Go outside. Take off your shoes and place the soles of your feet in the soil of a garden or a wild place. Smell the air. It is filled with the scent of flowers. Mid-Spring is a woven tapestry of pollination and fertilization, arousal and eros, senses awakening and animal bodies ignited with primal desire. The natural world is bursting with color and texture that spark attraction and evoke the instinctual currents of creativity. The peak of this season offers us a peek into the intertwined vines of art and sex and song. It’s Beltane time!
In Pre-Christian Europe, Beltane was celebrated at the mid-point between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice, and was a celebration of wildness and witchery, beauty and blossoming abundance, of our creature self and the breath of life as a doorway into pleasure, of ecstasy as the portal into existence. This Pagan festival was steeped in flowers, fire, and flirtation.
Antlers and horns. roses and recreation, liquidity of body and melting ice, honeymead and wine in the cup of Dionysus, devil and lovers drenched in lust, bulls, bees, and a season blooming into heat.
Beltane is the call of embodiment, the breath of the body as an ever becoming art piece, the blessing of being here on this earth with skin and bones and a beating heart.
The horned creature in the ancient world was a symbol of life giving energy. Fertilizing and virile, powerful in its presence, commanding and inviting at the same time, dangerous and delicious, grounded in desire; an intermingled entity of gender fluidity, goddess and beast, devil and witch, trees and antlers, underworld and rebirth.
The antlers of the stag – an extension of their skull, a structure composed of bone, cartilage, skin, nerves, and blood vessels – invite us into renewal and dissolution, death and rebirth. Antlers remind us that life is a cyclical, recursive journey, that drops us down into our wild roots, and teaches us to reach up and branch out with the trees in the wind.
The deer will grow strong antlers, only to shed them later, and grow new ones. Antlers are used for sexual attraction. It is a symbol of the primal passion within our animal body that generates the possibility of life. Females will choose the stag with the strongest, largest antlers. They are also used as weapons, as part of male competition within species, as well as protection from predators. Lust and fight are held together in this boney structure, weaving the complex net of life and death, of defense and attraction, of the primordial relationship between war and sex.
We know that christianity exiled the natural, oppressed the dark, demonized the feminine, and tried to bury the primal power of our creature self, the parts of our humanity that are not only like the plant world, but are inseparable from it.
The word Os in Latin, which not only means “bone,” but also means “soul,” reminds us that the wild bones buried under church and patriarchy are not dead, but rather, like the antlers of the deer, call us to the rebirthing of our untamed particles, and invite us to reclaim the potency of our primal presence. It needs not be resurrected, as it has never gone further than our very own breath. It does ask us though, to tend to those pieces with tenderness, as they rise from repression, and turn to them with the responsibility that we must cultivate between self and society, the personal and the planetary.
Our wildest, most animal-like, plant-like self is where the creative pulse of our cosmic heartbeat is fed, and where the gifts with which we nourish the world come from. This is where art comes from. This most natural, organic essence is also the generative energy of culture; poetry, paintings, sculptures, and dance, music, mythology, books, and songs.
Like the sexually attractive antlers that are also used for protection, the rose is a sensual being, a delicate, enticing presence that lures you toward it through a maze of thorns.
A symbol of femininity and fertility, of passion and irresistibility, of royalty and innocence, and most of all, of love. Its perfume is intoxicating, its beauty is enchanting, and its seduction is sensational. The rose is a love spell, a potion of erotic power, and a sprinkle of Spring’s sorcery. But watch out as you reach for it! Its protective magic is as potent as its stunning looks.
Goddesses of many different cultures around the world, from Aphrodite through Astarte, to Innana and through Hekate, the rose doesn’t skip Lakshmi, and reaches into Kuan Yin, its petals land within the wings of Isis, and swirl around Mother Mary and the Magdalena.
The power of the goddess is life giving. She is earth, she is the space around and within, she is the seed of possibility and the womb of creation. And with life we get death. With intoxication we get toxicity. With the beauty of youth we also get the intense surrender of decay. The French know it when they call an orgasm; “La Petite Mort,” which translates as “little death.” Wherever there is life there is sex. Wherever there is life there is death.
Beltane time is here in the Northern Hemisphere, and in the Southern Hemisphere Samhain is casting its gorgeous shadow over the land. Whenever existence begins, a process of decay is initiated with it.
Roses and antler, the horns of the beast and the brush of the painter, the wild, creative spark of life along with growing light, and the power of death lurking in its shadow, pleasure and inspiration are ready to be invoked.
You don’t need to wear antlers the way young men used to on Beltane Eve, and chase young women into the woods. You don’t have to jump over a fire with a lover, or drink honey-mead with them for an entire Lunar Cycle. You don’t have to do sex magic to celebrate this holiday. The erotic metaphors of the Beltane festival are an invitation into our own creativity, into the different ways that rupture can burst in our lives, into a process of lusting for the little delights in our world.
Walk by a rose and let its fragrance fill your whole body. Lie on the earth and let her body hold yours. Follow a butterfly with your eyes, as it flutters its wings and let the vision of color and delicate features touch your heart. Make art. Make a loving gesture toward yourself and another. Relish a gorgeous meal with someone you love. Dance barefoot to your favorite songs from when you were a teenager. Beltane magic speaks from the crevices of a life lived with attention to pleasure.
Turn to the work of pleasure activist Adrianne Maree Brown.
Listen to Audre Lorde’s Uses Of The Erotic
Watch this art piece by Maria Molteni
Listen to an interview with the artist Maria Molteni on The Missing Witches Podcast
And join me for a Beltane Somatic Ceremony – learn more about myths, symbols, and archetypes that evoke the spirit of Beltane, and bring these mythopoetic energies into your body through a ritual of breathwork, meditation, and movement. The details are here. It’s a powerful journey, my dears! I’m excited to share with you!