The lighting of the Wicker Man is a very old tradition that we know little about. Of course, there's the obvious: a Wicker Man is a human figure made out of wicker, straw or twigs, but he's built hollow so that things can be put inside him. But how this tradition started is a bit of a mystery. The ancient people who first built them--the Celts--didn't write about their practices. The first person to actually record anything about Wicker Men was Julius Caesar, and the picture he painted wasn't pretty. He wrote that the Celts created huge, human-shaped wicker figures, and inside they would put small animals, grains and slaves (yes, people), to be burned inside as an offering to the gods.
An engraving of a Wicker Man based on Julius Caesar's writings--but how accurate is it?
That sounds pretty gruesome--but is it true? It's important to remember that JC wrote this, but he didn't SEE it happen. His description was a part of his record of the Gallic Wars. He wrote down his own experiences, but also those of other people. Because this is not the account of an eye-witness, we aren't one hundred percent sure why Wicker Men were built, at what times of the year they were burned, or what was placed inside them. We might not know exactly what the ancient Celts were up to when it came to Wicker Men, but what we CAN do is look at this tradition and its elements, take what we know about them, and make them work for us in a positive way, today.
Special delivery. Fire, and a human shape--those are the two things we are certain about when it comes to the Wicker Man tradition. Let's think about those. The burning of effigies--a fancy word for a life-sized, human-shaped dummy--has been done for thousands of years and usually for the same purpose: to send a message (usually to the "person" being "burned") and so promote change.
Look at Julius Caesar's story: The Wicker Man was filled with offerings to the gods so that they would look favorably upon the folks that made the offering. Hopefully, the gods would be pleased and so give fair weather, good harvests, health--you get the idea. Could it be that the Celts were trying to send a message to the gods? And how would the gods know who the message was from? If the messenger was human-shaped, then the message must be from humans. And what about fire? Intentions, requests and offerings are placed inside the Wicker Man, and through the element of fire, they are transformed so that he can carry them to the God and Goddess, or folks who have passed from this life. There's no doubt that fire is a "changing" element. Look at anything that's been burned--it certainly doesn't look the same as it did before it went into the fire. When the Wicker man is lit, the intentions, requests and offerings inside him are literally put into the air (you can see it in the heat and smoke), and so are sent out of this world, and into the next.
We made a Wicker Man to celebrate the long overdue Goddess Season (we had a rough winter here in New Jersey). Any sabbat that involves fire (like Beltane or Imbolc) is a good for a Wicker Man build. Also, think of building a Wicker Man for Yule--a great way to welcome the return of the Sun! In our Wicker Man, we put bundles of herbs, and papers with intentions (things we wished to see grow in the coming year) and notes of thanks for those things we're grateful for (burn a Wicker Man at Samhain and include notes to loved ones--people and pets who have passed on). Those intentions and messages were "brought to light" through the Wicker Man, and hopefully received. Giving your thoughts a physical aspect will help you to concentrate and it make your intentions stronger.
Fire-man. Building a Wicker Man isn't hard to do (you don't have to make him 20 feet tall!). But before you break out the twigs and straw, think about the Wicker Man's purpose first. Make some lists in your Book of Shadows: First, write out some intentions--things you would like to see grow in the coming year. What are you thankful for--what good things happened to you over the last twelve months? Do you have loved ones--people and pets--who have passed on? Is there anything you'd like to say to them, any questions you'd like to ask? Write those down too. To make your Wicker Man, you'll need:
Center your twig or branch across the outside bottom of the basket (Wicker Man's back). You should have several inches of excess length on each side.
Use hot glue to secure the branch in place. Trim any excess branch as necessary for Wicker Man to maintain his balance when he stands up.
Cut three circles from your recycled box. Two of the circles will serve as Wicker Man's feet. Secure them to the bottom of the basket (not the Wicker Man's back!) with hot glue.
The third circle will be the Wicker Man's head. Stand the circle on end and wedge it in between the woven straw of the basket, then secure it to the top side of the basket. We used slices of a fallen tree trunk for our Wicker Man's feet and head, but cardboard is just as good! And of course, you can make your Wicker Man bigger or more elaborate--be creative!)
