up. It's morning again. But no. It is "the
" morning. The air smells smoky
and ripe and perfumed and brisk and dripping with promise
. Air is never alive except for those certain magic
days stolen in fall
randomly and wildly
. Today is one of those days.
You walk outside and drink in the breeze. It's cool but the sun is warm. You sit and really smell it for the first time in months. You actually have time today. Today no one will work, and it will be hours before the sun starts to set and the fires are lit. Today is a day for celebration.
The goddess comes of age today, into her beauty and youth and power. She leaves behind her childhood, the maiden, now and becomes the mother, beautiful and full and fertile.
And for this day, this day only, you rule at her side. You are the horned god. You are our lady's consort and partner. Not for any reason that you deserve it or are entitled to it. Rather, just because you ARE. For one single day of your life, you are the god. Or you will be... once the sun settles low and golden behind the greenness.
The sun begins to lower, and you feel your power rising. A power you have never known nor felt begins to well in you. You are suddenly surrounded by attendants, priestesses, who take you to a shelter specially constructed for you. They gently, reverently remove your shirt, then your boots. Then they remove your breeches and wrap a deer hide around your waist. There is no passion here, nothing erotic. They are merely professionals, having taken a million consorts to the goddess. A million gods have been led to her before you, and another million will be brought to her in following years. You are merely god for today.
You feel their fingers trace over your body in patterns, leaving lines and swirls and spots of red and brown and black and rarely white and yellow all over your chest, your face, your legs and wrists and finally your face. Then you watch them, in a daze, as they slowly they adorn you in beads and bangles and baubles--seeds and shells and amulets and flowers and strips of hide. And lastly they have you kneel in the center of the three of them.
They fasten a great rack of antlers upon your head, with cords and hide. You raise your head in wonder. They are lighter than they possibly look to be. They move and feel as if they are growing from your skull and have been there all your life. You stand a minute in wonderment and then are shaken from your trance by a hand on your shoulder, and the gentle words "it's time."
You walk outside and it's dusk. You are led deep into the forest. You smell smoke but know not where it wafts from. You are led around, through twisty paths only these women know, paths that can only be trod this one day. And you are left there. You must find your way back to the fires. You must find the old stag king and fight him and win before you can find the path. For so as the goddess is new-born this time and grows into her own, she needs a virile new mate instead of an ancient. You must find the way back. Or you will die. Either answer satisfies her. For life and death are both hers. Both are her birthright.
You turn and begin to pick through the trees. Your antlers catch on a low branch, and for a moment you panic and thrash. But you calm yourself, disentangle, and trot ahead again.
A noise behind you causes you to start and turn. A stag, full-grown and powerful, faces you and snorts. The Old God. One of you will die. This is how you have been raised, knowing this.
You stand quietly and meditate a moment on your universe. You are young, and powerful. You know this. And you know the power of the god is yours; as is the favor of the goddess. And you charge.
And you pass through the stag, your horns ripping only empty air. As you run through the shadowstag, you hear warm loving laughter. "The only god you had to face, my love, was yourself. And you have. Come to me now, my love. Follow my song to my arms, my dearest."
You follow the voice in your head, that lights your path and untangles the vines from your path. The path that was so twisted before now becomes straight and clear beneath your feet. And finally you enter the fire circle.
There she stands. The young woman the priestesses chose as the goddess. Young, of course, and beautiful. And like the goddess herself at this moment, of course a virgin. She's just a woman, as you are just a man. But in that moment she is the goddess herself. She begins to dance and twirl and spin and leap around the fire, to the clapping and dancing and drumming of all those who look on. She twirls in the firelight, spinning ever faster. You begin to leap and dance around the fire, in a choreographed dance as well, to the cheers of the people as they sense your appearance.
You dance, and chant till you are hoarse. You grow lightheaded at the fumes of the fire, overtaken by a wave of energy and magic and mystery, and dimly wonder what they added to the flames to produce such intoxication. You dance and prance and shake your antlers faster, ever chasing the goddess you desire so badly. Sweat pours off you, streaming to mix in with the soot and paint and bangles. Suddenly you leap ahead and grab her wrist. She stops, startled. In that moment you sweep forward and scoop her up in your arms, marveling at her surprising lightness. You nestle her gently against you and leap out the path you danced in on, out of the firelight into the darkness.
You seek a moment in the darkness until you find the shelter where you were prepared. You pull the curtain back and enter to find the room lit and soft and plush with blankets and pillows. You lay her down gently and snuggle down beside her. She reaches out timidly to touch your shoulder, and for just a fleeting moment she is merely mortal again. But then the magics on her shine and shimmer again, and the power on you flares in response, and you both return to divinity. Then the magic seizes you, and the passion and the need, and you and she, as a million goddesses and gods before you, as the great Mother and the Stag King themselves, lose yourself in the great and sacred Rite.
Later, you and she, weary, cuddle close together for warmth against the still chilly spring air outside. The people outside you know are wondering if your beloved goddess is carrying a Beltane child, most sacred and powerful of children, and they pray she is. But for the moment, you and she care nothing at all for that, only for each other and each other’s power and warmth and softness. You lie close to her, content and blissful. You hold your goddess tight and drift off to sleep away your last hours as a god. And it is right.
And tomorrow you will awaken and be you again, mortal and farmer and tender of land and village. And tomorrow she will awaken and be her again, woman of the village who spins and tends a hearth and home. And that will be right too.