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.
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.
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 hand-fasting ritual would be performed six weeks after Beltane on the Summer Solstice, if an unmarried couple conceived a child during the Beltane rituals.)
Beltane marks the height of Spring and the beginning of Summer. On the night of Beltane all fires in the community are put out and big bonfires are 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 are lit and people and livestock would walk between them to be cleansed and blessed. The day after the ceremony the cattle are driven out to the summer pastures. Couples leap over the flames to let their bond be blessed by the fire and the community. Wishes, dreams and projects are voiced in front of everybody and believed to manifest by jumping over the flames.
In the community here at Findhorn and on Erraid we traditionally celebrate Beltane on the 30th of April with a feast and a big bonfire. We sing, dance and drum, all whilst wearing flower crowns. On the 1st of May we erect a Maypole and sing and dance around it. Often the pole (ideally a young, thinned out birch tree from the woods) is inserted into the soil by the men, representing the divine masculine. On top of the pole a flower crown is placed by the women to represent the divine feminine. Ribbons were strung from the top of the pole. Holding on to the ribbons, dances are performed intertwining the ribbons, symbolically interweaving male and female energies.
Create your own ritual
Make a bonfire (or two)
Walk through the smoke for purification and protection.
*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.