Go back to your Book of Shadows, and look at the lists you made. Now write your intentions and messages on small pieces of paper and place them inside the Wicker Man, or use your ribbon or yarn to tie them to the arms.
Burn your Wicker Man in a safe, well ventilated place (outside in a fire pit, or in a fire place). Keep a fire extinguisher and water close by in case it's needed. When the Wicker Man is lit, concentrate on those intentions and messages--you may even want to say them aloud as he burns.
Scatter the cooled ashes over your garden, or on your plants or in your favorite park--the ash is good for the soil, and it will put your good thoughts right to work in the earth!
After-words. We can hope that no one was harmed through the Wicker Men of long ago, but we can never know for sure. No matter what happened in ages past (there are hardly any cultures that didn't do things that we would consider horrible today) we can choose to do something positive. Julius Caesar was a great figure in history--but do a little better than him and be a real witness to the events, rituals and happenings in your life. Record your experiences with the Wicker Man in your Book of Shadows--and see if anything happens as a result. If you made an intention to develop a good habit or talent, did you make any progress? All that we do can have a positive effect on ourselves and the world around us--let your light shine and have a bright Summer!
by Natalie Zaman
The tender brush of his skin.
These things stay with me.
* * *
May 4th: Beltane
From the sun-drenched rocks of the Sandia foot hills to the humblest weeds sprouting amidst cracks in the sidewalks, the land exults. Everything around us sings with presence. It's more there, more alive, somehow, all of it in vivid detail.
Sunlight filters through jagged-leaved Siberian elms. It smells green, and I want to lie in it, tumbling back into the grass, enveloped by spring. Behind us, amateur tight-rope walkers practice on thick lines strung between the decades-old, silvery trunks. Tongues lolling, playful dogs chase toys and each other through the park. Exuberant shouts from soccer players trump the chatter of neighborhood sparrows. Somehow, even close to a busy road in Albuquerque, I do not hear the noise of traffic. A light breeze soothes the afternoon heat, buffeting the icon of Frey propped against the base of the altar. He asked to come here today. So I tie his painting to a table leg. Someone— I never see who— wisely thrusts twigs into the ground in front of him to keep him stable.
I'm utterly spent and sunburnt from a sad weekend at a festival, but I refuse to miss this ritual. As I sit on the cool, lush lawn (a luxury in New Mexico) in front of the altar, wrapped in a light shawl against the flickering sun, I am filled with a healing peace quite unlike the overwhelming chaos of the festival.
My druid grove mates stand, blessing the Gods of the occasion (Belenus and Epona), and we all sing.
We don't raise a May pole, and we don't talk about fertility, sex or abundance. Several of us are wedded, none of us are prudes, and none of us have children present. But we do have pets. We have animals, like our ancestors. Members of our household, and not property, to bless. We don't have the balefire smoke to run them through or jump over (not in this drought), but we do have water to give them, taken home at the end of this rite. Mine is for the visiting birds whose presence I enjoy, and the neighborhood cats who wander among my backyard flowers.
I sway, tired, lulled by the soothing rhythm of one of the grove members reciting the usual ADF Druid grounding meditation toward the opening of ritual. And when I close my eyes, I sense that we are not alone:
* * *
Someone climbs up out of a hole in the forest floor in front of us.
I almost blink, startled. She's here… but not here. The ground rolls instead of being flat and the elms are taller, grander, older. Lush ferns curl at their feet. Ferns do not grow this far from the wet shade of mountains in the desert.
I can't see how deep the hole is— a circle of hungry shadow before the altar— only that a young woman emerges from it. How can her hands dig into the planty earth at the edges, pulling herself up adroitly, and remain so impossibly clean? No dirt clings to her fine clothes, either. Nor to the tall, white-starched and pearl-encrusted tiara of a Slavic noblewoman that crowns her like a flowery Gothic arch. A sheer veil keeps her long, loose hair back neatly behind her shoulders. She's dressed in a pale blue shift, the stuff of Ukrainian fairy tales.
