Beltane Play List

There aren’t many parties like a good old Beltane party. Here are are a few of our favorite tunes to turn up between the drumming, chanting and maypole dancing.

Hymn to herne

 

Hymn to Herne by  S.J. Tucker

 

 

work it

Work It by Missy Elliot 

 

 

 

sexy silk

 

Sexy Silk by Jessie J 

 

 

beltane fire

 

Beltane Fires by Gaia Consort

 

 

fever

 

Fever by Madonna 

 

 

 

 

Share your favorites in the comments!

 

 

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Planned Parenthood in Ancient Egypt

By Maatkara sit Hatheru

Silphium
Silphium an extinct plant used by the Egyptians as a contraceptive

The ancient Egyptians did not have a wedding ceremony. The woman moved into the man’s house and that was that. They were considered married. Marriage was an arrangement between families, not individuals (which is not to say there was no romance in Egypt, but that’s a story for another time). Girls were typically married by 14, boys by 20. The “purpose” for marriage was to have children – the more the better. For farmers and the working classes, many hands made light work. Among the upper classes, children were used to make alliances, and for all classes, many children increased the likelihood that some would make it to adulthood and live long enough to support their parents in advanced age (although the average life expectancy was 30-36 years, there were always individuals who lived much longer). So why would families, especially women, choose to not have children? Well, maternal mortality rates were high and medical treatises (papyri) advocated spacing pregnancies. There were any number of other situations which discouraged woman from becoming or wanting to become pregnant.

Both fertility and infertility were considered medical, rather than a “will of the gods” conditions. Physicians and midwives were very familiar with human anatomy and understood the connections between sex and pregnancy and the male role in conception. Although physicians believed the uterus “floated” inside a woman’s body, I would like to think midwives knew better. Medical papyri correctly stated the number of days of a typical pregnancy.

Women used several methods for contraception, or to induce abortion (yes, they did that, too). The most common form of contraception was use of a barrier of some kind to cover the cervix. One oft-described method was to soak cotton in a paste of acacia fruit, honey & dates, then insert it into the vagina. The acacia fermented into lactic acid, still an ingredient in some spermicides. Pomegranate was also consumed or made into a paste to use as a spermicide.

Silphium, a plant native to the ancient North African city of Cyrene, was consumed as both a contraceptive and an abortifacient (to terminate pregnancy). It was so overused in ancient times it went extinct millennia ago, though it must be pointed out that it also had other medicinal uses. Its close relative, Asafoetida, is still used for contraception though it is considered less effective.

Although it’s difficult to know how much men knew about these practices by women, there were also male contraceptive devices. The two most common types of condoms were made of sheep intestines, or linen soaked in olive oil or the same spermicidal mixture mentioned above.

Should these methods fail, there was a popular pregnancy test which, incidentally, was still used into the last century: mix the woman’s urine into emmer (wheat) and barley. If both sprout, she is pregnant, if not, she isn’t. If the barley sprouts it’s a boy, if the emmer sprouts, it’s a girl!

Sources:
Ghaliounghui, Paul, The House of Life: Magic and Medical Science in Ancient Egypt (ISBN 90-60780620)
Jayne, MD, Walter Addison, The Healing Gods of Ancient Civilizations (ISBN 1162621478)
Nunn, John F., Ancient Egyptian Medicine (ISBN 0-8061-2831-3)

Drums to Soothe the Savage Beast

by Devra Gregory

You feel the need to unwind, the stress of the day or week has your nerves frazzled.

“I need a drink” you decide. So you text a few bff’s for a happy hour relief session. You find yourself at a sports bar with music blaring, TV screens all over the walls and a mighty noise from the dozens of other stressed out victims of urban life. Hmm.

You order a “stiff one” in hopes it will help. After getting more stressed waiting for “way too long” for your cocktail, finally relief arrives.

Or does it? Is this really what you need to unwind?

After your second cocktail you are beginning to feel like you just don’t care about your stress. You have become removed from the “feeling” of being anxious, but in truth, nothing has really changed. As soon as you sober up you return to your daily dose of anxiety. Sound familiar?

