Beltane 2020: honoring Gobnait and her bees

Script by Mike Bierschenk, except where otherwise noted.

Initiating the Rite

Purification

As we prepare to do this work today, let us take a moment to purify ourselves and our ritual spaces. If you have a usual way of doing so, whether it is a prayer, a washing, a circling of your space, I invite you to do so now. If you do not have a typical way of doing so, I invite you to repeat after me:

This time is sacred to me, and I honor it.
This place is sacred to me, and I honor it. 
This work is sacred to me, and I honor it.

May I be calm and ready to do this work.

So be it.

Statement of Purpose

Though separated by distance, we join together today in communal harmony, to give praise and offerings to the gods and spirits, to the Mighty Ancestors, the Noble Naturekin, the Shining Godden. And on this occasion of the Beltane, we gather particularly to celebrate the turning of the season, its fertility, the growing life of the warming earth. 

Today, we especially honor Gobnait, the Gaelic lady of the bees, protector and shield. We look to the example of her bees as tenders of the world, who enable its fecundity and who embody a spirit of distributed community, each seeking out its individual path to the benefit of all.

As our ancestors have done before us, and as we pray our descendants may do in their time, so do we do here and now, beginning by honoring the Earth our Mother.

Earth Mother (Danu)

We Children of the Earth call out to our Mother, from whom comes all life and holiness. Today, we call upon her as Danu, mother of the gods of the Gaels: 

Danu, mother, who was first of all the gods,
And from whom descends every living thing, natural and divine,
Every blessing that arises from the earth and soil,
Be with us today, we pray. 

Mother of waters, you pour out life and holiness
In rivers flowing across the land, 
In aquifer and well, in rainfall and in swelling cloud.
Be with us today, we pray.

Mother of the soil, mother of the waters, mother of the gods,
We give you praise, as is good and fitting,
That you may join us at our fire.

Danu, accept our offering!

Having offered to the Earth Mother, who now will call for Inspiration?

Inspiration (Oghma)

We children of Earth call out to Oghma, champion of the Tuatha Dé Danann and creator of the ogham:

Hail, honey-tongue, hearer of heartfelt overtures, Oghma, orator!
Open our ears to ancient echoes of sweetness and singing. 
O speaker of spirit and skill, send us resounding 
In the ways of the wise and well-spoken.

May our words waft on feathers of flame;
may our singing sweeten the gifts of the gods;
may eloquence enter the prayers of the people.

It is good and fitting that we give you our fervent praise,
That with fellowship we greet you at the fire:

Oghma, accept our offering!

And now, having offered to the Earth Mother and called for Inspiration, let us attune ourselves to our shared ritual space.

Attunement

Children of Earth, close your eyes if you are comfortable, and look within yourself. Curl in on yourself, till you are a seed planted in soil. Above, the winter has raged, but here there is darkness and quiet. Here there is safety and security. Here there is vitality and potential. Rest in this place for a few breaths, feeling the pent-up life that is within you. [Pause a few breaths.]

Now, at the base of your feet, feel new growth, a root that springs forth, seeking water and nutrients. See it quest downward, outward, dividing and spreading, inching on. Feel it reach the sunwarmed moisture of the soil, newfallen from the sky. Then reach down, through your new roots, and pull up the waters of the earth. Feel them enter your feet, your legs. Feel the waters rise, filling the cauldron of your loins. Feel them rise, filling the cauldron of your heart. Feel them rise, and feel yourself unfurl, erupting above the soil as a new shoot as the water fills your head and arms, fills the cauldron of your head to overfulness that bursts forth in a riot of growth and green.

And as you rise and grow, a sapling rising tall, stretch toward the light of the sun above you. Nourished by the blessings of the Earth Mother, grow ever more swiftly, opening into a canopy, a mature tree whose leaves flutter softly in the cool high breezes. Feel the light of the sun strike your leaves, feel it fuel the miracle therein, as the fire of the sun transforms the waters of the earth and the breath of the skies into lifegiving sugars to sustain you, oxygen to sustain the animals of the lands. You are a creature of living fire and water, filled with the mystery of life.

And now let your awareness rise above yourself, seeing yourself from above. See how, though your trunk is a single point, your canopy spreads out, filling a space around you. And see, butting up against your canopy, that of another tree, and another, and another, a patchwork of trees that stretches from horizon to horizon in our great forest. Though our trunks stand apart, our canopy, our awareness, our mind reaches out to touch each other so that, though distant, we are one holy and sacred grove. Open your eyes now and see, here and now, how we gather together in unity. And let us pray:

The Waters support and surround us, 
The Land extends about us,
The Sky stretches out above us.
At our center burns a living flame.

