By Judith Gayle and Rachel Asher | Political Waves
The month of May is upon us, and with it comes the Celtic celebration of springtime: Beltane
. Originating in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Beltane used to be an annual throwdown; a bonfire-lighting, singing and dancing, sex-in-the-woods-with-your-neighbor's-son kind of party; all in honor of the fertility of spring and the collective sigh of relief that we survived another harsh winter. While there is a rich literary history documenting the events; my favorite, and first, encounter with the abandon and deviancy of May came from Camelot
For those of you who don't know the musical, Camelot covers the story of King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. King Arthur, renowned for his peacemaking skills and the creation of a utopian territory, marries the beautiful Guinevere, and everything is going swimmingly until Lancelot, the sexy French knight, arrives. The tension begins to build in the story: will Guinevere cheat on the Best Man in the World, the King of the land, for a tumultuous affair with Lancelot, master knight of the round table?
I'll give you two hints as to how it turns out. The first is that Richard Gere plays Lancelot in the film version
. The second is provided when Guinevere sings "The Lusty Month of May", which goes something like this (you can also watch Julie Andrews sing it here
Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev'ryone goes
Tra la! It's here!
That shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts
It's May! It's May!
That gorgeous holiday
When ev'ry maiden prays that her lad
Will be a cad!
It's mad! It's gay!
A libelous display!
Those dreary vows that ev'ryone takes,
Ev'ryone makes divine mistakes
The lusty month of May!
Whence this fragrance wafting through the air?
What sweet feelings does its scent transmute?
Whence this perfume floating ev'rywhere?
Don't you know it's that dear forbidden fruit!
There it is, the lusty month of May; the dear forbidden fruit. So, when even the Queen of Camelot can't resist a romp, why is there a denial, almost a sterilization of the Beltane festivities in present times? If we're supposed to be more sexually liberated now than ever before, then why were druids in the 10th century having more fun than we are?
Beltane is a time when the authentic balance between the sexes is celebrated. The Beltane ritual
is presided over by both Priest and Priestess, in concert with one another. There is no Queen of the Maypole without the pole, itself -- and no sexual analogy without equal participants and an awaiting King. The many mythologies that inform this season indicate that the female participant, in my mind the Venus equivalent, merges with the male, or Mars, in a coming together of life and death (symbolized by summer and winter.) Spring is that lifting point that begins the cycle anew and it's deeply encoded within our physical beings. We get the urge, the itch ... the fever. Like a tree running sap as the earth warms, our own bodies are quickened with energy and desire to put the inactivity of the short and dark days behind us; to begin again. Yet, today, with Paganism largely ignored and the patriarchy of centuries holding sway, the balance between the genders is still off kilter and only a shadow of its former self.
I read somewhere recently that, in this day and age, we're more concerned with projecting the illusion of sexuality than the real thing. Feminism began teaching me quite early on, but if I close my eyes and think back really hard, I can remember a lesson taught to me that went something like this: "why buy the whole cow when you can get the milk for free?" In other words, sex is power: if you put out, you lose it.
In this time of potent a-ha moments, we have an illustration of both patriarchy and sexual power abuse provided by the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints compound in West Texas. This polygamist sect of Mormonism was raided
based on reports of child abuse, followed by the removal of 463 children by the state.
Social Services operations are in a muddle with these children, many of whom appear not to know who their mothers are and most of them sharing only four or five surnames. Since they've been raised to believe that anyone not of their own is an instrument of Satan, they have been less than candid. When the teen girls were asked about their age, most indicated they were older than they actually are, and the reason became quickly obvious: of the 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 living in the compound, 31 already have children or are pregnant.
The spiritual marriages between them and their much older husbands are all they know; they were, literally, born for it, and few seem to find the state's attempt at rescue a moment of liberation from being broodmares in the service of heaven. DNA testing is being used to identify them in what I can only imagine must be a nightmare of genetic charting. As sexual powerlessness goes, this is an extreme example of patriarchy gone sick and wrong.
Even in contemporary society, we are still burdened with the bad girl/good girl; whore/saint definitions of centuries gone by. The chastity dialogues and government repression of sex education and services typify the horror of patriarchal religion that sex is a viable activity for decent people. Abstinence-only education
is, currently, the only federally funded sexual education in the United States. It promotes medically inaccurate lesson plans that lie about the success rate of contraceptives and teaches adolescents to be ashamed of their bodies and desires. And, if this isn't enough to turn you off, there is no research indicating that abstinence-only education actually works. Here is a quote from Eric Francis' article
on the subject:
AO indoctrination includes things like the "virginity till married pledge," which young people sign and which, in some instances, succeeds in delaying the onset of sexual activity by an average of 18 months (hardly until marriage). One of the few sociological facts known about the effects of abstinence-only indoctrination is that once its survivors do have their first sexual experience, they are 30% less likely to use contraception, thus increasing their risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
With Pluto continuing to retrograde over the Sagittarius/Capricorn cusp, we haven't been able to put this oppressive church influence to bed, and we still have centuries of mind-control to purge. Again, our socio-sexual victims in Texas inform us of the lowest common denominator. The FLDS women
all wear long dresses, reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie
, all of them in washed-out pastels; their sect requires them not to wear strong colors, especially not red, Satan's color. In interviews, these women resemble Stepford Wives, pale automatons, parroting FLDS talking points and unwilling to comment on anything else. They love their lives, they say; they just want their children back.
