I commented to my wife last night that I am a "pretty crappy Wiccan." Most others have a very full calender year in which eight Sabbats (holidays or festivals) are celebrated and thirteen moons (26, if you are the hard charging type who does the new moons too) give occasion for further spiritual and magickal work. I, on the other hand, have come to mostly prefer a minimalist approach to religious observance.
Now it might be said that 21-34 (or more) observances in a year is nothing...Christians go to Church once, twice, or even three times weekly. This is quite different though, because for Wiccans there is much, much more to these events than listening to sermons while sitting in the pews and possibly singing a few hymns. For those charged with planning and organizing an event, a lot of preparation is involved and a multitude of variables are considered and addressed for each instance. Even those who "just show up" can be completely exhausted after a ritual, as the good ones will often tax you both physically and spiritually. In other words, effective participation in Wiccan rituals are not only spiritually rewarding, but they are also draining. This is one of the reasons why I, in my absolute commitment to slackerhood, do not observe most Sabbats. In our practice, we emphasize only two of the eight, Samhain and Beltaine, while the others are minor observances at best.
This is probably heresy to many Wiccan gurus. But in all honesty, as I have said before, I could care less about the seasonal cycles and and crop rotations, except for any symbolic value it might have for understanding common human experiences. Therefore, any insistence by self-styled fundamentalists that the full year need be observed falls flat on my decidedly deaf ears. I've made no bones about the fact that to me any intelligent distillation of Wicca does not result in a form of nature-worship, it must lead first and foremost to the God and the Goddess, and then to man and woman. From a certain perspective, Wicca is a humanist religion, as contradictory as that may sound. As a result of this disregard for the agrarian and pastoral cycles, most of the Sabbats, while useful, have much lesser significance. In contrast to these six lesser Sabbats, Beltaine is the most squarely focused on the God and Goddess, their relationship with one another, and their union. It most effectively sums up the whole of our theological and most important philosophical premises, and is to my mind therefore the most holy of Wiccan Sabbats.
Having justified the cause for my being a "crappy Wiccan," let me move on to how Beltaine was for Mr. and Mrs. Page this year. I think I have made mention previously that I fall into the vast majority of practicing Wiccans that are solitary practitioners (although I wonder, if it is my wife and I doing the "practicing" together, are we really "solitary?"), and this can be quite advantageous in some respects, particularly in that it allows for comfortable sharing with intense intimacy. This is very desirable for a Beltaine ritual, so to us being "solitary" is actually quite useful on this the greatest of Sabbats.
Wiccan Traditions in large part hold some elements of ritual to be oathbound, meaning that they are not revealed to outsiders, even Wiccans from other traditions. Likewise, I too believe that some portions of ritual are best left undisclosed because of their (sometimes intensely) private nature, and because they cannot be understood properly by unprepared minds. Therefore, while I would like to share the many wonderful things that happen within the Circle, I am necessarily confined to presenting themes rather than specific ritual content.
Having said that, the ritual this year was even better than that of last Beltaine. I use a basic structural template for rituals that I created some time ago, but it is designed to allow for the simple insertion of content given the overall purpose at the time. On this occasion we had decided to simplify things, and narrowed down to the most basic of frameworks. Even the portions having to do directly with the purpose were kept simple. Recognition of the seasonal significance, the importance of the specific point according to the Wheel of the Year mythos, and even the offering to the God and Goddess were left as the most simple of references or even stripped out completely. This was all for the purpose of minimizing mechanical demands and maximizing opportunities for internal experience. All in all, I think we were well served with this approach. Keep it simple, stupid.
Rowan, as usual, was to me nothing less than inspirational in leading the Circle. While Wicca is about the polarity of the God and Goddess through the equal recognition of both the feminine and masculine divine, it is almost inescapable that woman is the face and heart of the religion, whereas man may tend to be seen in only the shadows as the mind and perhaps the strength of the path. If it is the right woman, I prefer it this way, as they can stir the hearts and spirits of men unlike anything else. In the right circumstances, I am blessed that my wife is such a woman that she allows me to clearly glimpse the face of God, even if only for a time.
This post is not intended to be about my wife, and certainly it isn't. It is about Beltaine, its meaning, and my experience with it this year. But as a representative of the Goddess in a Wiccan ritual, and as my Wife and partner, I cannot approach the subject without mentioning her at length. And that is how it should be for Wiccans, I would think. Having it in mind to attempt a sharing of the magick that happened in this rit, as it does in virtually all of them, it is perhaps best to describe her first in her more common mundane roles.
My wife is in many respects an exceptional woman. Despite very modest beginnings, she has managed to do well for herself professionally, all through the sweat of her brow and the implementation of a very keen mind. Where the standards for what constitutes a good mother seem to have taken a significant dive in accordance with our post-modern sensibilities, I can say that my wife is a genuinely good Mom. This is something I could not say for many mothers I have known. And then there is the fact that she puts up with me. That in itself verifies her superior quality. She is constantly on the go, from morning to night, fulfilling often thankless and always demanding roles. As a result, her standard way of being is to be firmly plugged into the mundane real world on an almost perpetual basis. And then there is the part of her that is, well, quite common and unremarkable...or rather, unexciting. I certainly don't mean to say that in an offensive way. Having lived with the opposite before, I now value steadfastness and predictability over the sorts of "excitement" many modern women bring to the table. But like most of us, she too has her faults, peculiarities, and insecurities. These needn't be mentioned because they are so few, and mostly because she could possibly read this. Besides that, for every flaw she may have, certainly I have a dozen.
