Atheopaganism

An Earth-honoring religious path rooted in science

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!

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    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.

Loving the World: An Atheopagan Sex Magic Primer for May Day (NSFW)

CONTENT WARNING: This post contains frank discussion of sexuality, and is meant for adults. If you’re not one, please stop reading and go elsewhere.


Loving the World: An Atheopagan Sex Magic Primer for May Day (NSFW)

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Spring is often thought of as the season of sex. Trees and plants are flowering, birds are nesting, and the weather finally warms up enough that people wear less clothing and thoughts turn to desire.

It’s now April, coming up on May Day, which is the Sabbath celebration the metaphorical meanings of which include sexuality, attainment of adulthood and celebration of sensual pleasures. This is a time-honored set of associations; for young people to go into the woods to “gather flowers” and spend the night away from prying eyes was known as “going a-Maying” more than a thousand years ago. And couples have been stealing away into wild areas at this time of year ever since for a bit of lovemaking al fresco.


It may seem to go without saying, but sex is a big deal*. It looms large in the human schema.

At root, it is the process through which multicellular life does what is built to do: make more generations of itself. And so nearly all of us are heavily wired towards wanting to mate—with whom is kind of a side question at this level—which is the engagement and stimulation of the elements of a person associated with reproduction.

That said, sex isn’t strictly procreative. For most of us, it is largely if not completely decoupled from procreation in the mind, and is instead a pleasurable and emotionally bonding end in and of itself.

The complex of acts that we categorize as “sex” can be thought of as rituals. They have all the elements: participants get into a state of hyperfocused arousal, and go through a series of physical actions and sensory experiences that lead to a transformation of consciousness. Typically, the intention of the ritual is simply to enjoy pleasure, and/or to share feelings of emotional intimacy.

All of which—presuming consent on the part of participants, of course—are good things. Ours is not a religion that chastises sexual desire and behavior as “sinful” or “dirty” or assigns a list of arbitrary rules stipulating what may be done, with whom, and when.

Only consent. That’s the one and only non-negotiable requirement. Which, inherently, means that minors and those who are in any way pressured or coerced are off limits.

So let’s say you wanted to take the ritual nature of sexual play into a more formalized direction, and actually make it into an Atheopagan ritual? That’s generally called “sex magic” by its practitioners, and it’s something that is as available to Atheopagans as to any other kinds of Pagans.

If you are so disposed, here are some steps that can add focused intention and ritual steps to sexual play:

Create sacred space by making a setting for lovemaking that is beautiful, comfortable, sexy, safely private and includes a Focus (altar) with symbols of the intent of your ritual. Music to set the mood is always good, as can be scents such as incense. If burning anything, be sure the Focus is safe from being knocked over during your ritual. You may want to include small tokens on your Focus which you and your partner(s) can carry with you after completion of the ritual. Be sure to practice sexual safety unless you are certain that all participants are disease-free and there is no danger of conception (unless that’s the point of the ritual).

To achieve Arrival, start with eye-gazing with your partner, and breathing deeply together in rhythm. Hold your intention in your mind as you exchange eye contact. If you have more than one partner, spend some time in eye contact with each of them. If you are performing the ritual alone, breathe deeply and regularly and use a mirror to make eye contact with yourself.

Invoke Qualities that you hope to be incorporated into the desired outcome of the ritual, preferably through foreplay activities. Qualities like freedom, and bliss, and mutual respect, and love are all fitting. Qualities may be invoked by reciting words, or anointing the body with scented oils, or exchanging sexual stimulation with eye contact and mutual reverence. Name the Qualities aloud as you invoke them.

When all participants are thoroughly aroused, continue to sexual play of whatever kind you and your partner(s) prefer as the Deep Play part of your ritual. Take your time. Try to keep the intention in your mind, but don’t obsess about it: it’s okay to get carried into the eroticism of the moment. Do not try to achieve mutual orgasm with partner(s) unless that is something you have been successful with in the past; it’s okay for each participant to orgasm at their own time.

Actually, it’s also okay for there to be no orgasms at all. Expectations aren’t helpful.

But if the participants are able to reach orgasm with one another, participants should hold the intention of the ritual in the mind as it is occurring. Otherwise, concentrate on the intention at the peak of physical activity.

As the intensity of sexual play subsides (whether or not orgasms have taken place), run hands over the body/ies of participant(s). Speak your Gratitudes for your partner(s) (if any), for the pleasure you have just received, and for the successful outcome of the ritual intent.