Not what I expected.
I frown, puzzled.
"Mokosh?" I ask, imagining the Slavic earth Goddess. This is Beltane. This is the union of sky and earth… right?
But she shakes her head, serious, and I see a touch of red hair, like a desert poppy in spring.
Mokosh's daughter. Gerdr to the Norse. And usually a cheeky maiden, much more bold than her husband, Jarilo, in speaking to me.
And then Vesna circles us, leaning down impossibly, the long fingers of one hand dancing across the earth as she runs…
One blink and she's gone.
The presiding Druid talks about Belenus, and the occasion. Belenus, an old, old God whose name fragments, echoes, shifts, reforms across the Indo-European language and continental landscape: Ba'al, Bel, Beli, Helios. Shining one. Sun's rays. Hero. He gives his name to the nearby town of Belen, south of us.
I listen, weaving new ideas with facts I already know: Beli, who likely gives his name to the Slavic or Thracian-born Byzantine general Belisarius (a triumphant youth and wanderer whose life mirrors the cycle of the Northern God's), to the distant Slavic nation of Belarus. The power of the sun, who is not the sun itself, but the warmth and life of the sun among us...
And then I feel another circling, caracoling presence: Epona the Gatekeeper rides around us in that forest, watching us with interest, before pausing at our backs. I lose the Senior Druid's words.
* * *
Maidens dancing. They whirl in that circle Vesna traced, the same circle Epona rode. They are not holding brightly colored ribbons. They spin, arms raised, around a shaft of streaming golden-white light, lancing toward the sky. Somehow, their raised arms both gather and protect it. Their dresses are long, light, airy: blue as an early morning. Their loose hair is pale yellow rays at dawn. They are not Goddesses….
They dance in earnest, singing, barefoot. A soprano, joyous chant. As the spirit women lift their arms higher, the shaft of light rises far above them, illuminating them. It lances through the canopy of green leaves, glowing the pale green of a midday sun shining through them….
I feel the Wiła straining, stretching, feel it in the base of my arms, the space between my fingers. They're getting taller, attenuated as they push towards the sky.
No. They're not pushing.
They're pulling the sky down.
Suddenly I feel him: vast, sheltering all of us, like Egyptian Nut arched over earthly Geb, her lover from whom she is forever parted, weeping the rains. The strain of him trying to meet us, gasping, bucking the massive natural forces that keep him in the heavens where his power lies—
Belenus groans, a deep grind of pain and unyielding struggle as he pushes down against the shaft of light. The planes of his bare chest and belly press down against the tree crowns, rigid. His face contorts with the effort.
Oh Gods, he's—
"Help me!" he gasps.
…he's not talking to the forest maidens.
He's sweating, trembling from the stress. And still he is so achingly beautiful, wracked with pain, his skin and hair glowing even as he casts a shadow on the earth.
Belenus pushes down again, bearing with all his might, but he can't, this isn't enough—
The world tilts, and I am lying on my back when I know my body still sits upright. What is scale, and how is this even possible, that I of the mortal earth reach up and take his hands desperately in mine, pulling him down towards me, wrapping my arms tight around his shoulders as if he might be torn away in an instant? Fearing his pain more than my confusion, wanting it to stop? As if he were my beloved, my youthful husband?
Belenus gets no smaller, still the vastness of the sky above this forest. And yet somehow he's lying close to me, almost touching. I feel the heat of him, the air between us disturbed by his deep, trembling sigh. He wants to rest, to sink deep into me, but he holds back.
The proximity of his rakish—but somehow tender— grin. It's utterly endearing.
I know this grin very well. I have known it since the dawn of memory, and I am the only one who gets to see it. For a moment, I am the very earth in spring, his wife and lover, stretched below him, yearning as much as he does, and not just my human self.
"Thank you," Belenus whispers. His eyes glint boyishly.
I want to kiss him. I want to close the space between us. There's something delightfully pure to all of this, unencumbered by performance or shame.