May all the Kindreds bless us:
May our worship be true,
May our actions be just, 
May our love be pure.

Blessings, honor, and worship to the Holy Ones.

So be it.

[Ceisiwr Serith, “Cosmology Prayer”

Recreate the Cosmos

Having attuned to our mythic space and to each other, let us Recreate the Cosmos. In the magical plane, all points are equally center, but during this the space of our rituals we proclaim our own centers and align them with the cosmos, blessing a Fire, a Well, and a Tree. If you have a home shrine, and have a typical way of doing so, I invite you to bless your hallows while I sing Ian Corrigan’s “Portal Song.” If you do not have a home shrine, I invite you to sing or read along, envisioning each verse in the shrine of your heart.

Portal Song
Ian Corrigan; arr. Mike Bierschenk

CHORUS
By Fire and by Water, between the Earth and Sky
We stand like the World-Tree, rooted deep, crowned high.

Come we now to the Well, the eye and the mouth of Earth,
Come we now to the Well, and silver we bring,
Come we now to the Well, the waters of rebirth,
Come we now to the Well, together we sing:

CHORUS

We will kindle a Fire, Bless all, and with harm to none,
We will kindle a Fire, and offerings pour,
We will kindle a Fire, A light ‘neath the Moon & Sun,
We will kindle a fire, our spirits will soar.

CHORUS

Gather we at the Tree, the root & the crown of all,
Gather we at the Tree, Below & above,
Gather we at the Tree, Together we make our call,
Gather we at the Tree, In wisdom & love.

CHORUS (with gusto)

And now, our Hallows blessed, let us bind them together as one Sacred Center spanning time and distance, one welcoming fire before the Holy Ones. Stretch out your hand over your Hallows, if they be physical, or see within your mind’s eye your heart’s shrine, as I pray:

Kindled from the Great Flame,
Kept by prudent skill,
Join with us this common hearth
That these flames are one.

[Peter Coughlin and Sara Blackwelder, “ADF Unity Flame Charm”]

Gatekeeper/Gates

Inviting the Gatekeeper (Garanus)

The Center established, let us call to a Gatekeeper who may aid us in opening these Hallows as Gates spanning all Worlds and Realms.  In Three Cranes Grove, we often call upon the bird who bears our name, who is constant friend and ally. Let us go to meet him.

Close your eyes, if you are comfortable doing so, and see in your mind’s eye the waters of the Well mingling with the heat of the Fire, producing a dense fog, all-colored and yet colorless. These are the mists of magic. See them as they roll in around your sacred space, obscuring the surroundings in all directions, closing us off from the mundane world, leaving nothing but our Grove.

At the edge of the mists, there is a parting. The mists roll back to reveal still waters, deep and undisturbed, stretching far into the distance, disappearing into the farthest mists.

In the shallows before you, where the land meets the waters, stands a tall, watchful crane. One foot stands upon the land, and the other is in the water. His eye is raised to the sky.

This is Garanus Crane. He has dominion over the three realms: he walks upon the land, feeds in the waters, and flies through the sky. He guides us among the worlds and realms, that we may visit them in safety, secure beneath his sheltering wing. 

Garanus Crane, we give you praise, as is good and fitting. Come join us at our fire, far-reaching one; Garanus Crane, accept our offering!

Opening the Gates

And now, Garanus, we ask you this further boon. We pray you, join your magic with ours, that we may open these Hallows as Gates. (And let all of us, no matter where we are, open our own Gates, be they on a shrine or within our hearts.)

May these Wells be not simple vessels on our altars, but deepen as shafts plunging to the Underworld, bringing our prayers and offerings to all below. Garanus Crane, open the Gate!

May these Fires be not simple flame lit by human hands, but brighten as a pillar of fire stretching to the heavens, bringing our prayers and offerings to all above. Garanus Crane, open the Gate!

And may these Trees be not merely wood and stone, but the great and mighty World Tree, rooted deep, crowned high, spanning all the worlds and realms, bringing our prayers and offerings to all the spirits, no matter where they be. Garanus Crane, open the Gate!

We stand here, connected at the Sacred Center to worlds Above and Below, to all the realms of Land, Sea, and Sky. Let the Gates be Open!

Children of Earth, the Gates lie open before the Holy Ones. Let only truth be spoken here, as we turn our attention to the Three Kindreds.

Inviting the Kindreds

Ancestors

[Who now will call to the Ancestors?]

We Children of Earth call out to the Ancestors, those who’ve gone before:
Old ones, wise ones, mighty dead,
Who’ve walked the paths we now follow,
Whose songs we sing, whose breads we bake,
Whose lessons we daily take to heart:
Ancestors, we invite you!

