Beltane, also known as May Day, is a traditional pagan festival that celebrates the arrival of summer and the fertility of the earth. It is one of the four major seasonal festivals of the Celtic calendar, along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh.
The Origins of Beltane
Beltane has its roots in ancient Celtic and Gaelic traditions. It was originally a pastoral festival that marked the beginning of the summer season and the start of the grazing season for livestock. It was also a time to celebrate the fertility of the land and the coming of new life.
The name "Beltane" is derived from the Old Irish "Bel-taine," which means "bright fire." Fire has always been an important element of the celebration, as it represents the sun and the warmth and light it brings. Bonfires were lit to honour the sun and to encourage its continued strength and growth throughout the summer season.
In addition to the bonfires, Beltane was marked by other rituals and customs. For example, it was common for people to drive their livestock through the smoke and flames of the bonfire as a form of purification and protection. This was believed to protect the animals from disease and to encourage their fertility and abundance.
Another popular tradition associated with Beltane is maypole dancing. The maypole is a tall pole decorated with ribbons, flowers, and other adornments. It is typically erected in the town square or in a prominent location in the community.
Maypole dancing is a group dance in which participants weave in and out around the maypole, while holding on to the ribbons. The dance is often accompanied by music and singing, and it is a symbol of fertility and growth.
The May Queen and the Green Man
Beltane is also associated with the May Queen and the Green Man. The May Queen is a symbol of fertility and represents the goddess of the land. She is often portrayed wearing a crown of flowers and is surrounded by a retinue of attendants.
The Green Man, on the other hand, is a symbol of rebirth and represents the god of the land. He is often depicted as a man with leaves and branches growing out of his head and is associated with the cycles of nature.
The May Queen and the Green Man are often seen as symbols of the balance between male and female energies and the interconnectedness of all things in nature.
In my own practice I celebrate this time by honouring Brigid moving from Maiden into the Mother aspect, and Lugh moving from youth into Father. As Sacred Consorts to each other.
As I work with Cernunnos, I cannot help but honour him at this time as the Green man making love to the Green woman. Both full of life.
It's a time for me when I engage in ritual sex magick, either with a partner or solo, as a Sacred marriage of mystical and sexually creative energies.
Modern Celebrations of Beltane
Today, Beltane is celebrated by pagans and Witches around the world. Although the festival has its roots in ancient traditions, many of the customs and rituals have evolved over time and are now adapted to modern times.
Bonfires are still a popular tradition, and many pagans and Witches celebrate Beltane by lighting their own bonfires in their backyards or in public parks. Maypole dancing is also still practiced, often as part of larger community celebrations.
In addition to these traditional customs, many pagans and Witches celebrate Beltane by honouring the goddess and god of the land and by performing rituals to promote fertility, growth, and abundance.
For example, some may create a Beltane altar, which might include flowers, ribbons, and other symbols of spring and fertility. Others might perform a ritual to plant seeds or to bless the land with water, as a way of encouraging growth and abundance.
Beltane is a time to celebrate the arrival of summer and the fertility of the earth. It is a time to honour the cycles of nature and to connect with the earth and its rhythms. Although the festival has its roots in ancient Celtic and Gaelic traditions, it continues to be celebrated by pagans and Wiccans around the world today, as a way of celebrating new beginnings, growth, and abundance.