Oh. His erect cock is straddling the shaft of light, one with the tree we consecrated at this rite, waiting. There is no need for a May pole to anchor him. The pole represents a tree, and there are sacred trees aplenty in this park.
Ohhhhh! He's waiting on me.
Belenus' cheek grazes mine. A gentle kiss below my ear, on my neck farewell, and he's gone— from my sight— but not from the earth, whom I touch.
Even the Gods have a sense of privacy, apparently.
More information on Belenus can be found online here and in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The root-name Bel/Vel is ancient in Indo-European language, variably indicating 'Shining' or 'Lord' and directly related to Odin and sky/solar dieties in several forms across Europe and Western Asia. Indo-European and comparative mythology scholar Jaan Puhvel has written on this topic. The epithet of 'Shining' occurs multiple times in Norse mythology, from Skirnir (a humanized aspect of Frey and his "boyhood friend" in Skirnismal) to one of several possible meanings of the name of Odin's famous and beloved son, 'Baldr'. Beli is also a name intimately connected with Frey as 'Beli's slayer' ; one possible interpretation is that his courtship of his wife Gerd in the underworld will result in his eventual demise, and thus he is also her "brother's slayer", as Gerd may be a youthful form of his twin sister, Freyja.
Henbane, an herb associated with Belenus, is also historically associated with the Norse shamanic art of seidhr / spae, a form of magic connected to both Odin, as father of magic, and Freyja (who taught it to him). See Jenny Blain's "Nine Worlds of Seid Magic" for more information.
Whirling symbols, such as solar crosses, and the wheel, are associated with Belenus... and also, in very ancient times, with Odin. (A sense of spinning motion is one of the tags for Odin's appearance to me in spae, and for hanging suspended on the World Tree.) Contrary to attempts to conflate deities such as Frey and Lugh with the actual sun personified, the sun or sun-bearer in Celtic and Norse mythology is female and a separate entity, typically known as Sunna or Sol. The same mistake is commonly made with Apollo and Helios, Horus and Re. Helios, depending on the time and region, is not the actual sun, however, but the chariot-bearer of its light (as is Sunna in Norse myth). The sun-chariot motif is an ancient one, recurring numerous times in bronze-age artifacts, and as a solar barque in Egyptian myth.
The Celts had much contact with both the Norse and Slavic peoples. Part of their territory included central Europe. In Poland, a mountain region where old customs persist, Galicja (land of the Gauls), is named for them.
Wila are Slavic female air, forest and water spirits, sometimes called Rusalka, often depicted as dancing young women, connecting with the sky, rivers, death and crops. There is a fascinating book on their distribution in European folklore, The Dancing Goddesses, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.
You can find more throughout my blog on how Odin, Loki and Freyr are linked as a triad, and how Odin connects strongly to the Celtic Gods Lugh and Nuada:
I'm writing a book about my close relationship with Odin-- patron of heroes, the God of story, wisdom and magic-- and what he's taught me directly as a seidhkona. This is one of the chapters.
You can find out more about what I do as a seidhkona at staffandcup.com, and other journeys in the blog here and at Eternal Haunted Summer magazine.
The image of Mokosh and Veles was painted last spring.
The host is riding from Knocknarea,
And over the grave of Clooth-na-bare;
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, "Away, come away;
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are a-gleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart."
The host is rushing 'twixt night and day;
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caolte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling, "Away, come away."
The Hosting of the Sidhe
Out on a walk this Beltane night, I saw the very gates of faerie rising
around me, it seemed. The moon was a waxing crescent, Mars ascending,
and fog was rising off the river, coming to cover the woods and path. It was
the kind of night when one didn't only observe the surroundings with the
eyes, but with the soul as well. When walking, one can witness amazing
things, life-changing miracles, and enlightening gifts that can be seen when
one is not seeking them. What is the world around you trying to say? What
do you feel as you walk the path? Is there a sense of awe, of sadness, or a
quietude that soothes your soul? Open your mind to the quiet emotion of the
place, and let its peace and strength fill you.