Ancestors of faith who precede us on these elder ways;
Ancestors of culture whose deeds inspire and provoke;
Ancestors of blood whose genes encode our bones;
Ancestors of still-thicker bonds whose friendship nurtures and sustains:
Ancestors, we invite you!

O Ancestors, we give you praise, as is good and fitting. 
Come join us at our fire, mighty ones:

Ancestors, accept our offering!

Nature Spirits

[And who will call to the Spirits of Nature?]

We Children of Earth call out to the Nature Spirits who surround us every day:

You furred and feathered, of skin or scale,
Who run and swim and fly and swim,
Who travel land and sea and sky,
Nature Spirits, we invite you!

You leaf and root, you seed and blossom,
Algal bloom and fungal thread,
Pollen and spore, cutting and graft,
Nature Spirits, we invite you!

You convection and current, 
You rocky strata, you thermoclines,
You starry motes and deep-sea sprites
Nature Spirits, we invite you!

O Naturekin, we give you praise, as is good and fitting. 
Come join us at our fire, noble ones:

Nature Spirits, accept our offering!

Shining Ones

[And finally, who will call to the Shining Ones?]

We Children of Earth call out to the Shining Ones, the bright deities:

Bright and shining, powerful and glorious, 
Shining Ones, we invite you!

You shadowed ones of dark and depth,
Who teach us varied mysteries;

You ordered ones of storied heights, 
Who shape and guide our word and deed;

You gentle ones of hearth and home,
Who nurture us from birth to death;

You valiant ones of struggle and strife,
Who help us each to fight for each;

You ever-changing majesty
Of ever-vibrant deity;

O Shining Ones, we give you praise, as is good and fitting. 
Come join us at our fire, immortal ones:

Shining Ones, accept our offering!

3K Praise Offerings

Then see gathered around you the Holy Ones: the faces and forms of those dead who join you at the fires; the spirit and substance of the natural and the supernatural world who surround us daily and who join us now; the bright and shining godden who honor us by their presence. Take time now to give them offering, whether in material or prayerful form. I invite you, as you return, to join me in song.

Hal-An-Tow
English trad., adapted Lisa Lea Allshouse and Mike Bierschenk

Since Winter was created,
And then its power abated,
We’ve always celebrated
The coming of the Spring

CHORUS
Hal-an-tow, jolly rumble-o
We were up long before the day-o
To welcome in the summertime,
To welcome in the May-o
For summer is a-coming in
And winter’s gone away-o

Take no scorn to wear the horn
It was the crest when you were born
Your father’s father wore it then
Your father wore it, too

CHORUS

The spirits’ blessings on our Folk,
Their power and their might-o,
To send us peace throughout our days
Send peace by day and night-o

DotO (Gobnait and her Bees) 

Now let us turn to our most honored guest at this ritual, Gobnait, the Irish Lady of the Bees. We know Gobnait mostly from Christian writings; the Catholic Church regards her as a saint, a patron of beekeepers, but this an echo of an earlier mystery. Her name is a diminutive of the Irish gabha /ˈɡəu.ə/, which means ‘smith’, and her saintly feastday is on February 11th — if this sounds familiar, like Brigit, this shouldn’t be surprising. Some think her a facet of that well-known goddess, but I think her a sister; familiar, to be sure, but all her own. Come: let us meet her.

Close your eyes, if you will, and see the mists of magic roll in again around you. Breathe in, breathe out, and sees the mists part to reveal a grassy landscape rolling away in all directions. Before you is a modest cottage, and behind the cottage is a wild garden, erupting with more flowers of more kinds and colors than seem possible, closed in with a simple wood fence. 

As we enter the garden, pushing open the light gate beneath a bowered arch, a young woman stands from where she has been crouching, planting in one of the flowerbeds. Her hair is tied back from her face with a light scarf, and she wears a simple dress, with a working apron over it, on which she brushes the dirt from her right hand, raising it so that one of the many bees buzzing over the flowers can alight gently on her outstretched finger. Her left hand still holds a trowel, damp with dark soil.

This is Gobnait, tender of the bees, who we now welcome into our rite.

Blessed Gobnait, we call to you!
We honor you this Beltane day, 
You and your winged sisters
Whose worth is beyond treasure,
Whose beauty, beyond jewels.

Without your tending, the hive is not safe.
Without their labor, the earth bears no fruits.
Without the fruits of the earth, we cannot live.

Bright one, holy goddess
Of wing and of pollen, of honey and wax,
Hear us now as we call! 

What do we eat that is not of your tending?
How may we live, except through your care?
You are humble, unassuming, yet your works rest at our core. 

