The Twin Gates of the Turning Wheel

The Wheel turns and seasons change. Across the globe, the power of the sun dances upon the magnetic field of the earth below, as the veils between the worlds grow thin. In the north, the hidden powers of life and nature rise into lusty fullness, while in the south a stark contrast, as the dread gate of death stands solemnly open.

Most modern Pagans recognize the 30th of April or May 1st as a sacred holiday, while some observe a more astrologically determined date (the sun at 15º Taurus, which will occur on May 5, 2024, at 6:17 AM, Pacific).

In the northern hemisphere this is usually celebrated as Beltane, while the south generally observes this time as Samhain.

Marble trapezophoron (table support) of the Roman era, 175-200 AD, from an Attic workshop. It depicts the little god Eros in the Eros-Thanatos type (Love and Death). The young god is wingless, and standing on an overturned torch, a symbol of death. [Wikimedia Commons, Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, public domain]

In the Anderson Faery Witchcraft tradition, Beltane and Samhain are sometimes considered the most powerful of the sabbats, at least in terms of their effect on human consciousness. Samhain usually ranks as the most iconic of the Witches’ sabbats, what with the themes of death, necromancy, and ancestral reverence. The veil is said to be thin at this time, making contact with the dead an easier affair, as the Underworld comes into greater focus.

Culturally, we often think of the Underworld as the world of the dead, and indeed a great body of folkloric and mythological material supports that assertion. But while we might be inclined to think only in terms of the human dead and ancestors, another aspect of the Underworld presents itself as the hidden presence of living nature; that realm sometimes called “Faery.”

In my practice, the Faery realm is the hidden spirit of the land, the mystical nature of nature Herself. We might think of it as another dimension, occupying the same space as that which we collectively consider to be real, existing as simply another aspect of reality than what we can normally perceive with our physical senses.

Faery, as the hidden life force of nature, can also be seen as sexual in focus. Beltane is often considered to be a “fertility festival,” with the obvious phallic symbolism of the May Pole taking center stage amidst a backdrop of sexual celebration. In my queer-centered practice, fertility takes a backseat to that of the celebration of pleasure, and so non-reproductive sex becomes the focus. This is a perfect time for engaging in sex magic, whether alone or with our partner(s).

With this understanding we might begin to see how the mysteries of Beltane and Samahin can be about sex and death, respectively; two mysteries that are paradoxically aspects of each other. Each can be about the dissolution of the ego, temporarily as in the case of sex and orgasm (bringing to mind the French term “La Petite Mort,” or “the little death”) and permanently as with physical death. We dissolve the ego in order to move beyond its limitations and in so doing, we become open to the mysteries of the larger universe.

We might then consider Beltane and Samhain to be akin to the magnetic poles of the earth, or even that of a battery, generating a current of power that moves continuously between the two. As practitioners of natural magic, we tap into those currents through our rituals and other observances, so as to shift our awareness into a space in which we can better perceive the spiritual consciousness inherent within these experiences. As with all forms of animism, we recognize that everything is alive, and everything has a spirit with which we may learn to connect and with which we may communicate.

Another connection between these two experiences can be found in folklore which often describes a strange connection between the living denizens of the Faery realm and that of the human dead. Oftentimes, faery beings are compared to those who have previously died, sometimes overtly such as in the cases in which a faery being is later recognized as being a person who had previously died, or even more generally as in the case of some of the euphemisms for the fae, such as “the Fair Ones” (where “fair,” meaning “pale,” is not meant to refer to a  Caucasian skin-tone, but rather a stark white like Western Europeans would observe in a human corpse). With this connection between the fae and the dead we are reminded that we are intimately connected to these mysterious beings, and it is the focus of some forms of Western Magic(k) to more formalize and make conscious this connection.

In European folklore, death is sometimes associated with the direction of the west, where the sun sets, bringing the day to a close. With Samhain we will then “open the Western Gate,” that is to say, observe a ritual in which we make formal the connection between the living and dead so as to better honor our ancestors and those who have gone before. With Beltane we might then open the Eastern Gate, in order to do the same for the faery folk, inviting them to join with us in our revelries, drawing from the symbolism of beginnings, such as that offered by the rising sun.

A forest path, new life blooming from decay [Pixabay]

There are many ways to celebrate the Twin Gates of the Turning Wheel, and it is far beyond the scope of this humble article to detail them adequately. I end this here by including a couple incantations I wrote for my book, Betwixt & Between, for the opening of the Western and Eastern gates. Use them as-is or feel free to let them inspire you to write your own. However you may choose to celebrate or observe, take a moment to recognize the global impact of this powerful time. As we observe one, our friends in the opposite hemisphere are celebrating its opposite. And yet, like two candle flames merging into one, they are of a singular mystery: to step beyond the ego and into the fullness of our being. Sex and Death are of one mystery. May your celebrations bring you healing, understanding, and connection.


Samhain: Opening the Western Gate
By moon that hangs low in the sky,
By ancient sea, the earth’s own womb,
I call the Gate to open wide,
That leads to life beyond the tomb.

Flesh and bone now laid to rest,
Into the earth, our Mother’s breast,
Now by your names we here invite,
Into our circle on this night.


Beltane: Opening the Eastern Gate
By sun that rises in the sky
By ancient wind, the earth’s own breath,
I call the Gate to open wide,
That leads to life that defies death.

By flesh and bone and quickened blood
Aroused by touch to passions’ flood
We here invite the Shining Fae
To join our revelry this day.

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