But Wiccan practice calls us to adopt a mode of being that is quite opposite of the hard reason-based no-nonsense reality we are accustomed to. To be a successful practicing Wiccan, we need to do things which are difficult for many of us. Among these are to develop an ability to suspend "reality" and visualize concepts, to leave ourselves and become our greater selves, to alter our consciousness in a way that allows for direct communication with the divine and to receive the mysteries, and to cultivate a path that may challenge our fears and insecurities at their very core. If our day to day lives presents ourselves in the light, then Wicca is most certainly a path of darkness. It asks us to put away the comfortability of what we think we are in favour of finding the fullness of what we really are, and to correct and/or embrace and nourish that. This means not only that we recognize and address our deficiencies, but that we find the strength of Deity that resides in ourselves. It also requires us to dig deep within, even into our more primal shadow selves, and to bring forth that which we would never consider in more polite company. The whole process is much easier said than done.
At a diminutive (to me) five foot six with the softest of "girlie" voices and a very non-threatening personality, my wife is the cute, sensible, dependable, and overall seemingly unremarkable girl (which would be a deceiving presumption) that everyone likes, but most likely pay no attention to if they are looking for "excitement." So it would seem unimaginable that she could also be what I have seen, and even more, that she could be what I have seen inside her. This was the first instance of magick in the evening, to witness the literal transformation of the woman I know into something far more than she usually allows herself to be. Through the whole process of readying ourselves, even as far as approaching the edge of the Circle, she is still identifiably my wife, insecurities and all. But it seems that once that first foot of hers crosses into that space, the Priestess rises and inhabits her. In fact, I would argue that it is an instance of her drawing down the moon, in a minor sense, without even the effort or intent of doing so.
Having opened by entering the space, calling the corners and welcoming Deity, we set about the "meat" of the ritual. Without going into detail, this is where the next major, and to me magickal shift took place that transformed not only the persons involved, but the ritual itself. Using a traditional acknowledgment of deity in one another, between the act and the words spoken there was a significant connecting between us that came about as a result. I will not specify the act, but I will simply say that the recognitions were fivefold. And I don't want to overly romanticize what took place, but to my mind it was comprised of three parts; that we were transported beyond the intellectual understandings of the ritual purpose and into the mysteries of it, that we truly entered that place between worlds, and that the Goddess and the God were upon us. It became a moment of genuine recognition of the other in their glory, and the beauty and creative power of union with the necessary other. If only for a time, all was right in the universe.
There was certainly more to the ritual, but suffice it to say that this and following events were the desired peak of it, to understand and commune with Deity though one another. As above, so below. But the effects of the rit went well beyond it. As what I suppose some might consider a bit of a "cheat," sometimes we set up an auto-closing of the Circle. The way this works is that we summon elements (call corners) and invite Deity as normal. But depending upon the nature of the ritual, upon its pronouncement we may also command that the elements depart at certain point in the rit, and we thank the God and Goddess for their presence and welcome them to depart as they wish at that same point. Likewise, we declare the Circle faded and opened at that appointed time. Then it is a simple matter of visualization and acknowledgment on our part, allowing us to absorb, reflect, and recuperate at a time when we are likely most spent, rather than having to go through all of the further mechanics of doing a full opening. Think of it as putting the closing sequence on cruise control. Cheating? Perhaps. But all of the important bits are retained, and it works well enough as far as we are concerned.
On this particular evening, however, our "cruise control" maneuver also allowed for us to stay very much connected without interruption, which is kind of the point. Still in the midst of that post-rit glow and sharing a glass of wine at the foot of the altar, we began our customary post-rit critique and sharing of experiences. This led to lots of sharing with one another, not only as a man and wife, but as the best of friends. We tend to lose this a lot of the time when going through the motions of life, as do virtually all other couples. But for this evening we had re-established the balance of things, and put some of the really important things back in perspective. It is a shame that we get so caught up in the world that we lose sight of the truly miraculous things surrounding us, and often the most miraculous of all, the other half that walks by our side along the path.
I am blessed in that under the right circumstances my High Priestess can for me truly become the very embodiment of the Goddess. Despite any imperfections, when she enters the Circle and shifts consciousness, she is probably the most beautiful woman that I have ever known. To look at her face and hear her voice weakens my knees, simultaneously summoning and taming the beast within. Her movement mesmerizes me, and the strength with which she commands the Circle while retaining the most feminine of ways humbles me. What she becomes validates the truth of my path and me as a man, inspiring me to be even a better one.
Again, provided that it is the right one, women rule the Circle. And so it should be. With Wicca, even the manliest amongst us hears the whispers of the Goddess first and foremost. She is the driving force in men, commanding us with the promise of her touch. Her power is subtle, but when wielded with wisdom, it is absolute. She is the solid earth on which the greatness of man has been established, yet has the power to reduce our accomplishments and aspirations to mere debris. She is the sea which carries us gently into the bliss of her bosom, but can rage against us when we fail to respect her. This is the Goddess, and the Wiccan woman who grasps Her; beautiful within and without, soft yet fearfully strong, and undeniably sensual, yet very particular with whom she would honor with her gift. Who can deny her? None, and certainly not I.
So now another Beltaine has passed, and I am resolved in my conviction now more than ever that Wicca, when properly understood, is not merely a "valid" path, but in this day and age, it is a critical one for those who would hear Her when She calls. I walk away from yesterdays Circle having inside of me the strength and mind of the God, knowing the heart and comfort of the Goddess. I am closer now to my other half than I have been in quite some time, having been previously distracted by the far less important "real world," and my respect, admiration, and longing for her is increased. My path is somewhat clearer, having seen through the mist, and I am encouraged to journey yet further on, for I know she is beside me, whispering in my ear those words of strength and promise.
Quite simply, these are things you ain't gonna learn in Sunday school or by watching Charmed. They are the very real magick of Wicca.