Beltane (Beltain, Beltainne, Beltaine, Bealtaine, Beltany) an ancient Celtic holiday, celebrated on May 1st. It was a fertility festival; a day when the Celts celebrated nature’s ability to reproduce. On this day they performed rituals, and prayed that their fields would be fertile & their summer harvests bountiful.
The Celts called this day Beltane, but May 1st has been a traditional spring festival in many cultures.
Beltane marks the midpoint between the Spring Equinox & the Summer Solstice. These days at the middle of the season are called cross quarter days. They divide the quarters of the year, set by the solstices & the equinoxes.
The ancient Celts actually used these cross quarter days as the division between the seasons. For them, Beltane was the beginning of summer. There are historians who believe some Celtic people may have even observed 8 distinct seasons, instead of the traditional 4.
By the mid-point in the season, there is a clear difference in the energy from the beginning of the season. You can see that the wheel has shifted. What’s happening in nature, the energy in the natural world is different here at Beltane, than it was just 6 weeks ago at the Spring Equinox.
At the Spring Equinox, life was just beginning to emerge. Depending on where you live, there may have been snow on the ground in mid-March. But here, at the beginning of May, there is no denying that the Earth has been reborn. The colors are vibrant. The air is growing warmer.
The Wheel has turned. The energy is growing.
Beltane is a joyful & celebratory time of year. It is the time of year for celebrating life. All life. And the pleasures of being alive.
Beltane is the time to acknowledge & honor the fertility inherent in all life. At Beltane we celebrate the life force within all of us & within the natural world. It’s a traditional time to celebrate the mothers, and their ability to birth new life.
This is the time of year for reclaiming your sexual energy.
Not simply the power sex has to create new life, but also for the pleasure it brings us. At this time of year, every act of pleasure is a celebration of the life force within you. That is why your spirit chose this life, after all – to experience the pleasures your Soul can’t experience without your body to touch things & to feel things.
This is the time of year to celebrate your body! To celebrate all the things your body can do & all the things you are able to experience because you have a body.
At this time of year the life force is rising. In all of us. And in nature.
The energy is expanding outward. We’re moving into the season of GOing & DOing. It’s the time of year for growing & adventuring.
This outward-focused energy is Yang energy. Summer is the Yang side of the Wheel of the Year. So right now the energy is growing & building. And we can feel that energy growing & building in our spirits. This time of year we tend to want to be outside. We feel excited about projects & plans & things to come.
Beltane is a great time of year for plugging into your self-confidence. It’s a beautiful time to connect with your Self. To embrace the amazing, strong, gorgeous being that you are. Don’t be afraid to push your very best, unique, talented, creative Self out into the world.
As Beltane is the Great Wedding of the Goddess and the God, it is a popular time for pagan weddings or Handfastings, a traditional betrothal for ‘a year and a day’ after which the couple would either choose to stay together or part without recrimination. Today, the length of commitment is a matter of choice for the couple, and can often be for life. Handfasting ceremonies are often unique to the couple, but include common elements, most importantly the exchange of vows and rings (or a token of their choice). The act of handfasting always involves tying the hands Handfasting (‘tying the knot’) of the two people involved, in a figure of eight, at some point in the ceremony and later unbinding. This is done with a red cord or ribbon. Tying the hands together symbolises that the two people have come together and the untying means that they remain together of their own free will.
- The first water drawn from a well on Beltane was seen as being especially potent, as was Beltane morning dew. At dawn on Beltane, maidens would roll in the dew or wash their faces with it. It would also be collected in a jar, left in the sunlight, and then filtered. The dew was thought to increase sexual attractiveness, maintain youthfulness, and help with skin ailments.
- The Maiden goddess has reached her fullness. She is the manifestation of growth and renewal, Flora, the Goddess of Spring, the May Queen, the May Bride. The Young Oak King, as Jack-In-The-Green, as the Green Man, falls in love with her and wins her hand. The union is consummated and the May Queen becomes pregnant. Together the May Queen and the May King are symbols of the Sacred Marriage (or Heiros Gamos), the union of Earth and Sky, and this union has merrily been re-enacted by humans throughout the centuries. For this is the night of the Greenwood Marriage. It is about sexuality and sensuality, passion, vitality and joy. And about conception.
Traditions of Beltane
May pole— The Maypole is a popular and familiar image of May Day and Beltane. A phallic pole, often made from birch, was inserted into the Earth representing the potency of the God. The ring of flowers at the top of the Maypole represents the fertile Goddess. It’s many colored ribbons and the ensuing weaving dance symbolize the spiral of Life and the union of the Goddess and God, the union between Earth and Sky.
The colors of Beltane are green, red and white/silver. Green represents growth, abundance and fertility. Red represents strength, vitality, passion and vibrancy. White represents cleansing and clearing and the power to disperse negativity
Handfasting — As Beltane is the Great Wedding of the Goddess and the God, it is a popular time for pagan weddings or Handfastings, a traditional betrothal for ‘a year and a day’ after which the couple would either choose to stay together or part without recrimination. Handfasting ceremonies include common elements, most importantly the exchange of vows and rings. The act of handfasting always involves tying the hands Handfasting (‘tying the knot’) of the two people involved, in a figure of eight, at some point in the ceremony and later unbinding. This is done with a red cord or ribbon. Tying the hands together symbolizes that the two people have come together and the untying means that they remain together of their own free will.
