Beltane or Beltaine (also known as May Eve, May Day, and Walpurgis Night) is a fire festival that falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. A pagan festival that reflected the joy felt by all the people that Winter had passed and Summer was officially welcomed. Beltane has also been celebrated by different cultures around the world for many centuries.
Beltane is celebrated on 1st May but festivities for the event can begin on the last night of April. It is a celebration of the earth, nature and the new life that will emerge during this seasonal transition. A festival of flowers, fertility, sexuality, sensuality, love and delight. A celebration of the union of the God and Goddess (or the Goddess and the Green Man as a representation of the Sun God) – the coming together of male and female energies to create new life along with the coming of summer and fertility in the year ahead.
The Maypole we often see being danced around on a village green was traditionally a tall slim pine cut from the forest. The pole was decorated to represent a living tree and fertility. Many believe the Maypole portrays the union of the God and Goddess and therefore the pole represents the God and the ribbons that encase it, the Goddess.
It is thought that at Beltane the God (to whom the Goddess gave birth at the Winter Solstice) now attains the strength and maturity to court and become lover to the Goddess. An important event in the Celtic calendar to welcome back the sun and good weather, thus ensuring good healthy crops in the coming months. In modern times we may not hold so much importance on the seasons for our crops and survival but we do still consider creation and fertility an important issue.
The lighting of fires at this time of year is from the Celtic custom, to purify the earth and free growing crops from any “Witches” spells. Bones were often burnt because of the foul stench of the subsequent smoke, which was designed to repel any evil spirits. It is believed that this practice is how the word bonfire originated.
Celebrations are personal, as mentioned before, don’t feel guilty if you do not have time or are unable to perform elaborate rituals. Here are a few simple activities that you might enjoy doing to celebrate Beltane.
- Make a mini Maypole for your Altar.
- Light a Bonfire – If small enough you can leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) and happiness through the coming year.
- Light a candle and make a wish as you step over it.
- Meditate by the light of a bonfire or candle.
- Take a walk to look for blossoms. When you find a blossom, pause to appreciate it’s scent, colour and appearance.
- Decorate banisters, posts, curtain rods, walls, thresholds and other parts of your house or garden with strands of blossom.
- Take time for yourself, give thanks to the earth for its bounty and blessings and set your intentions for the coming season.
- Place flowers at cemeteries in remembrance of loved ones.
- Bring flowers into your home.
- Make a flower crown.
- Prepare a picnic or feast to share with others.
- Plant seeds and tend seedlings in preparation of transplanting them outside.
- Celebrate your romantic life, spend time with people you love or kindle a new flame.
- Perform prosperity or love spells.
- Do some divination.
- Do some gardening.
- Put on some music and dance.
- Plant wildflower seeds for the bees.
- Burn lilac and frankincense. Or try Green man incense, created just for igniting sexual fire for Beltane.
Rituals celebrating Beltane include bonfires, dancing, feasting, flowers and gifts. It’s a time to celebrate the return of the sun and warmer weather, to look forward to a bountiful harvest and to share with others. Beltane is usually a time for group celebrations, maypole dancing, courting, feasting and drinking. However it is not always possible to meet up with others but there are still many ways to celebrate. Rituals are very personal, you don’t have to perform any at all or you could adapt an activity or ritual to something that feels right for you. You can make it as long or as simple as you wish. Here are a few ideas.
- Decorate your altar in red, white, pink, green and yellow. Add flowers or blossoms from your garden. Add a candle to represent the Beltane Fire. You may like to add fertility symbols from nature, such as seeds, buds or discarded egg shells, as well as a goddess statue or symbol. If you like incense try Rose, Jasmin or ylang ylang. Ground and prepare yourself for your ritual. When you are ready light your incense and/or candles, then call to your Gods and Goddesses in whatever way you prefer. Thank them for the trees, flowers and crops and all that you have been given. Thank them for your friends and loved ones. Think of three things that you are grateful for and why. If you wish you can the perform any spells that at this time, especially love, fertility, prosperity and protection spells. Finish with a simple meditation.
- Prepare aphrodisiacs and sumptuous foods to share as a romantic meal with a loved one. Don’t forget to add flowers, candles, wine and chocolates to your table.
- Purify with Flame and smoke Ritual. As this is a fire festival this ritual is based on passing between two fires. It is derived from the old tradition of leading your herds and flocks through two fires for protection and purification. This was done when the animals were being moved from winter to summer pasture. In the evening, when the light has started to fade, light two fires, torches or candles. Ahead of the two fires, set an Altar with a green candle and other candles nearby for light. If you have enough candles or tealights you can light your entire path up to the “fires” towards the Altar but be mindful of any fire hazard. Add food and drink to your Altar for offerings and to share. Wine, mead or beer are good but you can use juice or water if you would prefer. Prepare yourself for ritual in your normal way, cleansing, wearing robes or donning your favourite jewellery or whatever works for you, then light your candles and/or fire. When you are ready walk slowly toward the altar and the two fires. As you do so listen to the nature around you and to your inner voice. As you reach the two fires, pause between them, see their light, feel their heat and smell their smoke. If you are just using candles, imagine them as two roaring bonfires on either side of you. Feel and acknowledge the cold of winter giving way to the warmth of summer. Think about anything else that might have stayed in your life longer than it perhaps should have. Imagine it being consumed by the flames and then being carried away in the smoke. When you feel ready to move on, pass through the fires and up to the Altar, recognise the things you have let go and that you have moved on from. Give thanks for all that you have been provided with. Give thanks for the passing of the old, the start of the new season and the promise of abundance to come. Make an offering of gratitude by crumbling some of your food and pouring a little of your drink onto the ground. Take some more food and drink for yourself before turning round to face the path you have just walked. As you feast, think of the season you have left behind and anything else that was unwanted, like sickness or worries. Visualize them fading away into the distance as you welcome Summer back into your life. Sit and meditate for a while if you wish. Take as long as you need. When you have finished, walk around the fires (not through them), and extinguish any candles still alight along the path. Clear away your Altar as appropriate. You may want to leave any small bonfires to burn down naturally but put out any candles, torches or fires that may be a hazard risk.
- As Beltane is a fertility festival, celebrate by watching for new life. Look out for birds and animals feeding their young, new plants emerging through the soil and the return of the bees and butterflies. Think about this new life and honour it’s growth.
- Make a May basket. Fill a basket with flowers, edible treats and/or small gifts and positive energy, then leave it on the doorstep of a friend or neighbour, (especially if ill, elderly or alone but it can be for anyone as a goodwill wish).
- Take a walk in nature. Visit both forest and field to know earth’s balance. Reflect on the miracle of life and all that it offers.
Beltane is all about celebrations, feasting, warmth, new life, love, fertility and abundance. Spend the time with loved ones if you can. If you are alone, keep in touch by phone or video call or just be with others in spirit and in your thoughts. Whatever you choose to do, do what’s right for you and what brings you peace.