Two completely unrelated festivities have somewhat converged within a month now. One was Beltane (in the northern hemisphere), a fire festivals on the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and the other ones are the many LBTQ+ pride days and parades and balls that are now happening all over. There is certainly no purposeful correlation in timing between Beltane and the LBTQ+ festivities, but the closeness of these two got me thinking about one particular element of Beltane, procreation. And with that I wanted to contemplate some pagan paths’ focus on the unity between male and female, the alchemical Great Rite, the wand that is placed in the cauldron etc., particularly in light of being inclusive of the LBTQ+ community when organizing, and participating in, pagan ceremonies..
This seasonal focus works for me, I admit, for I am a straight, cis-gender male. So all these metaphors make perfectly sense to me, personally. At the same time, I am one of the elder Druids in my Grove, and as such I am also a go-to person when it comes to discussions about inclusivity of our Grove happenings. In this function — and quite frankly because I feel the urge to fight injustice when I see it — this question is no longer about me and how I feel about it. It has gone beyond my ego, and must be answered, well, inclusively.
But how do we find the right recipe for a balanced concoction enjoyable for all palates equally?
I — together with many others — do enjoy it when the traditional aspect of procreation (not acting on it, but the metaphors) and the unity between male and female, form an essential part of a Beltane rite I attend. I can, at the same time, emphasize with anyone who’s unity with someone else does not follow the biological necessities of procreation, but for whom the magic such unity comes from loving someone of the same sex. Or the magic involves unity with someone from the other gender today and with someone of the same gender tomorrow. Or in a year and a day.
And I can not begin to imagine what meaning — or lack thereof — this concept of unity between male and female could possibly have for those members of our diverse genus homo sapiens sapiens, whose gender identity does not correlate with their biological sex, or does not settle on either one gender for good.
So, should this unity, the alchemical Magic of procreation, be left out of the Beltane ritual entirely, to make it more inclusive? See, I am not a fan of that either. Not because I am insisting on traditional approaches, but because leaving out procreation in a ritual celebrating the coming of the season of procreation would make the whole festival a moot point.
Something’s gotta give. That’s the core of compromise. But what if, instead of doing away with the traditional procreation theme, instead of the LGBT community having to stack away their lifestyle once again just to be able to participate, we both, LGBT+ and hetero/cis folk, give up on something else entirely, something we both share, and something I’d argue is not at all necessary for our ceremonies: anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism; our inherently human tendency to apply our value systems onto everything else, particularly Nature. We do that as kids when we begin to believe stories telling us that lions are majestic, eagles are proud, foxes are sly and hyenas are just plain and simple evil. That’s simply attributing to undeserving mammals our human (Greek: anthropos) form (Greek: morphe). Add to this that we humans think that everything should center around us, and poof, Nature all of the sudden is divided in genders just as we are. Well, most mammal species have one type that has a penis and the other a vagina, so they must identify as male and female, right? I do get it. We see the penis and the vagina (or at least where it is) when we look at other mammals. Ever seen a stallion? Or the butt of a “female” chimpanzee in heat?
But what about a whale? An enormous body breaching out of the ocean’s surface for mere seconds…you need to be specialist to determine the gender there. And fish? Reptiles? Only if the genders differ in size. Amphibia? There are some frogs who can actually change gender if need be. Some invertebrates have both genders.
You see, our human thinking, our urge to identify differences, does not even bring us that far with animals. For them, there is probably just the other one and if that other one smells a certain way, or has some body parts swollen, or dances in a weird way, then hormones trigger some activity. Unity yes, but female and male? Nah.
Even more so when it comes to plants. Take, for example, apple trees. They procreate, right. Actually, if you want them to do exactly that (i.e. bear fruit), you need two apple trees, so they can cross pollinate. Now you tell me — or the bee flying back and forth between them — which tree is the male and which the female. Tell me that there is a male and female apple tree. They are both cauldron and wand for each other. Apple trees — almost any trees, or plants — are so gender non-conforming, and are at the same time gay, drawn to each other while being the same. They are of the same sex and they have sex with each other. Nobody could tell if they are gays or lesbians, though, because they don’t even have a gender.
But they still unite with each other to procreate.
This is the very essence of what we celebrate at Beltane: that the myriads of species in Nature sing their own song of uniting with each other to bring forth fruit — and they certainly don’t need us humans attributing any gender and other questionable distinctions to them. And if we see ourselves not as the center of this Magic, but as humble observants, we surely should all be able to celebrate that particular fire festival together, without excluding anyone, and also without feeling excluded. All we need to do is to be explicit about what it is we actually are celebrating: the queer way of Nature procreating.