Whether or not the fae would have revealed themselves to me is
irrelevant; the world around me had an other-worldly essence to it, making it
entirely possible to believe that there are worlds within worlds, whether we
ever see them or not. Seeing something doesn’t necessarily make it
real—some things, the true things closest to our hearts and to nature, must
be believed in to be seen. 'When all is said and done, how do we not know
but that our own unreason may be better than another's truth? For it has
been warmed on our hearths and in our souls, and is ready for the wild bees
of truth to hive in it, and make their sweet honey. Come into the world
again, wild bees, wild bees!' ¹
Tales of the faerie kind may seem frivolous to adults in this day and
age; fairies are little glittery pink things with wands and wings. But the fae,
the faerie folk that abound on Celtic and Germanic lore, not to mention the
various spirits in Slavic traditions are something more, something far
greater, beings that command respect and in many ways, fear. They are
beings of awesome power and penetrating knowledge, not to mention
fractious tempers and a fondness for pranks that generally finish to their
benefit. But when treated with respect, they have been known to bestow
gifts of many sorts on humankind. Knowledge, healing, music, art,
understanding of the world and how we relate to it.
If referring to them as faeries is too fantastic for you, think of them instead as guiding spirits. This is what they are, after all. Are there any faerie traditions in your own part of the world? If so, what do you know of them? The area I live in was once Native American land, invaded (literally) by the English. Later Irish immigrants came as well, working the factories that sprang up along the river. With these settlers came their traditions and tales of the faerie, and perhaps the essence of the fae themselves. And though I am as yet unfamiliar with them, the First People of this land had their own Otherfolk as well, and it would behoove me to learn of them and observe the proper courtesies.
Whether we actually believe in the presence of faeries or not, we must acknowledge the fact that there is another plane beyond this one that we inhabit. Call it the spirit world, call it Heaven, Avalon, Nirvana, whatever you call it, this other world is a vital piece of the puzzle we call life. There are things we need to know, not consciously, but spiritually, the truth to who and what we are, why we are here now and not thirty years hence; why we are doing what we feel we must do. Without the connection to the world beyond we will never know these things. We will be unfulfilled, unfinished as it were, longing for a knowledge we don't even know we're lacking because we're too caught up in the now to realize that there is anything else to come. 'Only when this world and the Otherworld infuse and inform each other can life thrive.' ²
We must be open to believing that there are doorways around us. If we have the courage to approach those doorways and enter the World Beyond, we will learn incredible things, we will gain knowledge we didn't know we lacked, but understand we must have it. We will grow as the greening spring, filled with vitality and strength, both physical and spiritual. With this strength comes the ability to facilitate change. What good can we do, armed with the knowledge of the ages? How much could we change the world, even if it's just our small corner of it, if we were willing to believe that we could learn from the faerie people that exist on the edge of our sight?
The Wheel has spun to the summer season of Beltane. May you be blessed as you wander the path your life is taking. Walk slowly with reverence and with care, and listen, not just with your ears, but with your soul as well.
Close your eyes, relax. Breathe in the green essence of spring. As you breathe, visualize a door, any door, one that will open and welcome you to the world beyond, the world within this world, a world we can't see until we release all our preconceived images and the stresses and imagined failings in this world.
Beyond this door is the Otherworld. In the Otherworld is something you need to see and/or experience for your life right now. When you feel you are ready, open the door and walk into the Otherworld. Feel your heart, your mind open as you open the door. The only way to truly see what we need to see is with all our senses aware and willing. Do not focus on what it is you are supposed to learn. Walk through the door, continue walking, and see what there is to see. You will know when you have been given enlightenment. When you have seen what you need to see, return through the door, closing it behind you.
Now think about yourself. What have you learned, and how does it apply to you? Feel a doorway within yourself. Open this door and allow what you have learned to fill you and give you what you need. When you feel you are finished, close this door as well.
