Beltane, the Celtic May Day officially begins at moonrise on May Day Eve and marks the beginning of the third quarter or second half of the ancient Celtic year. Marking the beginning of truly warm weather, this Sun celebration was often marked with bonfires. Herds of livestock were often driven between blazing fires to cleanse and protect them from illness, dwellings were opened to the sun and air and gardens were started. Early greens and edibles are emerging, returning the bounty of life after the harsh and lean winter months.
Beltane and its counterpart Samhain divide the year into its two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and summer (Light Part). As Samhain is about honoring Death, Beltane, its counterpart, is about honoring Life. It is the time when the sun is fully released from his bondage of winter and able to rule over summer and life once again.
The beginning of summer begins an important time, for surviving winter is a difficult journey and weariness and a soul-deep hunger has set in. In times past the food stocks were low; variety was a distant memory. The drab grey and muddy brown of winter's end perfectly represents the dullness and fatigue that permeates our lives even to this day. We need Beltane, as the earth needs the sun, for our very Spirit cries out for the renewal of summer and life.
Beltane marks that the winter's journey has passed and summer has begun, however, it is still a precarious time. The crops are still very young and tender, susceptible to frost and blight and temperamental weather can give clouds and ice as easily as the sun. As was the way of ancient thought, the wheel of seasons would not turn without human intervention. People did everything in their power to encourage the growth of the Sun, for the Earth will not produce without the warm love of the Sun. Fires, celebration, and rituals were an important part of the Beltane festivities to ensure that the warmth of the Sun's light would stimulate the fruitfulness of the earth.
This is a holiday of Union--both between the Goddess and the God and between man and woman. Handfasting declarations (Pagan engagements) are traditional at this time, declaring an intent to marry after a “year and a day.” Celebrations include braiding of one's hair (to honor the union of man and woman and Goddess and God), circling the Maypole for fertility and jumping the Beltane fire for luck. The myths of Beltane state that the young God has blossomed into manhood and the Goddess takes him on as her lover. Together, they learn the secrets of the sexual and the sensual, and through their union, all life begins.
The easiest way to celebrate is to simply get outdoors. Go into the wild (or the wildest place you can find) and feel the energy of life around you. Dance in the forest, thinking of your ancestors as they danced around fires and Maypoles.
Bonfires, no matter the size, can be an easy way to bring the fires of Beltane right into your home. Don’t have space? Use a small portable fire pit, a charcoal grill (cook your dinner after a quick ritual!) or a cast iron pot for a solitary option.
Place young spring greens and wildflowers on your altar to bring the energy inside your home. Some pagans set up outdoor altars in addition to their smaller indoor ones. Leave offerings for the local wildlife to honor the gods and goddesses.
Celebrate with friends and family with an outdoor feast (if weather allows) and grill out with lots of light salads and berry-laden desserts. Do some research if you are unsure of what’s in season in your neck of the woods.
Got any special plans made? Let us know in the comments!