Portraying Bealtaine in RIVER MAGIC

A photo of a bonfire by Pexels from Pixabay.

The excerpt reads: “Lacey shook her head. “No orgies, but there is an old custom of going into the woods to make love as a sort of sympathetic magic.” She leaned into the heel of her hand, savoring his burning face.

“And… is that happening at this celebration? The one you just invited me to?” he stammered.

She tittered. “No, silly. Bealtaine celebrates the fertility of the land now that spring is here. From what I understand, there’ll be a bonfire. Fiona says they let the flames die down, then they jump over them for luck and purification. It sounds fun!”

From RIVER MAGIC by M. A. Phillips

Ah, it’s that time of year again! The trees are budding, song birds fill the air with their joyous melody, and many Pagans are celebrating Bealtaine.

It’s one of my favorite holidays, mostly because it’s the anniversary of when I first joined with other Pagans to celebrate! Thankfully, that time never involved orgies or any sex (that I was aware of). Unfortunately, Bealtaine is an uncomfortable day for many because they’ve been coerced into sex for the sake of fertility symbolism and certain folk customs. In addition, many modern rituals occurring around the first of May have been terribly binary which leaves out many in the LGBTQ+ communities.

I was a young college student when I attended my first Bealtaine. My mother, protective soul that she is, went with me. Truthfully, I invited her because I was nervous what I’d encounter. It turned out to be a positive day filled with new friends and an inspiring spin around a Maypole! I spent my second Bealtaine with my boyfriend (now husband). We were consenting adults, and we enjoyed many flirtatious dances around a Maypole. We even went into the woods behind my home once – certainly not on display for anyone save the trees. Thus the holiday will always evoke those memories. I imagine this is so for many other people, but I strive not to emphasize that in the public rituals I lead with my grove. We’ve turned our focus to the land and purification. We’re an inclusive, family-friendly circle. Focusing on the rhythms of the land is just more enjoyable and comfortable for everyone.

Druid author John Beckett recently wrote a piece in which he explores the discomfort many Pagans feel due to the association of Bealtaine and sex. The last few years, many brave individuals have peeled back the rug to reveal the egoists, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and abuse swept beneath. I’ve said this before, but I count myself incredibly lucky not to have experienced that first hand, but it’s never far from my mind as I strive to facilitate and maintain a positive, family-friendly, inclusive environment for my fellow grovemates, community, and daughter.

An excerpt from my upcoming novel RIVER MAGIC. The text says, “Minutes before, she admired many forms of beauty gyrating around the fire. They were the incarnate images of deities she had seen behind glass in museums, at art history lectures, or on the pages of books — round, supple, slender, hard, and in between. She loved the way Cian watched her with adoration. Tonight, she was a goddess too.”

When I wrote my first draft of RIVER MAGIC, some characters have a wonderful Bealtaine, and there is a sexy scene between two consenting adults. It’s private and not part of the ritual. The fictional grove celebrates the growth of the land around them and they jump the fire for luck, just as my grove does. The romance scene happens in part because the characters’ relationship is blossoming along with the world around them, and it worked. As I edited my second and third drafts, I wanted to make sure that there was a balance. I didn’t want to portray these Pagans as a sex-crazed group. Some of the characters are not straight or cis. I even have some check on my main character, Lacey, after she vanishes from the bonfire. I wanted to show a balance and respect toward both the flirtatious energy of Bealtaine and authentic Irish customs passed down to the American diaspora. I also wanted to help readers understand, especially those who are new to these traditions, that it’s not just one thing. I wanted to show what a safe and functional group can look like. After ritual, some Druids of various genders and body types dance around the fire. Those who don’t care to dance drum or clap. They dance for the joy of it, with no ulterior motives. Lacey, relishes in the comfort and confidence it brings. She feels safe and accepted, and she carries the beauty to a private moment.

Bealtaine is more about protection and purification than sex. If you’re a fellow Pagan author, how are you working to portray Bealtaine? Are you trying to include authentic, historical traditions from Ireland? Do you include anything sexy, or are you focusing solely on purification or nature’s glorious reawakening? Are you seeking a balance between the two? Leave a comment below because I’m genuinely curious!

If you’re curious about the excerpts, RIVER MAGIC will be published by Shadow Spark Publishing on Samhain 2020!

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

3 thoughts on “Portraying Bealtaine in RIVER MAGIC

  1. Not a Pagan author (unless you mean my blog, in which case yes), but I held an online Beltane ceremony for my moot. Quite a few of the members are gender-fluid, bi-sexual and trans and so I stay away from any if the associations with sex. I talked about how Beltane isn’t just about masculine and feminine energies coming together, it’s about the energies of life. Whether it’s a baby, of course, or plant life, the animal populations, a spell or even a project.

    When my Grove was active, we never made it about sex there either, we focussed more on the Season and what happens in nature.

    Hope that helps?

  2. Beautifully written commentary on Beltain. You are correct to stress that it is NOT about sex, but about Mother Earth, and her renewal. To often, sex is stressed alienating many that would love to enjoy this wonderful holiday.

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