 

While Pagans do have a tendency to imbibe and worship at the feet (or chalice) of Bacchus, drinking as a way to escape rather celebrate can be cause for a vicious cycle of personal discombobulation..

Do you wonder if maybe there is a way to actually help your nervous system deal with the stress rather than covering it up with alcohol, drugs, or distraction?

Many studies have been conducted on the healing and harmful power of music. Japanese scientist Matsura Emoto froze water crystals after being exposed to different music and words, and sure enough classical music and positive words produced symmetrical lovely patterns, while water exposed to heavy metal music and words of hate crystals did not really shaped into any crystallized form at all, just a chaotic mess. We are mostly water. Ya think?

Music certainly has the power to influence our behavior. Remember when they were blaming heavy metal death music for teens becoming murderers? While those kids probably had problems long before listening to death metal, the music most certainly DID affect them. Not only did the frequency of the sound agitate them into action, but the subliminal (or not so subliminal) programming of the lyrics influenced them. Through the music we listen to we are told what to think, how to act and how to behave with love interests. How many more love songs do we need telling us “I can’t live without you?” Aren’t we done with co-dependency by now? Music (sound, frequencies, waves etc.) absolutely has the ability to change our moods (meditation music), create synergy with others (great old folk tunes) or raise our vibration (primal drumming). Music with words is entering our subconscious minds and literally programing us with each “I can’t”, don’t want” “f bomb toward others” we hear. I say turn off the firkin radio, get yourself out of those generic sports bars, and find some conscious uplifting music to unwind to.

 

How do you feel after singing along with John Lennon’s “Imagine” or James Taylor “You’ve got a friend”? Like there is hope? One of my latest go to uplifting songs is from a Cirque De Sololei soundtrack called “Allegria” and even though it’s mostly in Spanish, she is talking about “that magic feeling.” So Pagan.

 

So what about drumming? Drum circles are popping up all over the place now. In ancient cultures drums were integrated into peoples lives on a daily basis. They were used for celebrations, conflict resolution, to commune and communicate with the spirit world. Without scientific studies these tribal societies knew or felt the power of rhythm.

 

When a group of people play together there is an entrainment that occurs, a connection what some call “riding the rhythm train”. And it feels great! I’ve been drumming for over 20 years and when I first started in a shamanic drum circle I was hooked. I stopped thinking, I went into “being” mode like in meditation, but the drums were also uplifting my spirit and my energy. I connected to the energetic pulse of those around me.

After several years of loving the drum I began to study traditional West African drumming and things started to change. I went back into my head. The rhythms were so complicated; I switched on my thinking mind. My teacher would constantly tell me “don’t think! Feel it.” In Africa they hear these rhythms from inside the womb, it is in them. I played piano as a kid, learned theory and classical music. While I would have been a better pianist if I felt that music, my mind never really let go. I was never told to just feel it!

 

To drum, my western music mentality needed to go. So now when I play a drum, I tune into the vibe of Africa, to the connection with others, and do my absolute best to get out of my head. Besides unwinding the mind, the healing benefits of hand drumming are numerous- it stimulates the immune system, balances the left/right brain hemispheres and connects us to others who are playing. The secret is not to go into the head/critical/thinking mode!

 

sacred flameAt the events I offer called sacred fire circles, we are not so concerned with traditional rhythms, because the intention is to be connected to the synergy of the circle. Some people are dancing; some sing (songs with uplifting lyrics!) and the drums are in support of the circle. There is an incredible connection with drumming and dancing around a fire; the the pulse of the drum brings us back into our tribal roots. The vibration gets us on our feet and into our bodies. We feel the drums inside of us, and that wave of sound can clear away obstacles through it’s permeation into our very being. Whats equally important is what’s going on with the drummer’s energy and what they are sending out (magically speaking) when they play. It’s important to play with reverence and not ego, to keep the synergy flowing. When we dance barefoot on the earth under the stars to the sound of the drum and the fire crackling with it’s alchemical force, something deep in our primal nature floods back into us. We connect to our own ancient roots, unwind, and let go of the stress that plagues us.

