For people of the Wiccan faith, the start of summer means much more than vacation planning. Beltane, also know as May Day, commemorates the first of May as the entryway into a season of growth and fertility.
Many Wiccans see May 1 as an imperative holiday, or Sabbat, to acknowledge. While the holiday celebrates agriculture, fertility in animals and humans plays a large role, as well.
Meredith Laars, 29, has been a practicing Wiccan for more than seven years. “Holding a festival for any Sabbat is extremely important for keeping your energy and spirit right for each coming season,” Laars said. “For the summer, when life is being born and the Earth is being reborn, it is extremely important for us to really appreciate and hone in the energies that the planet is giving off.”
While some churches of the Wiccan faith hold larger festivals that are open to the public, other practitioners celebrate alone.
“I have only gone to an open festival once, and it was very enjoyable. For me to truly harness the correct energies, I give myself a few hours at night to meditate. Afterward, I take candles, because fire is an extremely large part of this holiday, some rose petals and allow myself to just be alone and soak up the essence of the flame and the fragrance of the flowers,” explained Daisy Cartwright, 34, of Memphis.
While many Wiccans celebrate the holiday at the start of the month, others celebrate for all of May.
“May is an important month in the Wiccan faith,” said Tish Owens, 48, a resident of Nashville. “It represents unity, new life, and many other great, celebratory ideals. I put on the first Unity Festival 19 years ago, and it is the largest Wiccan Unity Festival in the Southeast region of America.”
This year’s Pagan Unity Festival in Nashville is May 19 through 22. In Memphis, Summerland Grove Pagan Church is having an open celebration April 30 at Freeman Park in Bartlett.
“There isn’t really a set time to have a gathering or festival because we celebrate for the entire month,” said Owens whose shop, The Goddess and the Moon, is the oldest metaphysical shop in Tennessee. “The festivals are held so that everyone can get together and celebrate. It’s no different than having services for Christmas or Easter in Christianity. It just gives us a chance to celebrate our faith together.”
In 2008, the National Census reported that only 868,000 people in the United States identified as participating in a Pagan religion. Paganism umbrellas over many religions such as Wicca, Druidism, and Native American faiths.
The holiday’s history descends from many different origins. The Welsh, Irish, and Romans all took part. One of the larger differences between Wicca and other Western religions is that followers of the Wiccan faith have free reign to decide which culture and which deity to follow, shaping a religion that is customized to individuals.
Hannah Rascon, a 43-year-old from Memphis, is a high priestess for a coven. She began her journey through Wicca at the age of 19. Her journey was not as difficult as some.
“I was lucky because I had several Wiccan friends when I started, and then my husband,” Rascon said. “But I have seen in some of our newer members that there were struggles to find a place of belonging.”
Rascon said more open festivals would help the public to better understand the Wicca faith. “I believe that there should be more open festivals for the public to have an experience with us in places of familiarity, like the Unity Festivals in May. Aside from that, just opening ourselves up a little more, there isn’t much we can do.”