Raising children as a pagan in the south is difficult sometimes. There is so much Christian influence everywhere–from churches, to family traditions, to the peeling signs straight out of a southern gothic novel that declare the end times along every highway you drive past. All of which I want to speak of with respect, to teach as theology, and to give my children the opportunity to form their own beliefs as they grow.
But it’s hard, when your own beliefs are not widely practiced, and less widely discussed. And when you aren’t that great at traditions anyway.
Still, I try to observe Sabbats in at least a small way. Candles, prayers. Marking the turning of the Wheel with something outdoors.
This year has been exceptionally hard to find ways to mark much of anything, however. Under shelter-in-place orders, the days, weeks, seasons start to blur together. But yesterday, Beltane, we managed to take our first hike as a family since before the Great Shut Down began. The timing was unintentional–had I really planned we would have stayed home and lit a great bonfire, praising the sun and dancing joyfully, probably with a homemade Maypole and Pinterest-worthy homeschool activities. But when we planned Friday for our hike, I was looking at the weather, not a calendar, and it wasn’t until I woke up and saw other people’s posts that I even realized we were in May.
And still, spending the day in the woods, as a family…what better way, to celebrate entering the dominion of the sun, and the beginning of summer proper? While we are still six weeks from the solstice, from the longest day of the year, these six weeks are overall our brightest. Life is coming into fullness. Gardens are growing tall, animals are growing fat and happy, and in our western world, children are breaking out their bathing suits to splash in creeks, pools, and the spray of the water hose.
I didn’t light a fire yesterday, or even do anything tangible to mark the transition. But I did get a chance to walk alone in the woods, as I trekked the half mile from the waterfall we found to the car and back, to retrieve my tripod. As much as I love hiking with my kids, I can’t get the solitude so many of us seek in the woods, and I savor every moment of time I get under the trees on my own. Yesterday was no different.
Forest bathing. That was my first thought. I paused to stand in the shade, late afternoon sun pouring in through bright green maple leaves, fragrant fringetree flowers, and the ethereal moss just made for the fae folk. I though back to our time at Greenheart Forest, and my conversations with David, the owner, of his time studying in Japan. I thought of Kip, my favorite professor in college, who taught philosophy and religious studies and led summer classes on trails for a hands (toes?) on lesson about spiritual journey.
And then I thought of Beltane, and the original religions of the world, all of which revolved around the Sun.
Living in a quarantined world, without scouts or classes or, dare I say it, the constant barrage of sales events, has taken our Gregorian calendar and rendered it utterly obsolete. Even as politicians and businesses promote dates for reopening, the natural world laughs in the face of those timelines with a virus that will do what it wants to do, haircuts be damned.
What we have, is the sun. What we have, is a world in which we don’t mark the opening of community pools as when bathing suit season begins, but we live by the temperature when we step outside. We don’t watch grocery store fliers for when fruits and vegetables start coming into season, but follow community facebook and nextdoor pages for when farmer’s markets begin to open, and our neighbors find themselves with a surplus of backyard eggs.
It is not as idyllic as it sounds. People are sick, and dying. People are suffering from depression and severe anxiety from time alone, lost wages, the basic human need for touch. This is not, I think, how anyone would have hoped we could get back to our natural roots.
But alone in the woods, the idea of sun worship, of the first civilizations of our world tracking their lives by the length of the days and greening and dying of the trees?
Well, it’s as good as any ritual bonfire I can think of.
Blessed Beltane. May we all join together in life.