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Beltane and May Day – The Celtic Festival of Fertility


April 29, 2021 By Britta Schmitz
Maypole dancing on Erraid

Beltane – the Celtic Festival of Fertility

How to celebrate Beltane and May Day? Create your own Celtic ritual.

Beltane or Beltain is one of the better known celebrations of the Celtic Wheel of Life*. Maybe because some of its elements have been kept alive over the centuries in varying forms in the May Day celebrations. Or maybe because of its juicy implications. This festival is all about the springtime energies of abundance, life, love, passion, vitality, joy, fertility and conception. Here’s how you can create your own meaningful celebration of this special time of the year.

Singing at the Beltane Fire

Singing at the Beltane Fire

Beltane and May Day

Beltane is one of the four fire festivals that lie in between each of the Equinoxes and the Solstices. In the Northern Hemisphere Beltane marks the middle point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. In the olden days it was celebrated on the full moon, these days it is the night from the 30th of April to the 1st of May. In the Wheel of Life it is right opposite Samhain (the night to the 1st of November also known as Halloween). It is said that just like its autumnal equivalent, it is the second night of the year where the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest. Magic can happen that night.

Maypole dancing on the Isle of Erraid

Maypole dancing on the Isle of Erraid

Fertility

Instead of the deceased joining us during this night (as is the belief during Samhain) the unborn souls are eager to join the human realm during Beltane. In the Celtic tradition the marriage between the Green Man (representing the Sun) and the May Queen (representing the awakening Earth) was celebrated. It is said that in ancient times couples would spend the night together in the woods or fields and enact the ritual marriage of God and Goddess, of Earth and Sky. Any child being born from this sacred union is said to have been raised as a child of the Gods. (Traditionally a handfasting ritual would be performed six weeks after Beltane on the Summer Solstice, if an unmarried couple conceived a child during the Beltane rituals.)

Beltane Bonfire

Beltane Bonfire

Bonfires

Beltane marks the height of Spring, the beginning of Summer. On the night of Beltane all fires in the community were put out and big bonfires were lit to honour the returning powers of the sun. From these sacred ritual fires the fires in the hearth would be relit. Flames, smoke and ashes of the Beltane fires were believed to have purifying and protective powers. Often two fires were lit and people and livestock walked between them to be cleansed and blessed. The day after the ceremony the kettle was driven out to the summer pastures. Couples leapt over the flames to let their bond be blessed by the fire and the community. Wishes, dreams and projects were voiced in front of everybody and believed to manifest by jumping over the flames.

After the dance - the ribbons symbolise the interwoven male and female energies

After the dance

Community Rituals

In the community here at Findhorn and on Erraid we traditionally (pre-Covid) celebrated Beltane on the 30th of April with a feast and a big bonfire. We sang, danced and drummed, wearing flower crowns. On the 1st of May we’d erect a Maypole and sing and dance around it. Often the pole (ideally a young, thinned out birch tree from the woods) was inserted into the soil by the men, representing the divine masculine. On top of the pole a flower crown was placed by the women to represent the divine feminine. Ribbons were strung from the top of the pole. Holding on to the ribbons, dances were performed intertwining the ribbons, symbolically interweaving male and female energies.

 

 

 

Weaving flower crowns

Weaving flower crowns

Create your own ritual

  • Make flower crowns and wear them during the Beltane/ Mayday celebrations (find online tutorials).
  • Create a Maypole with a flower crown and ribbons and dance around it holding on to the ribbons, interweaving them.
  • Wash your face in the dew of the morning on the first of May to stay young and beautiful.
  • Decorate your house and altar with spring flowers and greenery, especially with birch branches and hawthorn blossoms. Hawthorn is the symbol of fertility, sexuality and conception and is traditionally only brought into the home at Beltane.
  • Dress a tree (ideally birch) with colourful ribbons and sit with it or dance around it to celebrate the sacred union of Earth and Sky.

Make a bonfire (or two) and:

  • Leap over the flames (of a small fire!) to affirm your wishes and dreams, shout them out while you are jumping over the flames, believe they will manifest during the summer.
  • Leap over the flames holding hands with your loved one to deepen your connection and commitment.
  • Walk through the smoke for purification and protection.
  • Sing, dance, drum.

With lots of Love, Britta

After the feast

After the feast

*The Celtic Wheel of Life honours the seasonal changes in nature in eight festivals. The two Equinoxes, two Solstices and four fire festivals, which are situated right in the middle between each Solstice and Equinox. In the Celtic tradition the changes in nature are relating to the changes that take place in our own lives throughout the year. Celebrating and marking these points of noticeable shifts in nature helps us honour and integrate these transitions into our own lives and bring body, mind and spirit into harmony with the rhythms of nature.

 

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