 

If only the mind doesn’t say “I can’t”.

 

Dev

Devra Gregory

Creator of Sacred Flame Fire Circles

www.sacredflamefirecircle.com

Beltane: Revelry and Consummation

by Jesper Toad

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Each season in its place abide;

Sweet Beltane’s love chase consummates

And revels, coiling threads of fate;

Each season in its place abide.

Beltane falls on the first day of the month of May, conjuring images of flowers in profusion, ribbons woven round the May pole, and sexual dalliances as the evening shadows gather.  The year has turned toward summer; the seeds that broke earth at Candlemas have grown tall through the time of the Vernal Equinox, and burst forth in bloom.  Walter (2014) suggests that plant life and flowers are the central theme of the mythology and rituals of this season (p. 111).  This sabbat lies opposite All Hallows on the gyre, at the confluence between the moist tide of increase and growth that peaked at the Vernal Equinox, and the hot tide of light and warmth that finds its apogee at the Midsummer Solstice.  The last vestiges of winter are past, the gates of summer stand wide, and the serpent energy flows through the earth, enlivening the green.

In Germanic countries the beginning of summer was known as Hexennacht, or, alternatively, Walpurgisnacht.  In German folklore, Hexennacht—literally the Witches’ Night—was the night witches held their meeting upon the Brocken Mountain, the highest mountain in northern Germany, in anticipation of summer.  Walpurgisnacht, named for the Christian saint Walpurga, was observed as a protection against witches and their maleficium.  At first glance, the folklore of the Hexennacht appear to have little to do with swelling life force and sexuality of a Beltane festival, but the connection between the witches’ sabbat atop the enchanted mountain and the circular dance around the May Pole come together in the notion of the axis mundi.

Both the Mountain of the witches’ springtime celebration and the May Pole are manifestations of the archetypal axis mundi, a center point of the universe connecting our middle world to the underworld and the otherworld (Eliade, 1991, p. 39). At this point of connection between the lower and higher realms the crossroads meet, and the four directions come together.  It is from this center that communication and transvection between the worlds occurs (p. 40).  According to Eliade, all inhabited landscapes possess a sacred center—be it the navel of the earth, the world tree, a cosmic mountain, or a sacrosanct garden—and this point serves as a connection not only to the other realms of being, but is also a connection to the birth of the cosmos and the single point from which creation unfolds, and from which it may be refreshed, replenished and restored (p. 39-43).  The center point is often placed in the middle of a circle, suggesting both the point of eruption into creation, and the world that is created.  The center point and circle recall the ring of dancers around the central May pole, each dancer connected to the center by a radius of ribbon, weaving crimson and white in a cross-cross pattern; the point expands and contracts, advances and recedes, energizing and depleting the cosmos within the circle’s circumference.  It is the great ebb and flow of life force that, as Black Elk observed, always manifesting and moving in circles (Neihardt, 1961, p. 121).

Like All Hallow’s Eve, Beltane is a time when the membrane that separates this reality from that waxes thin and supernatural forces slip across into our earthly realm.  At the turn of the season from spring to summer the fairy world often spills into the human realm, and the fey appear to be particularly active at this time.  To appease these otherworldly spirits, and to ward off the influence of malevolent or capricious entities, flowers and greenery would be collected from wild, outside the safe boundaries of the human dwellings and domesticated fields.  This gathering in the May would be used to decorate the town, this preventing mischief should they be visited by the fairies.  Leafy boughs and primrose would be scattered across thresholds, Saint John’s Wort tucked into barns and cow stalls to protect livestock, and the familiar European May Pole brought in and installed in the central square and festooned with greenery and flowers (Walter, 2014, p. 112).  The month of May was avoided as a time to wed in the middle ages: it was considered too great of a risk that the new wife or husband may be an enchanted woman or man from the other world (p. 11).

