This past weekend (April 30/May 1) saw my Household celebrating a major holy tide (as we call our key holy days), one of the eight major ones that make up our year: Walpurgisnacht and Beltane. It’s the final transition from the dark enclosure of winter into the growth and fecundity of summer. It’s also the same holy day, it’s just that part of the celebration takes place the night before. I had to explain this to one of my students—not an academic student but a woman that I’m training for the clergy. Within my religious tradition, we train our clergy one on one and this year she is focusing on following the cycle of holy days and really learning what they’re about (yes, I have major seminary envy of all my Jesuit friends lol). Little by little, I’ve been giving her a larger role in each liturgy and the Deity to Whom she is dedicated, Freya, has a particular association with this holiday.
Anyway, on Walpurgis, we usually start our religious revels at twilight. First divination is done to make sure we are doing what is desired and correct in the eyes of our Gods. Then, if that looks good, we get to work. I’ll go out before everyone else, make offerings to all the local spirits of land, mountain, tree, and town. I’ll light a fire. We have two ritual spaces in our home, the first our indoor ritual room and the second, a space behind my house with a huge fire pit. All safety precautions, like fire extinguisher and hose are set up earlier in the day and checked before I begin ritual prep. Walpurgisnacht is a day for shamanizing, for meeting the Gods and spirits joyously on Their own ground. In larger groups who are fortunate enough to have a spirit-worker, vitki, or “shaman,” this spiritual technician garbs in sacred garb and takes his or her drum, mask, and staff and begins calling the spirits. We invoke our Gods, we call to the spirits, we make offerings into the fire but most of all, we dance and pray moving into a deep and potent altered state. We dance and pray to shake the threads of our communal wyrd free of stagnation, free of malefica, free of anything out of alignment with the order of the Gods. We restore and realign ourselves and our community so that we may move into the time of growth and planting cleanly. We dance so that nothing may remain embedded in our community’s wyrd (threads of fate) that might twist us out of true, or cause us to grow wrongly with respect to our Gods in the coming season. We dance in praise of our Gods and all the spirits that serve Them. The shaman works that drum while others keep the fire burning until there are no more prayers left to be said, no more praise songs left to be sung, and any spiritual brambles and trash occluding the way forward in the sacred cycle of the year has been burned away.
The next day is a community celebration. The Gods and spirits are honored and there is (in larger communities – we try, but we are a small House) mumming and a maypole. Beltane is about the land coming back to green and bursting life. It’s about fertility and pleasure, joy, and growth and the blessings these things bring to the community. We don’t have enough people in our House to do a proper Maypole but there are other rites we do and there is always a ritual and then a communal feast. In my book “Devotional Polytheism,” when writing about this holy tide, I also note that it “is about sex. Well, ok it’s not just about sex but it is about loosing creativity and readying the land for summer growth, and the explosion of life that comes with the turning of the seasonal year to spring. It’s a seasonal festival all about fertility and fire, abundance, and rampant, unadulterated, unapologetic creativity. It’s about coming and the burning in the loins, and the earth’s seasonal orgasm that brings a flood of life into being as spring turns to summer and the land yields its bounty to the blazing beauty of the sun.”
So go out there and have a frolicking good time. Let us celebrate this holy tide the way our ancestors did: with abandon. Let us bring back our ecstatic rites and let us celebrate our Gods with joy. Here is one of the prayers to Freya that I really like (and Freya is not the only Deity invoked. It varies from House to House, and I tend to emphasize Her when writing about Beltane because my key apprentice at the moment is a Freya’s woman).
To the Boar-Rider
(prayer by H. Jeremiah Lewis*)
Hail victory-bringing Goddess
with braids of electrum, eyes like ice
and a countenance even colder,
clever Freyja of snaring schemes
and snaky stratagems
whose beauty is stern,
and utterly Hyperborean
when you stand firm
in the war-council of the Gods
with your Giant-dispatching ash-spear,
your handsome boar tusk helm,
and your gleaming sun-bedecked linden shield as well.
You speak far-seeing words,
hard words and brutal,
which the Gallow’s God, Borr’s son,
the High One approves of.
Oft have you sparred and oft fought as allies;
of the two, Óðinn much prefers the latter. You won his respect, O Freyja;
he knows your worth,
and will never again underestimate
the one who is mighty with mead.
For once you roared out onto the field
astride your gold-bristled charger
and there appeared nothing cool,
calm or collected about you.
No, your eyes rolled back
and your body seethed and shuddered
as violent cantrips tore themselves
from your lovely throat
like the call of crows or wolf’s howl,
and fearful frenzies lashed your foes,
driving them shrieking
before you and your violent kin.
Glad is Sigþrór and Glapsviðr
to have one so heiðr to fight beside
with the dire day of doom,
darkness, damnation and desolation
drawing ever nearer.
Help me to meet my own
trials, obstacles and antagonists
with will unwavering and mind unfettered as your own, O Mistress of the Battle Din and Delight of Soldiers.
( * Used with permission – he’s my husband. I looked over and asked him if I could share these lol. This isn’t a regular Walpurgis prayer, but comes from our household prayer book. I like it because it focuses on Freya as a protector of soldiers and Goddess of war).
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Happy Walpurgisnacht, folks. May the Gods and Goddesses of abundance, sensuality, sexuality, and joy be praised and honored. May our ancestors be remembered. May the land be refreshed and renewed. Let the libations flow.
In my book “Devotional Polytheism,” when writing about this holy tide, I note that it “is about sex. Well, ok it’s not just about sex but it is about loosing creativity and readying the land for summer growth, and the explosion of life that comes with the turning of the seasonal year to spring. It’s a seasonal festival all about fertility and fire, abundance, and rampant, unadulterated, unapologetic creativity. It’s about coming and the burning in the loins, and the earth’s seasonal orgasm that brings a flood of life into being as spring turns to summer and the land yields its bounty to the blazing beauty of the sun.”
So go out there and have a frolicking good time. Let us celebrate this holy tide the way our ancestors did: with abandon. Let us bring back our ecstatic rites and let us celebrate our Gods with joy.