Beltane





What is the nature of our creativity if not a
sacred marriage between inspiration and expression?

Preparation for Ritual:  
Dismantle the wreath made at Samhain to use in the Beltane Fires; erect the Maypole.

Beltane Liturgy


INVOCATION:
(From Starhawk, The Spiral Dance , pp. 188-189)

ONE:        This is the time when sweet desire weds wild delight.  The Promise of Spring and the Power of the Waxing Year meet in the greening fields and rejoice together under the warm sun.  The tree of life is twined in a spiral web and all of nature is renewed.  We meet in the time of flowering, to dance the dance of life.

Chant:    Gathered Here

RESPONSIVE CALL TO THE 4 DIRECTIONS

ONE:    Light of Light, Light of Inspiration, Light of Earth’s Sun, Light of Earth’s Moon, Starlight, Firelight, Cosmic Light that speeds on the Winds from the Center of the Universe ...
ALL:    Empower us. [Light the East candle]
ONE:    Fire of Hearth, Fire of Compassion, Fire of Earth’s Sun, Fire of Earth’s Moon, Starfire, Earthfire, Cosmic Fire that speeds on the Winds from the Center of the Universe..
ALL:     Empower us. [Light the South candle]
ONE:    Waters of Life, Waters of Emotion, Waters of Earth’s wells, Waters of Earth’s storms, Primal waters, Cosmic Waters that speed on the Winds from the Center of the Universe ..
ALL:     Empower us. [Light the West candle]
ONE:    Soil of Earth, Rocks of Earth, Caves of Earth, Fecund Earth, enfolding Earth, protecting Earth, Cosmic Earth that speeds on the Winds from the Center of the Universe,
ALL:    Empower us. [Light the North candle]

Song:    For the Beauty of the Earth NCH 28

Readings:

        Song of Solomon 1:1-8; 2:3-7; 8:6-7, 11-14
        John 2:1-11
        1st Cor. 13:1-13
        Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen: 101-105, 122-123

MEDITATION: “Sacred Marriage”

Beltane – Walpurgis nacht – is an ancient festival of fire celebrating the sun and fertility.  It is a “cross-quarter day,” a time midway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.  Like Samhain, or Halloween, which marks the transition between the worlds of Summer and Winter– Life and Death – in the Celtic tradition, Beltane marks the transition from Winter to Summer, Death to Life.
Love and Death is an archetypal pairing of what is seen as opposites in our human perspective – which makes a separation between the worlds of conscious living and dream.  This time of the year is another threshold time that allows us to move easily across that threshold:  the veil between the worlds is thin.
This festival has been studiously, deliberately, and hugely, ignored by the creators of the Western Christian church, whether Catholic or Protestant.  Of course it was.  Something so blatantly sexual and life -affirming flies in the face of a theology that insists that all of Creation is fallen into sin; that has argued since the 14th Century that women and animals have no souls.

So I ask the question I have asked as part of all of these meditations on the Celtic Wheel of the Year: Why should Christians pay any attention to such a clearly Pagan and discredited festival?  Especially in a time of AIDS and over-population?

In order for Beltane to make sense in today’s world, I think the metaphor of Sacred Marriage needs to be understood in a much wider context than simply the sexual union of a man and a woman in order to produce children.  It needs to be understood at a cosmic level, as it was of old – in the context of our present-day new cosmology, rather than the cosmology of the ancient world.  But first we need to understand the cosmology of the ancient world.

In that world, the Goddess, the Great Mother, brought forth all of life parthenogenetically – i.e., without the benefit of input from the God.  Later, when humans had figured out the role of sun and seed, the metaphor of sacred marriage was ritualized in the ceremonial union of the king or ruler with the representative of the Goddess in the Temple.  Such a ceremony assured the strength, the fertility, the success, the safety of the land and the people.  This ceremony is called “Temple Prostitution” by most clergy, which tinges it with degradation and evil – but that is merely the gloss of 1,600 years of Church dogma.  The union of the sun god and the earth goddess, or the Sky with the Earth, is as old as humankind and as varied in interpretation as all the tribes.

