila, so we met at 5:30 and headed up to Big Lake and did the ritual on time. We’ve never had fewer than three people attend it before, even the one in 1998 with the torrential downpour that led to our only ritual postponement ever. Still, if I’d had to do it on my own, I would have. Sometimes part of my job is keeping our traditions going.

After stopping by the headwaters of the Huron (and almost losing Sheila as she wandered the trails there), I stopped by the house for a few hours more of sleep, then drove with the flame to the ritual site. (With a quick stop at Kroger for supplies, and hoping that nobody noticed the candles in the car and freaked out.) Getting the fire restarted was fairly easy. Getting my pavilion was not, as it was missing one plastic connector piece, but it did provide me with a long enough pole to grab the plastic grocery bag that had gotten stuck in the middle of the small marshy area. (Yay for being in a tool-using species!) I set up everything I had as best as I could with only one small table, and eventually other folks arrived. But with no tables. (We need to invest in a permanent picnic table or two for the site.) Fortunately, my big red dropcloths made an adequate picnic blanket for the potluck food, and my card table was enough for the raffle items and the “sacred propaganda” and donation chest.

As usual for a Beltaine, the tricky bit was getting our bile set up as a Maypole. We lost one of the two prongs at the top when we couldn’t quite bring it down slowly enough, but it still looks good. The other problem was that we couldn’t get our usual wide ribbons, so we made do with crepe paper, which held up to the wind, um, better than I had feared? Only one of them broke before the ritual began. A flawed appearance to begin, but people tell me the gods prefer an imperfect-looking Maypole dance. (Personally, I’ve seen professional dancers do a Maypole dance at our local Renfest, and if the gods think our version looks better, then I disagree with our gods.)

Everything else went fine with the setup, and the weather was, well, less hot than last year. The joys of doing ritual in an open field nowhere near anything that provides shade. But even I thought it was comfortable, and given my temperature sense, I assume everyone else was okay with it. Before the ritual began, we passed around the cookies that Candy had brought, and Molly ended up with the marked one, making her the May Queen for the year.

So seventeen of us processed to the circle playing “Follow the Leader”, and did the usual ritual openings without too many problems. (I did forget to have Noal do the Outsiders offering before we processed, but we apparently got by with it.) Our deity of the Occasion was Aren, our locally contacted god or love, beauty, and freedom, who I invited into the ritual once the opening were done. For the individual praise, we passed around a flask of olive oil, and in addition to my usual offerings, I placed some movie theater popcorn at the Ancestors altar for Roger Ebert, whose inspiration to get me writing more is one of the reasons this blog exists at all.

For the group praise, we did our traditional “Dance of Transcending the Boundary”, followed by the Maypole dance, which actually didn’t go too badly considering the relative weakness of the crepe paper (only one more strand broke during the dance). Serena shared a video of the dance on our Facebook group, and even I have to admit that my singing wasn’t awful. (We still need to get Richard to come to more rituals, though.) And as the randomly-selected-by-sortilege representative of our community, Molly jumped over the fire as our final group offering. And I offered the oil from the flask ijto the fire for our main sacrifice.

We then took the omen, which was, um, odd. As Rodney summarized it for me via e-mail:

The omen was Thurisaz, Hagalaz, and Nauthiz. Normally this would be a really bad omen. Thurisaz is typically very destructive. Hagalaz is disruption and Nauthiz is need. But I really wasn’t feeling bad things from Aren. I decided to pull a rune for clarification and got Kenaz, torch which I took to mean inspiration. Thus the reading was while we had disruption in our lives (Hagalaz), and were in a state of need (Nauthiz) we needed to find a way to over come this and that we have Divine help (Thurisaz, as Divine power acting in the physical world). It is a message of hope to overcome adversity.

I was obviously concerned after seeing those first three drawn, but part of our unwritten Grove social contract is that if I approve you to be the Omen Taker for the ritual, I go with what you tell me, whether I read it that way or not, and whether it’s good or bad. So, the omen being a good one, we blessed the mead (kindly donated by Gen, because I forgot to ask for someone to get May Wine early enough) and sparkling fruit juice and drank them. And then I almost forgot to give everyone jump the fire for blessings, but at least I remembered before we started closing up the ritual space! Serena posted a video of this too, and I will unequivocally state that my jump looked terrible. As GLADoS would say, it was majestic, like an eagle… piloting a blimp.

Once the ritual was over, folks stayed around and socialized for longer than they usually did last year, probably because it wasn’t baking-hot in the field. Between the raffle and donations, we got $66, not quite enough to cover the $80 site rental, but better than we ever managed last year, if I remember rightly. I also took folks back to the site of the new nemeton, well-shaded and probably going to be a lot more pleasant for ritual on hot days. Clean-up didn’t take long, and I was on my way home at 6.

So, a later write-up than usual, but hopefully I covered everything folks would want to know about our Beltaine. And hopefully our new nemeton will be ready for use at the solstice, and hopefully I’ll see many of you there!

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