Bealtaine this year has been a wild and hectic affair, mostly done with my 3 month old son in my arms. Some people find children and babies a distraction in ritual but I love the energy and unexpectedness they bring. Children bring an unbridled enthusiasm, openness, and joy to ritual, along with a certain inherant chaos. Certainly carrying my son made it harder to get the May Bush set up and decorated on May Eve, but the girls enjoyed doing more of it themselves and the result was just as beautiful and definitely more unique. After decorating the May Bush we made a caudle for the Fairies and brought it out to leave at the base of our Hawthorn tree. As I was getting ready to say a small prayer to the Good Neighbors before offering it the baby started fussing so I sat down a little way off and told the girls stories about the fairies while nursing him. That seemed a wiser choice than holding a screaming hungry infant and rushing through the offering* and indeed after that was done and the caudle was poured out and the words said, as we walked away, a Robin - omen of peace, hope, and a happy home - landed in the tree's branches and began singing.
The family ritual on Beltane itself was a low-key affair, dedicated to Macha and Nuada. I told the children the story of the Tuatha de Danann coming to Ireland and ended up talking about each of the four treasures they brought with them. We burnt juniper, rosemary, and vervain for cleansing and made offerings of cheese biscuits that we had cooked together. The weather was sunny and fair, although the spring has been so cold and dry our little Hawthorn has barely begun to leaf never mind have flowers yet; still I took the weather as a good omen for the coming summer. After the ritual I gave each of the children a small gift as a token for the holiday: a t-shirt for my oldest, a tin whistle for my 5 year old, and a placard with my son's name and its history and meaning printed on it for the baby. Later last night I did my own solitary ritual which included meditation and reflection on the winter that has passed and the summer that we are welcoming in.
This morning, the third and final day of our Bealtaine celebrations, we walked around the yard and house burning an incense blend I make myself to bless the property. We gathered flowers and brought them in to decorate the breakfast table and planted some herb and flower seeds in our small garden, after mixing the ash from the earlier rituals into the soil.
This Bealtaine has been hectic and in many cases things have been less about planning and more about enjoying the moment. It was amazing and beautiful, something shared with my children and full of joy. I felt that all the offerings were well received and all the omens were positive - more so than they have been in a long time. I am ready for summer and am already starting to plan the next holy day with an infant in mind...
*The older I've gotten the more I've come to believe that it is the intent behind the action that matters the most, rather than the action alone. Actions devoid of heart are hollow no matter how well executed; actions done with heart have value. A sincere heart and genuine devotion are more powerful, I think, than the smoothest rehearsed ritual. There are many people who approach modern pagan ritual as theater, something to be preformed in awe and reverence; for them the precision and perfection of it is part of their honoring of the Gods. My rituals, while done with reverence and often inspiring awe, could never be described as perfect or precise. No, my approach to ritual is better described with words like "organic", "fluid", and "engaged" - and I suppose some people would add "casual" and probably "relaxed". For those who prefer the highly structured style I'm sure less kind adjectives would be used as well. Such is life. Maybe it's because I don't feel the Gods, don't connect to them, in highly structured rituals; I never have. It's in the spontaneous moments and the daily devotions that I feel that connection is strengthened. Give me a wild wood and a moonlit sky, or the edge of flood-swollen waters; give me a tea-light or milk poured out in sincere prayer and I am open to the Gods and they are speaking to me. Of course what works for me is probably useless to some others just as I know some other approaches do nothing for me. The ultimate point of ritual I think, is to create connection and open lines of reciprocity between us and the Powers and so for it to be effective it must create engagement both ways; we must be full participants and the Gods or other spirits must be responsive and present. Creating this in ritual is so difficult in groups precisely because what creates engagement in one person may do nothing for another. I use what works for me and what has nurtured a relationship with the Powers over the years; to each their own.