Queering The Mysteries: Beltane and The Sacred In-Between By Sammy Conde Beltane has its roots in the sacred fertility celebrations of the British Isles that attuned to the coming energy of the summer and the fertility found in the height of the Spring. As such, Beltane has become associated with the polarities of both receptive and projective energy. In the olden days, this was a celebration marked by both sacred significance, as could be seen in the tradition of the King being married to the land, and the frivolity and celebration of the maypole that concluded with sexual escapades in the woods.
Modern Wiccans are known for marking this with the continued observation of maypole rituals in a much more symbolic manner that was innately sexual, as introduced to the modern path by Gerald Gardner. This includes the dressing and energetic honoring of a maypole and a hole in the soil for a symbolic “Great Rite” that joins the projective and receptive energies to celebrate the sacred fertility of the spring and bring forward the energy of sacred sexuality.
However, in focusing too heavily on the physical manifestations of the polarities of “male” and “female” completing each other through conception and being united in love, we may miss the forest for the trees. We can easily fail in this outlook to consider another part of the mysteries that is likely just as ancient and just as sacred. Ancient societies included non-monogamous and non-heteronormative relationships in a way that is oft missing in societies built on the puritanical, heteronormative, and cissexist gaze of those with power; like those prevalent for practitioners in modern Western society. This leaves space for those of us who are familiar with queer history to ponder on the likelihood that those frolicking in the woods were in fact inclusive of those of many genders and engaged in frolicking in forms that included non-heteronormative partnership and activities on Mayday Eve. Yet, in many Wiccan and Pagan circles, we focus on the “male” and the “female” connection to this day leaving our imagination and historical context behind to embrace “tradition” without consideration of the potential of something more. Why is this? Do the queer mysteries beg us to consider something different?
I ask these questions, not to call to question the necessity of celebrating both the projective and the receptive energies, but to ask us to consider something missing:
Do the queer mysteries ask us if there is something more?
At Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary (WSTS), faculty and students considered this and explored another option in their honoring of the tradition of the maypole ritual that has brought new life to many who join for their Beltane Ritual. Perhaps exploration of these changes can give us new insight into this matter.
In this ritual, WSTS students and faculty explored the option of honoring the receptive, projective, and the sacred in-between. Through the symbolism and inclusion of a seed as the symbol of the journey of being both receptive (receiving the energy of the warmth and nutrients found in the soil) and the projective (sprouting forth to become new life) WSTS students and faculty found a way to honor the modern experiences of trans and non-binary participants in ways that gave voice to the mysteries they knew too well in their day-to-day lives.
So, what is the sacred in-between? How does the sacred in-between create space for us to re-imagine our conceptions of a sabbat so focused on fertility and the receptive and projective energies?
The sacred in-between explores how we all have projective and receptive energies within us and sometimes we break free from this mold to try something altogether different. This is also an important element of fertility. For soil that does not receive new gifts, get transformed, and experience new things cannot maintain its fertility. This is, after all, why farmers rotate their crops.
The sacred in-between at Beltane can help us to expand our understanding of fertility by uplifting the mysteries of the change that comes with sacred sexuality and fertility. It allows us to embrace those who have crossed the norms of the projective and receptive through transition and come to new understandings of gender, relationships, and the world around us. This begs the question, however: Does this only serve as a form of inclusion, or is this the beginning of a new understanding of the mysteries of fertility?
In my exploration of queer theory and the insights and perspectives it provides in a theological setting, I argue that there is always more under the surface when we embrace a spiritual understanding that includes those from the margins. Gender and sexual minorities have something very valid to say about the mysteries of how our fertile energy manifests. The inclusion of the sacred in-between is at its very root an example of this.
Through exploring the important role that those from the spectrum of gender and sexual identities have to share, we gain a deeper insight to the nature of magic, life, and fertility, and what they can mean in bold, critical ways. We begin to understand that energy is an ebb and flow and that the power of the projective and receptive coming together, moving away, and existing in many forms is essential to life and magic itself. The mysteries of fertility and life are revisited around the spiral circle in new ways. We begin to see that the seed, the potential, transformation, and rebirth of life, is essential to the equation present in creating life.
In its essence, this mystery begs us to dig deep and consider the ways in which breaking from the norm, transitioning through different phases in life, and transforming ourselves through new understanding and insight is at the core of fertility. The sacred in-between and its addition to the mysteries of Beltane brings us together to consider that the world can be seen through new lenses and that life itself is diverse in many ways that we haven’t considered. It allows us to see the beauty found somewhere in between, celebrate, and uplift it. It allows us to connect to a liminal space and see past the curtains to consider new possibilities. All of this and so much more.
At Beltane this year, may we imagine new ways of understanding the mysteries of love, life, and the blessedness of the joining of the projective, the receptive, and the sacred in-between together. May we continue to explore this mystery. May we gain new insights into the mysteries of life. May we continue to allow the mysteries to transform us. May the mysteries transform before us so that we may continue to learn and grow as we explore the spiral path and re-visit their importance.
Happy Beltane! Thank you for reading!
Sammy is a Dedicant of The Ever Green Hearth since June of 2021, and is currently a student at Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. Their spiritual interests are Divination, Healing, Herbalism, Crystals, Music, and Honoring Deity. Sammy has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Heidelberg University (Tiffin, OH) and has experience working as a Political Organizing Director for Campaigns and Issues-Based Organizing. Their interests include Politics, Current Affairs, Queer Theory/Studies, Justice and Equity, Nintendo Games, Magic the Gathering, Writing, Singing, and Reading.