Welcoming Summer

The 30th April for many people in Central Europe is known as ‘Witch Burning Night’, a time to build bonfires, grill sausages and enjoy the arrival of summer. For pagans in Europe and other parts of the world, the 30th April is Beltane, an important day in the pagan calendar. However, it is only one small part of this diverse religion.

Beltane is one of the cross-quarter days. The quarter days are summer and winter solstices and spring and autumn equinoxes. The cross-quarter days are the days which fall between these days. Beltane is especially important as it is the celebration of the coming summer.

Graeco-Roman is the British spelling, Greco-Roman is the American.

Beltane celebrations have a focus on fertility and new life. One Czech pagan I spoke with a few years ago told me about the Beltane rituals he had participated in. He said they took the form of recreating a union between male and female deities from the favoured mythology of the people involved. Celtic mythology was popular as well as Egyptian and Graeco-Roman. I was curious to know how this one description compared to paganism as a whole.

Mike Stygal from The Pagan Federation attempted to describe a typical Beltane ritual. “It was a ritual and we were inviting Bel [a Celtic sun god] to come and join us, but the ceremony was quite involved and thus difficult to put in words especially when you haven’t been there,” he said.

If you summarize something, you give a short version of it. A common verb form is ‘to sum-up.’ ‘At the end of the presentation, I plan to sum-up the major points.’

For Mr Stygal, pagan beliefs are experiential. It was difficult to summarize practices which I haven’t had any experience. However, I did learn how complex paganism is and that it is difficult to generalize the religion.

“The closest you can get to understanding pagan ethics as a broad subject is to look at human ethics, just the ethics of being part of a community of human beings,” Mr Stygal said. He also said pagans realize their religion is diverse and celebrate the differences, which may be different from other faiths.

Which is why it is so difficult to describe Beltane. The form the celebration takes depends on the pagan path followed by the people participating. But while for many people the 30th April is an excuse for a barbecue, for some people it’s a time to connect with the world in a different – and at least for them – more transcendent way.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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The 30th April for many people in Central Europe is ‘Witch Burning Night.’ People have big fires and grill sausages. For pagans, the 30th April is Beltane, an important day in the pagan calendar.

Beltane is one of the cross-quarter days. The quarter days are summer and winter solstices and spring and autumn equinoxes. The cross-quarter days are the days which fall between these days. Beltane is especially important as it is the celebration of the coming summer.

Graeco-Roman is the British spelling, Greco-Roman is the American.

Beltane festivities celebrate fertility and new life. They often included gods from Celtic, Egyptian or Graeco-Roman mythology. Mike Stygal from The Pagan Federation tried to describe a typical Beltane ritual.

“It was a ritual and we were inviting Bel [a Celtic sun god] to come and join us, but the ceremony was quite involved and thus difficult to put in words especially when you haven’t been there,” he said.

For Mr Stygal, pagan beliefs are experiential. But paganism is a very complex and diverse religion. Many people choose to celebrate it in different ways, but all variations are appreciated.

Which is why it is so difficult to describe Beltane. How the ritual is celebrated depends on the people participating. But for some people the 30th April is a time to connect with the world in a different and more inspiring way.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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The 30th April for many people in Central Europe is known as ‘Witch Burning Night’, an occasion to build bonfires, grill sausages and enjoy the approach of summer. For the growing number of pagans in Europe and other parts of the world, the 30th April is Beltane, an important day in the pagan calendar. However, it is only one small part of this greatly varied religion.

Beltane is one of the so-called cross-quarter days. The quarter days are summer and winter solstices and spring and autumn equinoxes. The cross-quarter days are the days which fall between these days. The other cross-quarter days are Lughnasadh (between midsummer and mid-autumn), Samhain (between mid-autumn and midwinter) and Imbolc (between midwinter and mid-spring). Beltane is especially important as it is the celebration of the coming summer.

Graeco-Roman is the British spelling, Greco-Roman is the American.

Perhaps for this reason Beltane celebrations have a focus on fertility and new life. One Czech pagan who I spoke with a few years ago said that many of the rituals he had participated in took the form of recreating a union between male and female deities drawn from the preferred mythology of the people involved. Celtic mythology was popular as well as Egyptian and Graeco-Roman. I was curious to know how this one description compared to paganism as a whole.

Mike Stygal from The Pagan Federation attempted to describe a typical Beltane ritual. “It was a ritual and we were inviting Bel [a Celtic sun god] to come and join us, but the ceremony was quite involved and thus difficult to put in words especially when you haven’t been there,” he said.

To pry, in this sense, means to ask personal questions usually about something private. It can also mean, especially in American English, to open something, usually heavy or large. ‘We were barely able to pry the door to the cottage open after the long winter.’

For Mr Stygal, pagan beliefs, of which there are many, are largely experiential. It was difficult to summarize practices which I haven’t had any experience. I could also appreciate that as an outsider, my questions could look like mere prying, so while I may not have learned more about Beltane, Mr Stygal was able to impress on me how complex paganism is.

Not all pagans will celebrate Beltane. It depends on whether their particular path follows the wheel of the year. Beltane is especially important to pagans who follow Celtic mythology, though not only Celtic mythology, as the Czech pagan I spoke to said other beliefs were incorporated. Beltane is also observed by people who follow Wicca – the modern version of witchcraft. However it does not figure as part of Mr Stygal’s shamanistic beliefs, though he participates as a member of the pagan community.

Any attempts to generalize about paganism in part or as a whole uncovers the diversity at the movement’s core.

“The closest you can get to understanding pagan ethics as a broad subject is to look at human ethics, just the ethics of being part of a community of human beings. Within Wicca you’ve got the guideline of trying to avoid causing harm to others. You’ll find similar ideas in heathenry,” Mr Stygal said.

On the surface this made paganism quite different from more established religions which have an emphasis on doctrine and recognized and accepted practices.

“I do quite a lot of interfaith work and have been engaged in interfaith dialogue with a wide variety of Christian denominations for a number of years and when you start getting down to it, down to the real details, every single faith community has a broad range of diversity in it,” he said. However, Mr Stygal admitted that this diversity is embraced.

“Pagans tend to be conscious of that diversity and celebrate that diversity. To a certain extent that’s not so apparent in other faith traditions or what might be called mainstream faith traditions.”

Which brings us back to Beltane. The exact form the celebration takes depends on the pagan path followed by the people and the landscape. However, one thing is for certain, while for many people the 30th April is an excuse for a barbecue, for some people it’s a time to connect with the world in a different – and at least for them – more transcendent way.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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