There's a stunning hypocrisy here, seems to me; and the wives of this sect would not understand it if it bit them -- these women are being cast as saints, yet they're institutional whores without even realizing it. The first rule of the FLDS cult, as explained by a former polygamous wife, is to be sweet. Being sweet evidently means be quiet, be compliant, be obedient and ultimately, drive away your sons because they are competition to their fathers, give up your adolescent daughters
to the community. If you continue to be sweet, you will remain a saint: if you complain, you will become a whore and shunned or beaten. Even more stunning, I believe, are the many people who support this behavior because it's a religion and we have religious freedom in this nation. I'm sorry; while polygamy among consenting adults seems an interesting social contract, this cult activity seems to me a religion of power brokers and pedophiles.
JonBenét Ramsey was in child beauty pageants -- known for dressing up young children like adults in clown make-up -- before she was murdered on December 25, 1996 at the age of six.
In ways we don't realize, we act out this sexual divisiveness again and again. Beltane comes to us in a Christian version, as well -- we call it Easter. Across the world, little girls are dressed in pastels for the big day; did you get a chill, right there? Yes, even our youngest have to work within that whore/saint prototype. And the farther from our own essence and sexuality we get, the more this becomes attractive in our fantasy life. Think Jonbenét Ramsey
, strutting her stuff in full make-up, batons a' twirl. The early years of this new century gave us toddler clothes made of spandex, and coined a new word: prostitot
. All around us are swirling images of surface sexuality: the idolization of underage, and therefore sexually inaccessible, female pop stars (remember Britney Spears in her Catholic school girl skirt
in "…Baby One More Time"?), programs on television that use the word "sexy" to describe everything from a color of paint to a piece of chocolate cake: we're inundated with these concepts and yet, when we're really confronted with sex, we balk. We'll dance around the Maypole: as long as we do it clothed and without acknowledging that it's a giant phallic symbol.
Maybe we're scared of real sexuality because it's a complete display of our true selves, not just in the sense that we're unclothed, though that has its own package of hang-ups; but in presenting ourselves, with our differentiated desires, to a partner, we unmask the one thing that can always be concealed and, therefore, never has to be judged: our thoughts. A recent article tells us that the Internet
is putting strippers out of business: why pay for a lap dance when you can have the illusion for free on the PC monitor in your own home?
A 21st century equivalent to the "getting the milk for free" canard. This seems to me not a convenience, but a distancing from the authenticity of sexuality. Granted, a lap dance is largely sexual illusion; yet a watered-down experience of that, an illusion of an illusion, seems a sad substitute for an actual encounter. I can certainly think of any number of reasons why an authentic stripper would be vastly superior to an Internet display: scent, sight, sound, touch, excitement; a sense of reality that seems to be growing less enchanting as we water down and isolate our sexual experience.
Sometimes, the urge to hold onto ourselves is so strong because we can't bear to think of having one more thing taken away. The only problem is: in the case of sex, not sharing what we want is the key to loss. Just imagine the world today without Anne Koedt's The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm
. You could be walking around right now wondering how to mature out of your clitoral orgasms, wondering what's wrong with you, faking it with your partner because no one was willing to say what she really felt. Aren't you glad she spoke up? Growing into our sexuality requires us to experience ourselves in all our complex glory, and we can't do that in a vacuum. We partner because we see ourselves in another's eyes, we experience ourselves in their touch. The more we hold one another at bay, the more estranged from our essential self we become.
In Camelot, Guinevere's decision was (even then, this morality play tells us) to assume the role of saint or accept the position of whore; this error -- to make her choose between the opposite polls of this stunted definition -- brands her behavior as either good or bad, when life is surely more complex than that. With a president the majority voted against still assuming power, a war we don't want that rages on and a recession threatening to take our jobs and our homes, we are feeling a loss of control over most of our lives. The de-sexualization of Beltane is really the closing up of our minds: the one thing we still have managerial control over. Yet our own true feelings remain listless as academic discussions and theories; they must be actual experiences that give us a sense of ourselves within the complexity of our humanhood. If we are unwilling to adventure into our own sexuality, we will settle for dim variations that we watch on television and computer screens, losing the ability to feel passionately alive.
They say the real sex organ is the mind; unless we liberate our thoughts about sexuality, we cannot liberate our bodies or create the balance that has been called for by the universe. Unless we realize that shame has been used to control us, we will not be able to make a journey of sexual discovery. Today, the complex topic of human sexuality has all of us, male and female, in a quandary and learning curve. We are victims of too much information and too little understanding. Remembering the role that Beltane plays in our consciousness is an opportunity to relax a little, give ourselves permission to dwell on the topic and remember that since the dawn of time, our humanness has found rebirth and renewal in the sensual rituals of spring.
Celebrate the month of May however you see fit and in ways you feel safe enough to explore. Touch, smell, taste, but most of all FEEL. All of these abilities come to us as a passport when we slide down the birth canal and take that first deep breath. We are born of sexuality and we are creatures of it; thousands of years of other people telling us what it means and how it should be accomplished pales to our own experience. We are all sexually driven; does that not tell the tale? Beltane is tailor made for that sudden jump-start in our veins, a DNA time card asking to be punched, and joyously. If we ignore the warm stirrings of this season, we are choosing death, the cooling of the blood in winter.
Beltane asks us not only to acknowledge sexuality but to honor, celebrate and participate in it. Don't be afraid. If you can only manage an afternoon of flirting, start there: or, if something lusty comes along, realize that this is the ancient dance that brung ya here. And, if the fever seizes you with boldness; if you get the itch to take off your bra and go for a roll in the hay; think of Anne Koedt, and show your partner just where you like it.