Take a breath and allow the image of the door, the one within you as well as the one to the Otherworld, to fade away. Know that while unseen, it is still there, ready for you to open any time you need to seek enlightenment or peace. Breathe in the green essence of spring. Come back to yourself, and open your eyes.
(Adapted from The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky)
1: W.B. Yeats, The Celtic Twilight and a Selection of Early Poems; Signet Classics, 1962
2: Starhawk, Baker, Hill, et al; Circle Round; Bantam Books, 1998
Amy Sophia Marashinsky, The Goddess Oracle; Element Books, 1997
...so I made a bright green underdress to go with my green ruanna and I constructed a fat new flower crown, too. I'm the elder priestess at Mother Grove and the younger ones have given me a couple of public rituals with only a little bit to do and that has been a wonderful gift to me as my schedule gets complicated.
I was a smudger and Sabra anointed the revellers. We were in a new park this time--a really pretty one. The altar was set inside a ring of old trees, mostly oaks. We had a good turnout with lots of familiar faces and several new ones, too.
We did a lot of booty shaking through the smudging/anointing process and I continued that theme in my part of the ritual, which was leading the Spiral Dance.
As I was holding my frame drum and watching the sharing of flowers and hearing the Shakespeare sonnet, I had a chance to simply stand under a great oak and look at my community. There was a baby and a few older folks but our Beloved Crone Antiga had an early rehearsal and Barbara Y'aga wasn't in attendance either.
My Goddess-daughter, her husband and one of my oldest friends in the world (who is also her dad) were in attendance and that was very sweet. I gazed around at all those happy, open faces and was so happy to be a Pagan woman, standing under trees, dancing with her community. Sometimes I am not so happy to be that person but today was one of the good ones.
Booty shaking, dancing, preaching, flower crowns and gold glitter.
Yeah, that's Beltane 'round here.
Wonder how long it'll take to shed all this glitter?
I just closed the books on April, and it was financially my most successful month ever in the entire history of me. Yes, of course, I'm ecstatic about that, and there are still a couple last minute people sending me their checks today, so May will start off with a huge boost. Money's great, and having a lot of it "is one less thing" to worry about like Forrest Gump said. But my happiness is fleeting, as our beloved furbaby Tiger died last week, early Thursday morning. This is what I posted on my Facebook page:
Please forgive me, but I won't be on FB today. I don't even know how I'm going to function. I've got leases to prepare and sign, and I have showings. At least those aren't scheduled until later tonight when I will be a little more "with it". I don't think I have anything scheduled tomorrow, and I'm going to keep it that way.
Tiger passed away suddenly just an hour ago. He's been in and out of the vet's office the past couple of months for that weird eye thing, going on different meds, and he seemed like his old self just last week. Even gave the vet the "what for" last week. Today though - he took a turn for the worst. Not eating. Hiding in corners. Panting. We knew it was his time. At least his last meal was the juice from a can of tuna - his absolute favorite.
He was going to be 14 in August. For a cat as sickly as he always was, that's a pretty good run. He's always been sick - since the day we got him from the inside leather jacket pocket of that crack head who stole him from his mother - eyes barely open. I had to feed him formula like an infant crooked in my arm, give him a damp wash cloth bath, teach him how to use the litter box and wipe his bottom. Just like a mother would for her human infant.
I'll never forget that tiny little head peeking out of that guy's pocket, begging us to take him home with that tiny mew. Even though I'm allergic to cats, we knew we had to at least try to help him, and luckily, he was young enough for me to adapt to his dander (if he had any yet). In fact, it's going to be very hard for me to have another cat because of my allergies. (Drug addicts: Please don't get any ideas.)
It's true what they say too: There's that one deep sigh and then... gone. At least I was lying next to him on the floor, stroking his fur and holding his paw. I'm thankful to have had that. It was quick.
We have him wrapped in a soft blanket with his favorite toys in his carrier, waiting to take him someplace for a proper cremation. (Yes, we have a plastic liner, too, and he's in the coolest room. And, we have the heat off.) I want to get him a Bast urn and place him prominently on the mantle. We're calling the vet first thing in the morning to find out what to do. His unconditional love all these years deserves that. I made good money this month with more still to come, and all of our bills are paid except plate registration renewal. It's the least I can do.