Come join us at our fire, holy Gobnait! Come join us at our fire, holy bees!
We give you praise, as is good and fitting.

Gobnait, holy bees: accept our offering!

DotO Praise Offerings

And see then how Gobnait inclines her head and opens her hands, bees swirling behind her like a shining halo. Take time now to give offering to her, to them, whether in material or prayerful form. I invite you, as you return, to join me in song.

Beekeeper
Mike Bierschenk

Beekeeper, Beekeeper,
As you tend your hive,
Send out your winged maidens
That we all may thrive.

Prayer of Sacrifice

Having given offerings to the Ancestors, to the Spirits of Nature, to the Shining Ones, and especially to Gobnait and to her bees, I now pour out one final offering to carry our prayers to the holy ones.

May our prayers descend in the Well to all who dwell below.
May our prayers arise on the Fire to all who dwell above.
May our prayers flow out along root and branch of the Tree, reaching all the worlds and realms.

Kindreds All, accept our sacrifice!

The Waters of Life

Omen

And now, having given, we ask that we may receive. Who then will take the omens? [The seer responds.]

Then we ask, what blessings or wisdom do the Ancestors, bring us?

[Response]

And we ask, what blessings or wisdom do the Nature Spirits, especially the Holy Bees, bring us?

[Response]

And finally, what blessings or wisdom do the Shining Ones, especially Gobnait, bring us?

[Response]

Are the offerings good? [These are good omens indeed, etc. (hopefully)]

Call for the Blessing

Typically in our rituals we infuse the blessings into one central vessel, and then we pour them out that the folk may receive them. All waters are by their very nature sacred, however, wherever they may be, and so I ask you now to take your cup, no matter what it’s filled with, and hold it up. 

These waters, held in each hand, are those we set aside now for our use, that we may fill them with the blessings of the Kindreds.

Pouring down from the heavens,
Through sunlight and moonlight,
From the highest heavens the waters cascade,
Bringing blessings to us here.
Holy ones, give us the waters!

Rising from the depths of the oceans, 
From the deep places of the earth, 
From far below the waters fountain forth,
Bringing blessings to us here.
Holy ones, give us the waters!

Rushing across the land,
From east and west and north and south,
From every corner of the earth the waters flow forth,
Bringing blessings to us here.
Holy ones, give us the waters!

Hallowing the Blessing

Then gaze into the waters before you and see these blessings mix and mingle in these waters, bright and shining with the gifts of the Kindreds. See them pouring in from all corners, the blessings that we have been given: [???], [???], and [???] These are the waters of blessing, the waters of fellowship, the waters we share as one Grove together with the Kindreds Three. 

Behold, the Waters of Life!

Affirmation of the Blessing

These waters now blessed, know that they hold the blessings of the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, the Shining Ones. As I play and sing, think on our blessings — [???], [???], and [???]. When you are ready to take them into you and use them for the work ahead, then drink in the blessings of the Holy Ones. Sláinte!

Rain Down The Waters
Mike Bierschenk, Jan Avende

Rain down the waters of blessings.
Rain down the waters of life.

Fill us with your blessings,
Blessings of Joy (Hope/Care/Love in subsequent verses)

Working

When I started planning this ritual, I was looking to the bees solely as bearers of fertility that extended beyond the obvious ways we often discuss fertility at Beltane. But in the time since, I continually return to Gobnait and her bees for an example of how to be human in the midst of pandemic.

Honeybees, as hive insects, engage in altruistic eusociality, a social structure where the success of the group is of primary importance, and each individual’s efforts go toward the benefit of the group, though it may not benefit them directly. This is what we’ve been doing: staying at home, keeping social distance, taking precautions and accepting strictures because they benefit us as a whole. 

In much same vein, in my various social circles I’ve seen a resurgence in resource sharing: dropping off food at other’s houses, sharing information and commiseration via phonecalls, texts, Zoom calls… This is also terribly beelike behavior: bees store their resources for the good of the hive and share them as needed; they engage in cooperative care, they exchange information on where to find the best flowers, just as we shared toilet paper sightings in those first few weeks.

We are not, of course, together in a hive. We are secluded, separated. But just as the bees go out on their individual journeys only to return to conviviality, so are we all on long flights alone, but we will return. And we have the benefit of in-flight communication, both of the technological and the magical variety. 

