Even in the 21st Century, every year on the 1st May, village folk gather around maypoles to honour the ancient festival of Beltane. So let’s talk about what it means, and how to celebrate it.
Beltane is one of eight points on the Celtic Wheel of the Year, each point marking the gateway into a new season. May 1st is the gateway from Spring to Summer and it is the festival of creation! It is the time when the earth’s energy is at its strongest and most potent. Conception and fertility are all around. It is when the Maiden Goddess comes to fullness and takes a lover in order to give birth to new life and abundance for the coming months. All around is growth and renewal and it’s the time to lay down plans for the future.
For Pagans, Wiccans, and other folks who see themselves closely tied to the Earth and its seasonal changes, the points on the wheel are celebrated with as much vim and vigour as the festivals on any other religious calendar. This one in particular sends folks into a bit of a frenzy as Beltane really is a high energy festival.
Beltane is a Celtic word meaning fires of Bel (a Celtic deity) and like most Pagan festivals it is firmly rooted in the land and the requirements of the people living on it. It marks the start of the farming season and lots of the rituals performed at this festival were about hope for a plentiful and abundant year. Beltane, as the name suggests, is a fire festival and much fun can be had making (safe please!) fires to jump over to honour the day. Fire was thought to cleanse and purify but also to increase fertility, which is very much the theme of this festival. Yes folks, this is the sexy festival! If you have ever been to a May Day celebration, you will have seen the sexual imagery at play in the Maypole and the maidens dancing around it. Traditionally, couples would go ‘A-Maying’, in order to honour the marriage of the god and goddess as May Queen and May King. They would spend the night partying and having sex in the woods and come home bringing armfuls of new growth of Hawthorn blossom to dress their homes. Youth of yesteryear huh?!
For this reason, this is a very traditional time of the year for Pagans to get married or have handfasting ceremonies. I love the handfasting tradition and is one I do every year with my husband. Although these days marriages tend to be a commitment for life, traditionally a handfasting was for a year and a day. After this time, you can recommit and have a party all over again…..now I’m seeing why I dig this so much…..or part ways with no hard feelings. A much healthier and more romantic way to commit to someone in my opinion.
So if the pagan way of life resonates with you – and by that I mean, if you feel a deep connection to the earth and it’s cycles and feel you would like to honour it, the most important question is – how to celebrate Beltane? Here are some of my personal favourites:
- Make a fire pit and jump over it
- Handfast with your loved one
- Make wishes for the coming year, use a piece of coloured ribbon to represent the wish, and tie the ribbon to a tree
- Stay out all night and party on!
- Make hawthorn brandy – this May blossoming tree not only has magical properties relating to fertility, protection and happiness but is also incredibly medicinal. All parts of the plant can be used as medicine for digestive issues, to regulate blood pressure, to reduce anxiety and improve heart health!
- Rise at dawn and go and watch the sunrise. Take some time to listen to the dawn chorus of birds all waking up to this magical day
- Make Beltane Breakfast Juice by adding fresh dandelion flowers into warmed orange juice with added lemon and honey