He may have been a mean son of a bitch to everyone else, but he was a gentle little baby to us. He even tried to defend our home when we were robbed, having found him locked in a bedroom. He got a good chunk out of them for sure. He has always had problems, and the last of his nine lives finally got used up. Some people say it's just a cat and do not understand. He was our baby, and I already miss him terribly.
Good bye, Sweet Face. Pretty Eyes. Handsome. Friendly. Mr. Magillicuddy. Tiger. And every other name we've ever given you. Mommy will always love you. Daddy, too. And Ryan misses you a great deal, too.
Saturday, I was still very much in mourning, so I painted a picture of our buddy there. We always said he was an angel, in spite what most people thought of him (little bastard, little asshole, and so on, which we have always joked about), and I titled it St. tiger. As my husband Ron said, if anyone was to ask him why he feels he is worthy of canonizing, he would respond with a "Because Eff Ewe! That's why!" He wasn't a Grumpy Cat. He could be straight up Angry Cat! But not to us. Usually.
When an animal companion passes away, especially one who lived a full life, we have to remember while they are only in our lives a little while, we were always in theirs. We are their whole world. That gives me comfort. And on today, Beltane, which to me signifies a rebirthing of Nature here in Chicago, when we can finally shed ourselves of the parkas (but not quite sundress weather), I wait and hope there will be a new special buddy that will come into our lives. I'm not quite ready, though my sadness says I am, but I know once we receive his ashes, I will be ready to open my heart again.
I’ve read it so many times in books and blogs – now is the season for making love out of doors, jumping naked over Bel fires and generally doing your Paganism in a carefree, unclad sort of way. It is warm enough to be barefoot outside, I grant you, but far, far too cold for nudity. A traditional British summer brings more rain than it does cavorting options. The naked dancing Pagans are either far tougher than me, or don’t actually do as much of the cavorting out of doors as they imply.
As a species we obviously didn’t start out wearing clothes, but have got into the habit over thousands of years. It’s allowed us to extend our habitat far beyond the balmy zones our hairless and not that blubbery bodies could otherwise tolerate. So the trouble with viewing nudity as natural, and thus desirable, is that you aren’t budgeting in what we’ve been doing for a long time purely because we can and do wrap up.
Outdoors nudity isn’t as fun as it sounds. If you’ve not built up the soles of your feet then your soft skin will suffer from every sharp and pointy thing on the ground. Even in the loveliest of meadows, there are sharp and pointy things. Some of nature likes to bite skin, and that bit of nature is just starting to get lively at this time of year, too. If you aren’t used to exposing your skin to the sun, it will burn very easily and quickly. If you aren’t used to the whole being out of doors thing, you can also get really, really cold.
When we start talking about the joys of outdoor nudity, often we’re moving towards an idea of Paganism rather than an actuality. There are definitely Pagans tough, determined and fortunate enough with the climate to manage this, even in early May, but if you’re fairly new to nature worship, you could easily form the mistaken impression that we’re all out there, letting it all hang out. It might be nice, but in a wider culture that sexualises female nudity and criminalises male nudity, we’ve got a lot of collective issues to consider.
If you want to bring your body into closer communion with nature, without risking arrest or significant discomfort, I recommend taking your shoes off. Our feet are remarkably sensitive, and if you sit and let your feet air, you will be that bit more connected. Stand barefoot for a while and actually feel the earth beneath your feet. Even if it is a bit chilly, if the rest of you is covered, the odds are you can take it. If you feel your feet going numb, obviously warm them up. Paganism is not about masochism!
Learning to walk barefoot is a profound way of connecting with the earth and with our ancestors. Up until relatively recently, bare feet were not unusual, especially for the poor. Build up gently – little and often. Get into streams, into mud, into soft grass, but do be careful because broken glass and rusty metal are incredibly dangerous to bare feet. Become a barefoot person, and you will probably also become an ardent remover of litter.