On parting, as a Benedictionexpress your love for your partner(s). Or for yourself, if working alone, gazing again in the mirror. And for Life itself: the abundant and generous World.

It is done. Believe me, you will now have the intention of the ritual vividly burned into your mind! Now act in accordance with that intent: do all the things that must be done in order for it to come into being. If you use them, carry the token from the Focus with you and take it out now and then to remind yourself of the ritual and its intention.

This may all sound really weird and alien. If you think so, maybe it’s not for you. But sex is a powerful human experience that—like music, or dancing, or art—can be structured in a way to align our minds with our dreams, desires and ritual intentions. If nothing else, the process above can be a fun experiment!

Whether or not the above is your thing, I hope you have a deliciously pleasurable May Day however—and with whomever—you choose to spend it. Happy May!


 

*For most, but not all, people, I should acknowledge. But if you are among those for whom sex is not a Thing, this is probably not a post you will have much interest in reading.

How’s that Maypole Thing Work?

Merry May! I thought I’d write a post about Maypoles because many people want to do Maypole rituals for May Day but don’t know the details. So here goes…

First, you’re going to need a pole at least 12′ long and 5″ in diameter. These dimensions are important: you need to embed at least 18″ of the pole in the ground in order for it to be stable during the Maypole dance, and a pole of any narrower diameter will take FOREVER for the ribbons to be wrapped on the pole. Think about it: if every turn around the pole is only taking up a few inches of ribbon, you’ll be going around that pole for a long, long time before you’ve used up the long ribbons you’re dancing with.

Next, you need a location. Level, preferably grass or comfortably springy soil, and available for digging a hole. The area you need depends on the number of dancers you hope to accommodate, but it should be at least 30′ across to accommodate dancers, musicians and those watching but not dancing.

There are multiple ways to do the next part, but I make a flower crown for the Maypole out of baling wire. This crown goes over the top of the pole and held firmly in place there, and is decorated with flowers (florists’ wire is helpful for affixing the flowers to the wire structure). This is often a group activity before the Maypole dance. The ribbons—one for each dancer, about 15′-20′ long—are tied onto the flower crown at the hub (next to the pole). See the photograph above, which is of our 2015 Maypole.

Affix the flower crown to the pole and then dig an 18″-2′ deep hole to receive the pole. Carefully tilt up the pole and put the opposite end from the flower crown in the ground, packing dirt all around it until it is firmly seated.

Now you should have your Maypole! With ribbons dangling down from the flower crown, and ready to be danced and wrapped up.

The Maypole dance is a very simple one: dancers are designated into two groups, each group established by alternating every other dancer standing in the circle around the pole (“A, B, A, B” etc.). The “A”s go clockwise around the pole; the “B”s go counterclockwise, so dancers start out in pairs facing one another, holding their ribbons. As they begin to go around the pole, when dancers pass each other, they raise and lower the hand holding the ribbon rhythmically to guide the ribbon over and then under the dancers they encounter, creating an “over…under…over…under” pattern that weaves the ribbons on the pole. As you dance, make eye contact with the dancers coming towards you, and smile!

Here is a YouTube video that illustrates the dance. Skip to 6:40.

There is quite a bit of traditional British music that is associated with dancing the Maypole. Live musicians are best, but barring that, I quite like the music of the New England ensemble Bare Necessities, from their album Take a Dance.

It is inevitable that while dancing the Maypole, there will be mistakes, and that is a part of the charm. This is a fun and joyous ritual activity, not an exercise in precision.

When the ribbons are mostly woven on the pole and there are only short ends left, blow a whistle to signal that everyone should now go clockwise and simply race around the pole with their ribbons, no longer going over and under. This will wind the ends of the ribbons about the pole and complete the Maypole dance.

All of the elements of the Maypole ritual can be augmented with additional ritual components. I have attended Maypole rituals where the men carried in the pole and anointed it with oil, for example, and women constructed the flower crown and dug the hole. Some may consider this exclusionary of genderfluid and nonbinary folks, however, so be sure you’re thinking through your choices in light of the group you will be working with.

In any event, experiment and make the Maypole ritual your own! While this is a tradition that goes back at least to the Middle Ages in Germanic and Scandinavian countries, it is a living tradition and you should feel free to put your own stamp on it.

A merry, merry May to all of you!

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