The Harper-Collins Study Bible, NRSV, says in its introduction to the Song of Solomon:
        The Song of Solomon has been understood in radically different ways.  In the traditional Jewish understanding, the Song is a religious allegory recounting God’s love for Israel and the history of their relationship.  For Christians it is an allegory of Christ’s love for the church.  These allegorical interpretations enabled the Song to become sacred scripture.  Seen as sacred marriage liturgy, the Song is, or at least is derived from, a Mesopotamian ritual of marriage between two gods, the fertility god Dummuzi-Tammuz (perhaps represented by the king) and his sister Inanna-Astarte (represented by a priestess).

In these sophisticated times, we have little need for that kind of sympathetic magic, at least in a literal sense.  But I have a notion that our ancestors knew very well they were dealing with metaphor and not with literal truth.  They knew they were journeying between the worlds of dream time and waking time. 
And of course that was the old cosmology – the triple-decker universe.  It has only been 400 years, since Copernicus early in the 16th Century, that we have known the earth is not the center of the universe – and for probably 250 of those 400 years, the knowledge has only been available to the rich and educated.  No wonder theology has such a hard time breaking out of tradition.  Even today, although we now know that there are billions and billions of galaxies and stars and planets, and incredible mysteries of dark matter, black holes, and the theory of creation itself, we are still limited in our perception because we are earth-bound. 

I like to quote Werner Erhard, who said, “the biggest obstacle to transforming the quality of our lives is that we still live our lives as though the sun really does come up in the morning!”

Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry have written a book that is becoming a Bible to me: The Universe Story.  Here is Genesis as told with the understanding of the new cosmology:

        At the base of the serene tropical rainforest sits this cosmic hurricane.  At the base of the seaweed’s column of time is the trillion-degree blast that begins everything.  All that exists in the universe traces back to this exotic, ungraspable seed event, a microcosmic grain, a reality layered with the power to fling a hundred billion galaxies through vast chasms in a flight that has lasted fifteen billion years.  The nature of the universe today and of every being in existence is integrally related to the nature of this primordial Flaring Forth.  The universe is a single multiform development in which each event is woven together with all others in the fabric of the space-time continuum.

Or, in the immortal words of ee cummings: “when god decided to invent everything he took one breath bigger than a circustent and everything began” The second half of that poem says, “when man determined to destroy himself he picked the was of shall and finding only why smashed it into because.”  But that’s another sermon.

Here’s another quote from The Universe Story, which will return us to our topic:

        To say the stone falls to the Earth misses the active nature of the event.  To say gravity pulls the stone to the Earth suggests an underlying mechanism that has no basis in reality.  To say the Earth pulls the rock to itself fails to capture the mutual presence of the universe to each of its parts.  It is more helpful to say that the planet Earth and the rock are drawn by the universe into bonded relationship.  The bonding simply happens; it simply is.  The bonding is the perdurable fact of the universe and happens primevally in each fresh instant, a welling up of an inescapable togetherness of things.
What we need, in Swimme & Berry’s words, is a “ritual rapport with the cosmological order and the mythic powers of the universe” as we understand those powers today.
Today we also know that there are many ways of relating to or bonding with each other.  Our society is in a legal and liturgical debate about what constitutes “marriage.”  We speak of same-sex unions, partnerships, common-law marriage, single non-celibacy, extended families, how it takes a village to raise a child –  and what is the nature of our creativity if not a sacred marriage between inspiration and expression?

So let’s take a look at two of the traditional, pre-Christian rites of spring: the Sacred Beltane Fires and the Maypole dance.

