In the name of that Great Ancient Providence …
It is that time of year again. It’s time for me to exit gracefully, stage left, and go ghost for about four days, and four nights. When I return, amazing things will be taking shape. But for that four days, I will be off-grid. And I will be ShamanWitching the shish out of those four days! LOL
What is the link between my annual Beltane Sabbatical, and Shamanism?
I’m glad you asked.
The Fire. The Land. And the Spirits.
Shaman’s are said to have, “fire in the head.” In fact, the phrase is a book title for a work on Shamanism, quite literally called Fire In The Head, by Tom Cowan. And it’s about Celtic Shamanism.
Fire, for the Celts, was not an element. There were only three elements: sky, land, and sea. Fire was the central pillar. It was the life-giver, because it gave us heat, light, and cooked food. And it was the life-taker, for obvious reasons, and often the method by which the Celts disposed of bodies after death, while at the same time being sent into the Otherworld through a funerary pyre. Fire was life, and it was death. Spiritually speaking, if we bring the concept of “fire is life and death” forward into our time, we might equate it with the element of Spirit. And, in fact, a particular Wiccan chant springs to mind:
Earth my body, water my blood,
Air my breath, and fire my spirit.
Fire is often associated with Spirit, with power, for good reason. The title of this short article is, “Fire In My Bones,” and I need to extrapolate a little on that metaphor. It isn’t too dissimilar from “fire in the head.”
The truth is that, no matter where we locate the fire in the body, it is always about Spirit, about connection to the Otherworld. And living liminally – walking down the street with your feet in two worlds: this one (the illusion), and the Otherworld (reality). Shamans say that the Otherworld is, “more real than real,” because it is the reality, and this world is the illusion. This is why Shamans, “see in the dark” – we are in the dark in this world of illusion, but we see the reality of the Otherworld. It is the fire in the bones, and the fire in the head (that gift that the Ancestors have given us – the gift of Otherworldly travel and contact) that lights our way as we traverse our individual paths through this universe.
At Beltane, there is always a bonfire. During the festival I attend every year, the bonfire is lit each night. From the start of the festival, to the main night of the festival, the bonfire is gradually built larger, and larger.
Beltane was originally, technically speaking, a celebration of Bel, which is short for Belenus, Who is a Celtic Sun God. His name is usually said to mean, “The Fair Shining One,” or, “The Shining God.” Clay horse figurines are an historical offering, and He is said to pull/lead the sun across the sky in a horse-drawn carriage. Etymologically, some associate Bel with Bel Bucca, Who is the Goat God with both a light, and dark form, sometimes rendered together in the same image. At Beltane, we typically honor the light form of Bel Bucca.
Beltane is one of two of the highest of holy days in my personal Craft and Spirituality. The other is, of course, Samhain. We cannot honor the conception (Beltane) unless we also honor the transition into the Otherworld (Samhain). Life, and death, respectively. But if we truly believe that time is cyclical, then Samhain and Beltane interweave. They may appear as opposites, but are, in fact, NOT mutually exclusive.
Like Samhain, Beltane is a time of year when the veil between the worlds is at its most sheer. It is a time to honor the Ancestors, to honor those who are the blood of our blood, and the bone of our bone. It is time to honor the source from whence we came, and to which we will all one day return.
When we return, we return to the Earth, to the Land. And so, we honor our Mother at this time of year, and the Spirits that populate Her. The Land is full of Spirits – land wights, the fey, plant devas, tree guardians, animal medicine – all Helping Spirits to bring us to a place of empowerment, and strength.
So it is with great honor that I retreat into the woods each Beltane, to honor my Ancestors, and the Spirits of the Land. I retreat into the woods to disconnect from modern society, and its delusional ways of interacting with the world around us. I understand that we need to maintain balance, and that living as a full-on animist in modern society is often frowned upon. But retreating into the woods for a few days every year, where I am completely free to live as a full-on animist, and no one gives a rat’s ass — that’s the life.
The Fire, the Land, and the Spirits. That’s what Beltane is about for me. Connection, not to social media, but to Source, to She who was, is, and ever shall be, male and female, both and neither.