Beltane in the Past and Present
May 1 is Beltane, or May Day, is one of the four major holidays in the pagan Wheel of the Year. It falls directly opposite to Samhain, with six months in between the two cross-quarter days. Astrological Beltane (the half way point between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice) falls a few days later, this year it coincides with the Scorpio Full Moon of May 5.
In the pagan calendar, it is a fire holiday. Though the origins of the name are disputed, it seems to have Anglo-Saxon or Celtic origins, perhaps from bright fire, or bale-fire, or after the Celtic Sun God Bel. Beltane is also associated with fertility, especially because it corresponded to the traditional last stretch of the last phase of the agricultural planting season.
Balefires are still common throughout Europe on the eve of (called Walpurgisnacht in Central and North Europe), and on Beltane proper. Fire is incorporated within Beltane rituals because of its association with the sun, celebrating with giant bon or balefires in order to ensure the sun’s light would promote a fruitful and prosperous growing season.
Beltane is a joyous sabbat, most often associated with feasting and imbibing, dancing, revelry, and courtship. Beltane is the embodiment of “spring fever” – its tone is one of bliss, delight, and merriment. Much of the emphasis of Beltane’s symbolic associations has to do with abundance, fruitfulness, and plenty – in every meaning of those words.
In some Pagan traditions, particularly many Wiccan paths, Beltane is the time of union between the May Lord (or King) and May Lady (or Queen), manifestations or avatars of the Goddess and God. In many Beltane rituals their union is honoured through symbolic reenactment of the Great Rite. As such, Beltane is also a traditional time for making and breaking of contracts for engagement or trial marriages, as well as other legal arrangements.
One of the symbols most commonly associated with this time of year is the May Pole. It is traditionally adorned with garlands, which revelers then interweave as they dance around it. The phallus of the pole is often depicted with a flower crown or wreath around the top, again symbolic of the union of the Goddess and God. It is also a symbolic gesture or act of sympathetic magic to bring back fertility and abundance to the land.
There is a large amount of faery lore around Beltane, and it is said to be one of the times of year at which the veil between the worlds is thinnest. It is said that a great deal of faerie energy intermingles with our world in this period, and many otherworldly occurrences are known to occur, and magic abounds! As with Samhain, it is also a good time for any type of divination.
Some of the specific goddesses associated with Beltane include Danu, Blodeuwedd and Shiela-na-Gig (Celtic), Floralia (Roman), Artemis (Greek), as well asHera (Greek) / Juno (Roman). Her consort can also be of many names, including the Green Man or Jack in the Green (Anglo-Saxon), Bel or Belenos (Celtic), Cernunnos (Celtic), Bacchus (Roman) and Pan (Greek).
Here are a few ideas about Activities and Celebrations for this joyful day, either on your own or with others:
If you have a Maypole available to you, dance it and feel the layers of fertility, abundance and prosperity coming together as you weave each layer of garland. If you don’t have a Maypole available to you, come to Wonderworks on May 3 for afree, open ritual!
- Make flower crowns or wreaths and wear them while you celebrate the return of spring and warmth, or use them to adorn your home or altar
- Jumping over the balefire is considered good luck and to ritually purify the self from any ill-fortune. You fire doesn’t have to be huge, a small one made (safely!) in a cast iron cauldron will do
- You can also purify items (ritual implements, divinatory tools, jewelry, etc.) by passing them through the smoke of the balefire