A mythic theme is reflected in rite of gathering in greenery and flowers from the countryside and bringing it into the heart of the town: it heralds the return of the untamed forces of nature and eroticism embodied in an archetypal woman or man—sometimes a pair—and the May tide revels celebrating the lust and life that comes with the renewal of spring (Walter, 2014, p. 112).  Bringing the wild spirits of nature—the King and Queen of Fairy—across the boundary dividing the wilderness from the cultivated fields and into the very center of the brings the feral and fertile into the sterile, staid, follow-the-rules structure of the civilized man-world, and celebrates an underlying human-as-animal condition that we often strive to downplay, ignore, and repress.  Here again we see the archetypal elements of the sacred center and the circumference, and an interplay between that which held in the center, and those things beyond the horizon.

31064414_10156468104125116_8136678829168001024_nTwo of the archetypal manifestations associated with the erotic wildness are the Queen of Ephame and the King of Fairy.  We are probably most familiar with them from their appearances in Western literature, in particular the characterizations of Titania and Oberon in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Other appearances of the Queen and King of Fairy in literature are numerous.   In the Legend of Thomas the Rhymer features the seduction of Thomas the Rhymer on May Day by the Queen of Elfhame, the world Elfhame referring to the land of Fairy (Howard, 20014, p. 85).  Tam Lin must be rescued from the Queen of the Fairies.  The Fairy King appears in various guises in medieval romance, sometimes in the form of a dwarf.

31047770_10156468104095116_7351608921137610752_nThese entities also appear in the dittays of early modern witch trials, particularly in Scotland.  Thom Reid, a spirit that attended to Bessie Dunlap, was ordered to assist Bessie by the Queen of Ephame herself (Wilby, 2009, p. 18).   Isobel Gowdie was entertained by the King and Queen of Fairies in Downie Hill (Henderson & Cowan 2001, pp. 45-46).   Andro Man of Aberdeen claims to have sired many children with the Queen of Ephen—and alternate spelling to Elphame—who Andro Man describes as having knowledge of all magic, and the ability to appear as old or as young as she pleases (Bennet, 1841, p. 116).   Accounts of the Queen and King of Fairy usually occur early in these forced confessions, later in the dittays narratives of fairies and elves are succeeded by and overlaid with the interrogators’ notions of imps, demons, and the devil (Wilby, 2009, p. 24 ).

Narratives surrounding the Fairy Queen and King portray them as ruling over a land that lies near or next to the world we inhabit, but somehow removed.  Time seems to move differently there, with a lifespan in the human world taking place within a moment in that fairy realm.  In stories the Queen of Elphame looks to steal away a human child, or takes a particularly handsome or talented man as her lover, spiriting him away to live by her side.  The Fairy King is also known for his sexual proclivities—one wonders at the parentage of Merlin, who was supposedly begotten on a mortal woman by a demon—but is more often noted as a granter of wealth or a keeper of treasure.  In this guise the Fairy King is often depicted as a dwarf or gnome, and, like Rumpelstiltskin, not above attempting to make off with a human child.  Much of the mythology of Fairy and its royalty are connected to the underworld, so much so that in many stories the two realms blend together, and the fay and the dead are often indistinguishable.

The higher powers, represented in the forms of The King and Queen of Fairy, or the King and Queen of May, Flower Bride and the King of the Green, come together at Beltane in the greenwood in the archetypal hieros gamos—the sacred marriage—a regeneration the land (Howard, 2014, p. 87).  The May Pole is a representation of this dance, as is the Wiccan Great Rite, which celebrates the conjunctio oppositorum—the mystical union of opposites—as represented as in a woman and man, or, when enacted in token, a chalice and an athame, and the release of energies that occurs when opposites conjoin.  Beltane is the point in the annual cycle of the gyre when the necessary union of energies occurs, engendering the fertile energies and releasing them into the world (author’s note: the hieros gamos can be a physical coming together of people of opposite or same genders: any time there is a coming together of two people there exists a union between the “I” and the “not I” and a sacred union can occur.  Furthermore, the sacred marriage is metaphorical: to make it literal is to create endless problems and misses the point entirely).

