Every sabbat (there are 8 per year) I pull out a folder full of scripts for rituals I’ve written over the years. When I first began practicing Paganism, I wrote a new script for every ritual. Now I re-use bits of past scripts and do the rest of the ritual extemporaneously, since I’ve internalized so much of the inner meaning of each sabbat.
This Bealtaine (May Day, which according to Celtic tradition should be celebrated the night of 30 April but which I always celebrate on the 1st) I went back to 1999 for inspiration. Bealtaine is a joyous sabbat, celebrating the first day of Summer and the ripening of the Goddess and the God. This year it was absolutely gorgeous, with blue skies, temperatures in the high ’70s, and my gardens bursting with new life.
I always begin in darkness and silence, facing the North. North is the direction of the element of Earth, the home of the ancestors, and the “womb and tomb” of life. I briefly meditate on all which has brought me to the present place and time and set in stillness to prepare myself to transition Between the Worlds.
I then light sandalwood incense and the main candle on my altar while saying the following prayer, which comes from Vivianne Crowley’s Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age (which is so well-used that the binding is completely broken and the pages keep falling out):
Let me be at one within myself
At one to celebrate the power
The power which moves the universe.
For behold! The lords of light have set their stars upon the heavens
The Earth spins and the Moon holds her course.
I will walk proudly and hold my head high
For the Sky is my father
And the Earth my mother
And I am a child of the Gods.
Then my own prayer:
Blessed and gracious ones, on this night do I bring to you my mind, my body, and my spirit!
I then light a candle and place it in each Quarter and invite the elements. Different Pagans use different systems but I honor the North first (“from you we come, unto you we return”) and then place the candle in the appropriate Quarter. Each Quarter corresponds to an element and a patron goddess.
INVOCATION OF THE EAST
Here do I bring light and Air in at the East, realm of Arianrhod. Arianrhod and all beings of your realm, all beings of Air, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Lend your swift voices to my growing song, send your fleet messengers ahead that my ravens know the course. Open my eyes, open my heart—all is awareness, all is choice, all is flow. Beings of Air, I welcome you in proud reverence here.
INVOCATION OF THE SOUTH
Here do I bring light and Fire in at the South, realm of Brighid. Brighid and all beings of your realm, all beings of Fire, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Light my way this night to awareness and understanding; add strength to my commitment to manifest my passions. Let my heart remember what it means to dream and let my spirit take flight! This is the time of rebirth, as sure as the buds on the trees and the sunny faces of the daffodils. Give me faith in my fire. Beings of Fire and passion, I welcome you in proud reverence here.
INVOCATION OF THE WEST
Here do I bring light and Water in at the West, realm of Rhiannon. Rhiannon and all beings of your realm, all beings of Water, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Dearest mother, open my heart, still my brain, let me hear your rhythmic and persistent tones. Let the sea awaken me, let the waves wash me clean, let the seagulls crown my joyful head. Seahorses and lily pads, treasure and sweet dominion—flow, flow in sacred sexuality, let music flow in the briny waves, let all of us dance in the graceful, lilting flow. Great Goddess, Mother Rhiannon, it is time for rebirth. From you our race emerged, cold and naked, searching for some greater truth. Yet still we long for you. Help me bridge the worlds of Earth and Water, Fire and Air—make me whole and unique, in love and in tune with the song of living. Give me flow, give me flow, let me ride the waves in inner stillness, let there be room for musings and whispered confidences and secret self-assurance. Great Mother, let your waters heal and sanctify me, your priestess of lifeanddeath. I am on the path. I welcome you in holy reverence here.
INVOCATION OF THE NORTH
Here do I bring light and Earth in at the North, realm of Cerridwen. Cerridwen and all beings of your realm, all beings of Earth, you know the enduring bonds of relationship. You know the ties of kith and kin. Great gods of forgotten ancestors, open the veil which shrouds my mind. Free my mind, heart, and body from the ravages of my history. It is time to be made anew, to carry seeds to fruition, to plant seeds anew. It is a new day, a new time, a new me. Give me the Sight—give me the breath, the clarity I need to make my dreams come true. I welcome you in blessed reverence here.
CAST THE CIRCLE
Casting the Circle can be done in a variety of ways, using a tool such as an athame, sword, or feather, or simply using your body. For Bealtaine, I used my body to cast a full sphere of water surrounded by Fire. I then said my traditional prayer, which may or may not be original (it’s hard to tell after almost 25 years!):
This Circle is sealed, and all within are free to glorify the Lady and the Lord, whom we adore.
I always follow this with a personal prayer suitable to that particular ritual’s needs, drawing on the mythological, psychic, and psychological themes of the sabbat.
