A Walpurgisnacht/May Day Vigil Ritual Menu

As we collectively shelter in place to slow the advance of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the world and the Wheel continue to turn. Spring is rolling around into summer (at least, in many places in the Northern Hemisphere), and we have come to that major pillar of the annual celebrations of many Pagans, May Day or Beltane, and the night before, which is known by many as Walpurgisnacht.

While we may not be able to conduct the usual festivities, we can still observe this Sabbath in all its richness while sheltering in place.

This ritual is a vigil: staying up all night either alone or with a partner or family. If you wish, you can sleep a few hours between the Walpurgisnacht elements and the May Day elements, but it’s good to be a bit sleep-deprived for May Day; it helps with being more emotionally open and vulnerable.

Walpurgisnacht activities:

  • Build a “bale fire” (Bel-fire), preferably in a safe outdoor location like a fire pit or cauldron, but if not, in a fireplace. Burn the dross from the previous year: list on slips of paper or index cards every single thing the past 12 months have brought that you are finished with and want to clear out of your awareness and life*, and burn them in the fire. Hooray! You are free of them!

    beltane-fire-festival

    Beltane Fire

  • Enjoy your vigil fire, and keep it fed throughout the night (or until you plan to go to sleep). You can cast aromatic herbs or incense on the fire on occasion, or for an exciting burst of fire, a handful of non-dairy coffee creamer. Know that people have sat vigil over a Walpurgisnacht fire for many centuries.
  • Make May wine for the next day: recipe here.
  • Deep in the night (at least midnight), contemplate your face in a mirror by candlelight. See how you have changed over time, how you are still a growing and evolving person. Silently vow to grow, support, and care for yourself as the year unfolds. If anything more comes up that you want to be done with, throw that in the fire, too.

May Day activities:

  • While we may not be able to dance around a Maypole this year, we can still make a plant or flower crown if the materials are available; even a simple ivy crown is festive for the day.
  • Have May wine…with breakfast! Float a berry or slice of ripe fruit in the wine and enjoy a special celebratory meal. Sit outside if you can, feel the Sun and the fresh air.
  • Hang blessing ribbons in the trees where you live, with wishes for the coming cycle and the year’s harvest.
  • If you have young children, play some kind of game and designate the winner the May Princess or May Prince (decide in advance what special privilege they have just for today!)

    May Queen

    May Princess

  • Celebrate an online ritual. The Humanistic Paganism website has compiled a number of them for you to enjoy and participate in.
  • Celebrate the season of sowing (and which many associate with sexuality) with some sacred sex: either with a partner(s) or by yourself. Or, if that’s not your thing, try some of these ideas.
  • End the day with a feast dinner and a celebration of love and family.

We are sequestered and held apart from one another at a time when our traditions urge us to be together and loving. It’s hard for many of us. We are social creatures and being separate is not our natural state.

For myself, I hope these traditions and offerings have given you some ways you can enjoy May Day in these so-challenging times.

Love and the joys of the season to you!

 

 


*I do not recommend trying to include the coronavirus among this dross. We are far from finished with it—and vice versa—and if you “make yourself a liar” in this way it will undermine the effectiveness of the rest of the ritual.

Walpurgisnacht and the Veil of Memory

In Northern European folklore from Ireland to the Czech Republic, the 30th of April is “May Eve”, which the Germans named for the Catholic St. Walpurga as Walpurgisnacht and believed to be a time when witches and evil spirits were abroad. It is believed—like Hallows in October—to be a time when the “veil” between the world and “the spirit world” is thin and passage between them in both directions is possible: a time when, just before the joy and lightness of May Day, there is exposure to dark dealings and presences.

Huge bonfires are burned on Walpurgisnacht, serving—as fires have since before modern humans even existed—to keep the Scary Monsters away.

Many flavors of modern Paganism have adopted this folkloric tradition to designate Walpurgisnacht as a night of spooky darkness, divination and ritual purification before the sensual celebration of May Day, or Beltane.

Human life is recursive. We are children, we come into adulthood, then we have children. We love, we lose, we remember, we love some more. The seasons pass: spring to summer to autumn to winter, and back to spring again.

In Atheopaganism, we don’t believe in a ghostly “otherworld” of spirits and fairies and the like. But there is something to be said for a moment of reflection, of delving into the deep and inward, before that bright morning of sparkling dew and green meadows, and the new green hope of summer.

So here, on May Eve, please consider taking some time to look back on the previous year, on the losses and gains, the joys and sorrows. Remember what is past; perhaps cast Tarot cards or runes, or gaze into a dark mirror for a take on the current condition of your subconscious.

Contemplate that which is “beyond the veil” tonight. And dawn will be all the rosier, all the brighter with May Day’s promise.

 

 

 

May Celebrations That Aren’t About Sex

  Hooray, hooray, the first of May
Outdoor fucking begins today!
             —old saw

So, Atheopaganism is a pleasure-positive path. That’s Atheopagan Principle #10: so long as others and the Sacred Earth are respected, we believe that joy and fun and feeling good are our birthrights as humans.

And that includes sex. Not for us, the furtive shame around sexuality that characterizes our Abrahamic brethren and sistren! We seek to be healthy in our boundaries, communications and behaviors, and happy in our enjoyment of our appetites. Sexuality—the ritual by which each of us is created—is Sacred, and it is a Good Thing.

And.

And that’s great, and all, but some of us are either asexual, don’t have a sex partner at the moment, and/or aren’t interested in a solo sexual celebration. May Day is coming and such folk don’t want their celebration centered on sexuality.

If that’s you, this post is for you.

So, how do we celebrate May Day  without the overtly sexual overtones that so often characterize such observances?

To start with, let’s visit themes.

In the context of the cycle of the year*, May Day is about adulthood, and that means not only sexuality but agency, responsibility, and freedom: freedom to make choices and freedom to enjoy pleasures.

So dancing around a May Pole is not out of the question. Toasting the season with May Wine, perhaps with a ripe strawberry in the glass, likewise. Choose—responsibly—pleasures to enjoy and share with your friends. Perhaps serve a multi-course dinner of sensuously delicious food?

Or cut loose and do something that feels freeing and wild! Dancing seems obvious, but what about renting a trampoline? Or going zip-lining?

Or river rafting, or skydiving?

Fires are traditionally associated with celebrating this time of year. Have a bonfire, and dance around that. Later, settle down around the fire, pass around tea or May wine or chocolate, and share between yourselves what freedom means to you–what makes you feel like an adult, and what you are working to create and achieve this year.

You’re a grown-up, with all the rights and privileges pertinent thereto. You have choices, so make them. Choose, for that one day, things that feel good and right to you, and share them with your community.

At a broader level, May Day has historically been celebrated as the International Day of the Worker. So another way of living in your power as an adult is to work to advance the causes of those who struggle and are oppressed. Because power is responsibility.

Celebrate being alive and living in your power as an adult. Feel the green blessing of the unfolding year, the beauty of Life returned to full flower, and know that you are yourself a part of that flowering.

Happy May Day!

 


* As I celebrate it, I should say. Atheopagans vary widely in how they celebrate the Wheel of the Year.