The Cushion Dance

 

Often danced at medieval weddings or at the conclusion of May Day festivals in times gone by, the cushion dance affords an alternative to the ubiquitous May Pole dances utilized in most Contemporary Pagan Beltane rituals.  Although the cushion dance replaces the May Pole, and instead has as its central features are a pillow, a chalice, a kiss, and a serpentine follow-the-leader type dance, the symbolism of the meander around the central point is still in evidence.  I have re-interpreted the cushion dance to feature the Queen and King of May: in this rite the intense erotic energies embodied by these figures is passed on to the participants in the dance with a shared toast and a kiss.

This dance begins when the Queen of May brings bears a drinking horn or chalice and a cushion into a circle of dancers.  Once the music strikes up she dances around the room alone, until she chooses the King of May as her partner.  She places the cushion upon the floor and kneels upon it with her partner.  After drinking from the horn or chalice they share a kiss and then rise and dance around the circle together.  The Queen of May passes the cushion and drinking horn or chalice to the King of May, who then dances around the circle and chooses his partner, and they repeat the kneeling upon the cushion, the drink, and the kiss, and dance together as the Queen of May follows behind.  This continues, with one partner choosing the next, and the others dancing behind in an increasing line.  When all the participants have been chosen, the assembled dancers are drawn into a ring and dance in a circle (Eckenstein, 1911, pp. 58-66).

Lavender’s Green

 The pillow dance requires some kind of music.  I recommend the lively Irish fiddle tune The King of the Fairies.  Another alternative would be the song below, rewritten for this dance, and sung to the tune of Lavender’s Green.

 Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
Dance in a queue,
Choose your true love, diddle, diddle,
Give them your heart,
And pledge your troth, diddle, diddle,

To never part.

Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Here is the king, diddle, diddle,
Give him is due,
strike up the chase, diddle, diddle,
let him advance,
when  she consents, diddle, diddle,
then they can dance.

 Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
Dance in a queue,
Choose your true love, diddle, diddle,
Give them your heart,
And pledge your troth, diddle, diddle,

To never part.

 Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Now comes the Queen, diddle, diddle,
Sparkling with dew,
Queen of the May, diddle, diddle,
white is her gown,
bedecked with flowers, diddle, diddle,
green is her crown.

Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
I dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
and I choose you,
Drink of my cup, diddle, diddle,
Give me a kiss,
For you and I, diddle, diddle,
We will find bliss.

Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
Dance in a queue,
Choose your true love, diddle, diddle,
Give them your heart,
And pledge your troth, diddle, diddle,

To never part.

Lavender’s green, diddle, diddle,
Lavender’s blue
Dance in a ring, diddle, diddle,
Dance in a queue,
Choose your true love, diddle, diddle,
Give them your heart,
And pledge your troth, diddle, diddle,

To never part.

 

References

Bennet, W. (1841). Miscellany of the Spalding Club. Aberdeen, SCT: Constitutional Office.

Eckenstein, L.  (1911). Comparative studies in nursery rhymes.  London, UK: Duckworth & Co.

Eliade, M. (1991).  Images and Symbols (Philip Mairet, Trans.).  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Harris, N. J.  (2004). Witcha, A book of cunning.  Oxford, UK: Mandrake of Oxford.

 

Henderson, L & Cowan, E. J. (2001). Scottish fairy belief: A history. East Linton, SCT: Tuckwell Press.

Howard, M. (2014).  Liber nox: Traditional witch’s gramarye.  Cheltenham, UK: Skylight Press.

 

Neihardt, J. (2014).  Black Elk Speaks: being the life story of a holy man of the Ogalala Sioux.   Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Original work published 1961.

Walter, P. (2014). Christian mythology: Revelations of pagan origins (J. E. Graham, Trans.).  Rochester, VT.: Inner Traditions.  Original material published 2004.

Wentz, W. Y. E. (1911).  The fairy-faith in Celtic countries.  London, UK: Oxford University Press.

Wilby, E. (2009). Cunning folk and familiar spirits: Shamanistic visionary traditions in early modern British witchcraft and magic. Chicago, IL: Sussex Academic Press.