Our working for this ritual is a worked of shared sigilcraft. In just a moment I’ll share a sigil that I’ve drawn, which includes symbols of gifts Gobnait sent with me, from meditation leading up to this ritual: a gift of bounty, a gift of connectedness, a gift of a safe place to which to return. I invite you to engage with this sigil however best pleases you. Elaborate it, add symbols that speak of the gifts we received today. Decorate it; make it beautiful as a garden. Tesselate it, adding copies sharing edges in an expanding honeycomb. Do all of this on paper, or in your mind. Or simply use it as a focus for meditating on the gifts of the bees. However you engage with it, know that this shared symbol helps to bind us all together in community.

We Are A Hive
Mike Bierschenk

We are a hive, apart yet centered,
Swirling aloft with our songs entwined.
We are a hive, we grow together,
Tending the earth in a wondrous flight.
We are a hive, we are a hive!
Working together we all may thrive.

Thankings

Children of Earth, we have done good work: we have called and offered to the Holy Ones, to Gobnait and her bees, and our gifts have been received and returned in kind. We hold within us the blessings of the Kindreds, and we have used them to forge and reforge the connections that hold us each to each, with the aid of the Bee-lady and her winged maidens. Now, it is time to return ourselves to ordinary time and space. But first, we must thank all those we have called.

Gobnait and Her Bees

Gobnait, holy goddess
Of wing and of pollen, of honey and wax,
Lady of bees and their fortune.

For joining us in hospitality, we are deeply grateful. Gobnait, Holy Bees, we thank you.

Shining Ones

Shining Ones, greatest powers!
Light and dark, martial and domestic,
Familiar and aloof, varied, ever-radiant.

For joining us in hospitality, we are deeply grateful. Shining Ones, we thank you.

Nature Spirits

Nature Spirits, 
Noble powers of earth and sea and sky,
Quick-flitting spark and slow-heaving tide,
Bright-furred and -plumed, glossy-leafed and rooted.

For joining us in hospitality, we are deeply grateful. Nature Spirits, we thank you.

Ancestors

Ancestors, mighty ones,
You of our blood,
You of our hearth,
You of our culture,
You of our heart.

For joining us in hospitality, we are deeply grateful. Ancestors, we thank you.

Garanus

Garanus Crane, mighty bird!
Long-limbed and liminal,
Transporting, transgressing, transcending,
Constant protector.

For joining us in hospitality, we are deeply grateful. Garanus Crane, we thank you.

Closing the Gates

And now, Garanus, we ask of you one final boon, that you join your magic with ours once more as we close these Gates. Be with each of us as we together close the Gates on our shrines and in our hearts. 

May this Tree, wide-limbed and deep-rooted, draw back and become a simple tokens of wood and stone. Garanus Crane, close the Gate!

May this Fire, pillar of flame reaching the heavens, draw down and become simple flames. Garanus Crane, close the Gate!

And may this Well, deep shaft of offering, draw up and become simple vessels of water. Garanus Crane, close the Gate!

May all be as it was before, save the work we have done here. Let the Gates be closed!

Releasing the Center

As we have joined our hearths together, we now unbind them. But though we release the sacred center we have created in harmony, know that we carry with us the memory of our joining, and we carry our gifts and our work into the world.

So stretch out your hands over your shrines, or see in your mind’s eye the Hallows of your heart, as I pray:

Holy fires we kindled,
Fed with blessings bright.
Though we now release them
Our souls recall their light.

Thanking Inspiration

Honey-tongue, hearer, Oghma,
Out of ether you brought
Bright blessing to our tongues.
Take, O Teller, our gratitude.

Oghma, we thank you.

Thanking the Earth Mother

Danu,
Mother of soil,
Mother of waters,
Mother of the gods,
Mother of us all.

For joining us in hospitality, we are deeply grateful. Earth Mother, we thank you.

Closing the Rite

Thank you most sincerely for joining us for a celebration of Beltane. While we miss seeing your smiling faces in person, it has been a joy to see them here in our square honeycomb. We look forward to seeing you again — like everyone else, we’re taking each day as it comes, but watch our website and our social media for news on when, where, and how we’re meeting. 

At our in-person high day rituals, we typically collect donations for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. In this time of great uncertainty, MOF and its partner pantries desperately need funds to support those members of our community who are hard-hit by layoffs, furloughs, and other economic precarity. Just as bees rely on their hivemates for food and safety, so do we all. If you have the means to do so, we invite you to visit threecranes.org/donate and make a donation, entering “food bank” in the memo line — we would love to make a collective donation to MOF in the name of our Crane community. 

And with that, our rite is ended. We invite you to stay and chat — we can’t have potluck together, but we can still have fellowship. May we walk with wisdom.

Walk With Wisdom
Sable

Walk with wisdom from this hallowed place.
Walk not in sorrow, our roots shall ere embrace.
May strength be your brother, and honor be your friend,
And luck be your lover until we meet again.

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