Lorna has better, wiser words for this day than I did: A look at the tale of Lludd and Llefelys and the plague of May.
Today is Beltane, and I know what you are thinking.
You are thinking about Maypole dances and frolicking in the woods, about sex as a sacrament of the sacred. You are thinking about rising with the dawn to bathe your face in the dew and carollers on Magdalene tower singing “Sumer is icumen in”. You are thinking about Julie Andrews as Guinevere singing “The Lusty Month of May” and group rituals you can’t attend because of lockdown. You are sighing heavily and googling “solitary Beltane ritual”.
I’m not thinking about those things. I’m looking out my ninth-floor window, watching the birds wheel by, watching the clouds gather and move on, gather and move on, and thinking about an older Beltane. I’m thinking about the Beltane of old Ireland, when two great bonfires were built and the cattle were driven between them, for protection, for purification, before they were led out to pasture for the summer. I’m thinking about Beltane as the mirror of Samhain, a spooky time when the Fair Folk are trooping and if you wander into the wrong part of the woods, you might not come back.
Should we be lighting the bonfires and driving our cattle between them? Should we run between them to be purified of the virus? Are the Fair Folk roaming the empty streets and smelling the flowers while we stay indoors? I don’t know. All I know is that I, myself, have never felt less like Beltane.
It is always a curious incident when the dog does nothing,
when the dog that should waken sleeps,
when the hound that should bark lies silent,
when the watch-dog fails of its watch.
In the toilsome heat of August, the Romans punished the dogs
that failed to do anything in the night-time,
or the day-time, whichever it was,
when the Gauls came to scale the city walls
and carry away all that made Rome superior.
Piteous dog crucifixions baking in the heat alongside the road!
Juno’s geese strutting and honking nearby,
pleased with their own superiority: *They* gave the warning
when the dogs failed! Pathetic. Geese are large, loud,
aggressive, and not known to be trusting.
O Hermanubis, temper the ferocity of Sirius!
Hounds of the Dog Star, chase away the roaring Lion
burning up our skies! Gracious gods, protect the harvest,
send us rain and sun in due measure: The dog days
are over, the descent into autumn has begun.
(With thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
(Originally posted to Antinous for Everybody, 8/3/2016)
August. The fields outside of town
(where I haven’t driven, for I don’t drive)
are ready for harvest, wheat and corn
(and I eat barley, rice, and oats).
Lugus with his long arm, his clever hand
is ready to sweep the fields,
bring in the harvest. Time
to make beer and bread.
I feel my skin prickle.
I see a red leaf on a green tree,
a brown feather from a sparrow’s wing
on the grey sidewalk. Autumn.
The days are hotter, one by one,
but the sun rises later, lower,
day by day; one by one
the trees slow down, the birds,
the bugs, the flowers, slow down
toward their rest. A stop. I stop.
August. Lughnasad. Autumn.
Across the months, across the equator,
Lugus holds out to Brigantia his hand.
She hands him the knife that she forged
throughout the long summer,
quenched in the sun’s blood.
It’s time to bring it all home.
O Dea Rosa, you are the sacrificial daughter,
your bodies cut down and offered up
on the altars of Venus, of Jesus,
of Mother Mary. Your petals were torn
and scattered like the spread limbs
of the crucified Jesus by the dying
Little Flower, roses in her arms
and blood on her hands where
your thorns had pricked her, blood
on her handkerchief where she coughed
out her suffering. You beautify the coffins
of our dead and atone for the sins
of rich husbands, together with
the brilliant tears of Tellus Mater,
diamonds hard as an adulterer’s heart,
and the sparkling blood of grapes
gathered in champlains of Gaul.
I place on my shrine, lascivious virgin,
your body of red petals green leaves
and pricked stem and think of defiled
daughters and broken women
and holy mysteries.
(Originally posted to Antinous for Everybody, 5/14/2016)
Ave, Rosa, spirit of the rose, fragrant nymph,
companion of Flora, numinous flower!
Hail to thee, mistress of secrets, keeper of mysteries,
all that is passed on sub rosa, mouth to ear,
hand to hand; hail, lady whose wet unfolding petals
drenched in scent bespeak another flower
and another fragrance, river and ocean, salt
and source. O lady of birth, life, and death,
who shared your mysteries with Miriam,
mother of Yeshua, joy and sorrow and glory,
five-petalled goddess who initiates and regenerates,
remind me of the secret every time I pass near
your blossoms: Love, life, sex, woman, eternity.
(Originally posted to Antinous for everybody, 5/11/2016)
O Antinous Belenos,
lord of this day, friend of Flora,
lady of the white track,
hunter who with your lover
Hadrian the wise and prudent
brought down the terrible boar:
hear our prayer and hunt the boar
that still rages among us;
the boar that feasts on women,
the boar that charges same-sex love,
the boar that tramples trans folk,
the boar that fears and hates Eros.
Hunt down the terrifying boar
that always threatens lovers,
that gores and gashes any kind of love
that is not restriction and repression,
hierarchy and domination,
the master and his property.
Hunt down the boar of hatred,
O mighty Antinous Belenos,
so that all lovers may love
free of fear and free of chains.
If dead boys still became flowers,
every sidewalk in America
would be split with roots.
In Baltimore, Freddie Gray;
in New York City, Eric Harris;
in Ferguson, Mike Brown.
Brown skin and black hair
and white, human bones
lying everywhere, and not even
a chalk outline: Execution
is no murder. O goddess Flora,
is every flower a death?
is every bloom a tragedy?
Narcissus, Hyacinth, Crocus
joined by Michael, Eric, Freddie,
Trayvon Martin standing with
Polydeukion, young Memnon,
young Achilles. O goddess Flora,
help us make sense, help us
to mourn as well as rejoice
in a world where every flower
is an open vulva, is a dead boy.
Flora wears a pretty gown
but her feet are in the mud.
Her hair is twined with flowers
but there’s shit between her toes.
Without manure and mud
her flowers will not grow.
She waters them with blood
if nothing else will flow.
You may dance with Flora
but she’ll outlast your art.
Her feet can never tire
unlike your mortal heart.
But she will not forget you;
she’ll bring flowers from your grave
and wear them when she dances
in her next immortal rave.
Do not curse the goddess
for she is not the cause
of deaths that have no answers
and anger without pause.
The Fates ordained that flowers
should come from shit and mud;
but Flora will weep over them
when they have sprung from blood.
It’s almost May, and all around the blogosphere I hear the yearly cries. On the one hand, witches and pagans of various kinds anticipating the arrival of Beltane, festival of flowers fertility and fucking fun; on the other, Irish and Scottish polytheists and devotees of faery lore decrying Beltane as being utterly unlike Bealtaine, the Gaelic fire festival when wells are dressed and cattle are blest because the Fair Folk are abroad.
And in the middle, your humble blogger, not particularly caring because I’m not celebrating either Beltane or Bealtaine. As a devotee of Antinous and the Roman pantheon, I’m celebrating the Floralia from April 28th to May 3rd, in honor of the goddess Flora, and the Floralia is unequivocally a festival of flowers, fertility, and fun. There were plays and spectacles, gladiatorial games, brightly colored clothes, releasing of hares and goats, throwing beans and flowers at people, and even nude dancing and mock gladiator combats between prostitutes, as well as (no doubt) a lot of eating, drinking, and making whoopee.
I’m going to observe Floralia by (eating, drinking, and) reposting some of my poems for the goddess from my older blog, along with music I associate with the season. To kick things off, here’s our titular madrigal sung by the Cambridge Singers.