Jumping the broomstick-– this goes back to a time when two people who could not afford a church ceremony, or want one, would be accepted in the community as a married couple if they literally jumped over a broom laid on the floor. The broom marked a ‘threshold’, moving from an old life to a new one.
Fires – Beltane is a Fire Festival. The word ‘Beltane’ originates from the Celtic God ‘Bel’, meaning ‘the bright one’ and the Gaelic word ‘teine’ meaning fire. Together they make ‘Bright Fire’, or ‘Goodly Fire’ and traditionally bonfires were lit to honor the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the Sun’s light to nurture the emerging future harvest and protect the community. Bel had to be won over through human effort. Traditionally all fires in the community were put out and a special fire was kindled for Beltane. People jumped the fire to purify, cleanse and to bring fertility. Couples jumped the fire together to pledge themselves to each other. Cattle and other animals were driven through the smoke as a protection from disease and to bring fertility. At the end of the evening, the villagers would take some of the fire to start their fires anew
Go-A- Maying — is for both the young and the old. Couples spent the night in the woods and fields, made love and brought back armfuls of the first May or hawthorn blossoms to decorate their homes and barns. Hawthorn was never brought into the home except at Beltane – at other times it was considered unlucky. Young women gathered the dew to wash their faces, made Flower Crowns and May Baskets to give as gifts. Everyone was free to enact the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God, and there was an accepted tradition of Beltane babies arriving nine months later…
The Great Rite—A re-enactment of the Sacred Marriage, Heiros Gamos, union of the Earth and Sky The Great Rite is a ritual involving symbolic sexual intercourse with the purpose of drawing energy from the powerful connection between the male and female.
The symbolism of Sexual intercourse is often replaced by the chalice symbolizing the vagina, representing female; the sword symbolizing the penis, representing male. The high priest would ritually shove his sword directly into the high priestess’ cup in the climax of the ceremony.
The purpose of the ritual is to balance our fiery untamed animal nature and our ever-living spiritual nature. Everyone has in their heart the horned god, the libido, and the maiden, virgin goddess; the sacred marriage occurs within yourself, you will become the hermaphrodite where all the Divine powers cross.
The Tantric Ritual
In Tantric Buddhism, yab-yum is a ritual of the male deity in union with a female deity as his consort. The male figure is usually linked to compassion and skillful means and the female partner to ‘insight’. Yab-yum is generally understood to represent the primordial (or mystical) union of wisdom and compassion.
Maithuna, Grand Ritual of Tantra, is a Sanskrit term used in Tantra most often translated as sexual union in a ritual context.
The symbolism of union and polarity is a central teaching in Tantric Buddhism, especially in Tibet. The union is realized by the practitioner as a mystical experience within one’s own body.
Mead and cakes are often shared in communion as part of the ceremony. Mead is known as the Brew of the Divine, made from honey which is appropriate for a love ceremony (and is the oldest alcoholic drink known to humankind).
This season of Beltane is a powerful time, with powerful energy. And we can grab on to that energy & use it to fuel us.
Things To Do
Whatever you do, remember this is the Great Wedding! Dress in your best, especially in green, and wear a flower crown.
Stay out all night, gathering the green, watch the sunrise and make love. Wash your face in the morning dew.
Conceive a new project, grasp that idea, and get on with it.
Dress your home and/or altar with greenery – especially with hawthorn, rowan and birch branches. Ask permission from the tree before you take anything.
Dress a tree. This is the perfect time to go out and celebrate a tree. Especially a hawthorn, rowan or birch – but the tree spirit will welcome you attention whichever kind of tree it is. Sit with it, talk to it, dance around it (maypole), honour the tree and its fertility. Hang ribbons from its branches, each ribbon represents a wish or prayer.
Flowers, flowers and more flowers. This is the festival of Flora. Make a flower crown to wear – the daisy chain in the simplest of all. Make a traditional flower basket. fill it with Beltane greenery and all the flowers and herbs you can find. Think about, and honour, their magical and healing properties while you do so. Give it someone you love.
Make some Hawthorn Brandy. You will need a bottle of brandy and at least one cup of hawthorn flowers, plus a little sugar to taste. Mix the ingredients together and leave away from direct light, for at least two weeks. Shake occasionally. Strain, bottle and enjoy. Hawthorn is renowned as a tonic for the heart.
May Day has long been marked with feasts and rituals. May poles, supremely phallic symbols, were the focal point of old English village rituals. Many people arose at dawn to gather flowers and green branches from the fields and gardens, using them to decorate the village Maypoles.
The May Queen (and often King) is chosen from among the young people, and they go singing from door to door throughout the town carrying flowers or the May tree, soliciting donations for merrymaking in return for the “blessing of May”. This is symbolic of bestowing and sharing of the new creative power that is stirring in the world. As the kids go from door to door, the May Bride often sings to the effect that those who give will get of nature’s bounty through the year.
In parts of France, some jilted youth will lie in a field on May Day and pretend to sleep. If any village girl is willing to marry him, she goes and wakes him with a kiss; the pair then goes to the village inn together and lead the dance which announces their engagement. The boy is called “the betrothed of May.”