The Beltane Fires [light the fires]

The Celts who moved from the eastern end of the Mediterranean into Europe and the British Isles, burned fires on mountaintops to invoke Lugh, the Sun God.  The young men would leap the fires to prove their virility, and the one who was left after the flames rose as high as possible, was rewarded with the chance to impregnate the best maiden in the community: often the high-king’s or the battle chief’s daughter, or someone chosen by the Priestess of the Goddess.  This insured the continued fertility of the people in child-wealth for the tribe.  Sometimes two fires would be kindled and the cattle and other animals run between them to insure fertility and strength of the herd.  Newly weds and others hoping for children or health or wealth in the year to come would run between the fires or jump over them.
The fires were kindled with cedar and pine, long considered to be symbols of fertility, purification, protection, wealth, and healing.  In the Song of Solomon, which we heard parts of earlier, the prince says, “our couch is green; the beams of our house are cedar, our rafters are pine.”  The pre-historic writer of this song wasn’t just describing the most available building materials!  In old Europe, used pine branches, rushes, and herbs would be swept from the floors of the houses and burned in the Beltane fires, and new fresh rushes and grasses brought in.  Freshness, newness, cleanliness, purification: the Beltane fires assured all of it.

This evening we when we light our Beltane fire, each person should take handfuls of herbs from the wreath and drop them into the flames .  Let the old dried herbs signify the old staleness of winter life or the error of the old cosmology.  If you wish, you may name the staleness or the old idea or problem that is in the way.

Maypole

Now for the Maypole.  This is an obvious phallic symbol, wraped in colored ribbons, signifying health, new life, longevity, fertility, creativity, success, love, moving on, starting over – because that’s what the Maypole is.  Each one should choose a ribbon and tie it on the pole.  When everyone is ready we will weave the sacred tree with life: with community, with new metaphor, with joy, solidarity, peace, love, abundance, and prosperity.

Finally, after we have danced the Maypole and thrown the old herbs in to the fire, we will celebrate the Sacred Marriage Feast with wine, milk, bread, and honey.

Song    Lord of the Dance

DANCE THE MAYPOLE

THE BELTANE FIRE FESTIVAL

[Throw in handfulls of herbs from the Samhain wreath and make a wish/intention to leave the old, and embrace the new growth of Spring and the promise of Summer]

Song   
Hymn of Promise

SACRED MARRIAGE FEAST

Invitation

Celebrant:        Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and those who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without price, for our Godde calls us away from oppression and greed to a realm of justice and love;  Godde calls us away from famine and poverty to an abundance of milk and honey. 
People:        Arise my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

Consecration

Celebrant:        (Pours Wine into a Cup) Feasts are made for Laughter; Wine gladdens our hearts;
People:      Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready.
Celebrant:    From the beginning, the alchemy of the Universe has provided for Life on Earth in due season. 
        (Pours milk into a cup): Milk:  the Mother’s nurturing food.
People:      Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready.
Celebrant:        (Pours honey into a bowl) Honey:  the product of Sacred Community.
People:      Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready.
Celebrant:        (Breaks the Bread) From the beginning, the guiding myth of the Universe has been profligate abundance and willing sacrifice.
People:      Love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.
Celebrant:    Come to the garden, sisters and lovers.  Gather myrrh with spice, eat the honeycomb with the honey, drink the wine with the milk.
        Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love.

[All are invited to come and partake of the elements on the table: Tear off portions of the Bread to dip into the honey; pass the common cups of wine and milk. Some participants may wish to feed each other.]

Thanksgiving
Praise and  Thanks be to the Word, and the Knowledge, and the Wisdom of Godde, without which nothing was made that was made.  All honor and glory and power and blessing be to you, now and forever, worlds without end, Amen.

CLOSING:

ONE:    We who are creatures of Earth face the North, from where we first perceive our grounded Mystery.
ALL:    As we return, we will remember.  (Extinguish North candle)
ONE:    We who are creatures of Earth face the West, from where we first perceive the Water.
ALL:    As we return, we will remember. (Extinguish West candle)
ONE:    We who are creatures of Earth face the South, from where we first perceive the Fire.
ALL:    As we return, we will remember.  (Extinguish South candle)
ONE:    We who are creatures of Earth face the East, from where we first perceive the Light.
ALL:    As we return, we will remember.  (Extinguish East candle)

DISMISSAL

ONE:     For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace
W:     The mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands
M:    Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle.
ALL:    And it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off.

FEAST