After that, it’s anybody’s guess. My rituals vary year to year, sabbat to sabbat. There are a few things I like to do for Bealtaine. From Crowley’s book:
THE ARADIA CHARGE
I am Aradia
Daughter of the sea
And daughter of the wind
Daughter of the Sun
And daughter of the Moon
Daughter of dawn
And daughter of sunset
Daughter of night
And daughter of the mountains
And I have sung the song of the sea
And I have listened to the sighing of the wind
I have heard the hidden secrets of the Sun
And I have drunk of the tears of the Moon
I have seen the beauty of the dawn
And the sorrow of the sunset
I have lain ‘neath the darkest dark of the night
And I have beheld the might of the mountains
For I am stronger than the sea
And freer than the wind
I am brighter than the Sun
And more changing than the Moon
I am the hope of the dawn
And the peace of the sunset
I am more mysterious than night
And older than the mountains
Older than time itself
For I am she who was
And who will be
For I am Aradia.
SPRING GODDESS CHARGE
Hear then the words of Diana the Moon
The Bright Virgin
Changing but unchanging
My mystery is unanswerable
But solve ye that mystery
My nature is unknowable
But strive to understand me
Darkness and light are met within me
I flee from thee, but lure thee on
I seek for thee, but hide my face
I speak to thee, but my words are silent
I use the latter prayer at both Vernal Equinox and Bealtaine because I love it so much. It explores a great mystery: How can you solve a mystery which is unanswerable? How can you catch the Moon, which ever flees from you? I am caught up in the beauty and power of Diana, goddess of the hunt, fleet-footed and free in the greenwood.
I also have fun with Robin Goodfellow, adapted from Ben Jonson:
From Oberon, in Fairieland,
The king of ghosts and shadows there,
Mad Robin I, at his command,
Am sent to view the night-sports here.
What revel rout
Is kept about,
In every corner where I go,
And merry be,
And make good sport, with ho ho ho!
More swift than lightning can I fly
About this airy world and soon
In a minute’s space, I descry
Each thing that’s done beneath the Moon.
There’s not a hag
Or ghost shall wag,
Or cry, “‘Ware Goblins!” where I go,
But Robin I
Their feats will spy,
And send them home, with ho ho ho!
Whene’er such wanderers I meet,
As from their night-sports they trudge home,
With counterfeiting voice I greet
And call them on, with me to roam
Through woods, through lakes,
Through bogs, through brakes;
Or else, unseen, with them I go,
All in the nick
To play some trick
And frolic it, with ho ho ho!
Sometimes I meet them like a man;
Sometimes an ox, sometimes a hound;
And to a horse I turn me can;
Top trip and trot about them round.
But if, to ride,
My back they stride,
More swift than wind away I go,
O’er hedge and lands,
Through pools and plants
I whirry, laughing, ho ho ho!
This is obviously based on Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I love how it conjures up a mischievous spirit. Bealtaine is on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year from Oidche Samhna (Samhain/Halloween), the night when the Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest and all kinds of spirits walk the roads. Puck is a nice reflection of that.
At some point I also sing the lovely tune The Young May Moon (this is a slightly different version from the one I sing but gives you the idea). My version was collected from England in the late eighteen hundreds. The lyrics are definitely from that time but the tune may be older, who knows.
Bealtaine is a good time to check in on how I’m doing with my reading from Oidche Samhna. That’s the in-depth (3-hour) tarot reading I do with Catlín Matthews’ Celtic Book of the Dead. It’s my guide for the spiritual year. This year is all about finding my true vocation, deepening my connection to the Otherworld, and relying on that connection to strengthen me as I travel through the Sea of Mists, unsure of my destination.
As with any ritual, I may include trance work, ecstatic dance, meditations, spirit journeys, prayers, and magic. But I always ground with “Cakes and Ale,” the traditional feast at the end of the Witch’s ritual. Of course, my “cakes” are a chocolate chip cookie from Butch’s (so delicious, I just can’t even describe) and a lovely glass of milk. The prayers that go with them are something like:
I know that every seed is a record of times past and a promise of what’s to come. Thank you for this gift of the Earth and may I live out its promise in love and courage.
Just as the grape undergoes change to become wine, and that wine may bring the enchantment of the divine realms or the stupor of the baser ones, so do I recognize that all rise or fall according to their talents and their strength of will. Thank you for this gift of Earth and may I live out its potential in courage and grace.
I always put aside some of the Cakes and Ale for the Little Folk (I toss it outside afterwards with the quick prayer, “Back at ya, Goddess”) and then tuck in. I often feel the spirits of those I’ve invited flitting around, chatting and gnoshing along with me.
I close with prayers and by saying thank you and good-bye to each Quarter, knowing that I carry the promise of each in my bodymindspirit always. I open the Circle and then say,
The Circle is open, but never broken. Love is the law and love is the bond. May I have a straight spine, a clear mind, and a heart filled with love and with joy. Blessed Be!
I am usually left with a great sense of well-being, clarity, and peace at the end of ritual, and often have a lesson or two to take with me onto my path to the next sabbat.
I share the above resources freely; adapt as you will for your purposes (for the good of all, may it harm none). Blessed Be.