What is Beltane?
Have you been hearing about the Beltane Celebrations that begins upon the sunset on April 30th and ends upon the sunset of May 1st? Also known as May Day, this beautiful celebration is all about life and the beauty of Mother Nature.
Sunset to Sunset
Beltane honours Life. It represents the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Earth energies are at their strongest and most active. All of life is bursting with potent fertility and at this point in the Wheel of the Year, the potential becomes conception. On May Eve the sexuality of life and the earth is at its peak. Abundant fertility, on all levels, is the central theme. The Maiden goddess has reached her fullness. She is the manifestation of growth and renewal, Flora, the Goddess of Spring, the May Queen, the May Bride. The Young Oak King, as Jack-In-The-Green, as the Green Man, falls in love with her and wins her hand. The union is consummated and the May Queen becomes pregnant. Together the May Queen and the May King are symbols of the Sacred Marriage (or Heiros Gamos), the union of Earth and Sky, and this union has merrily been re-enacted by humans throughout the centuries.For this is the night of the Greenwood Marriage. It is about sexuality and sensuality, passion, vitality and joy. And about conception. A brilliant moment in the Wheel of the Year to bring ideas, hopes and dreams into action. And have some fun.....
Traditions of Beltane
Beltane is a Fire Festival. The word 'Beltane' originates from the Celtic God 'Bel', meaning 'the bright one' and the Gaelic word 'teine' meaning fire. Together they make 'Bright Fire', or 'Goodly Fire' and traditionally bonfires were lit to honour the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the Sun's light to nurture the emerging future harvest and protect the community. Bel had to be won over through human effort. Traditionally all fires in the community were put out and a special fire was kindled for Beltane. "This was the Tein-eigen, the need fire. People jumped the fire to purify, cleanse and to bring fertility. Couples jumped the fire together to pledge themselves to each other. Cattle and other animals were driven through the smoke as a protection from disease and to bring fertility. At the end of the evening, the villagers would take some of the Teineigen to start their fires anew." (From Sacred Celebrations by Glennie Kindred) Green Man - Beltane
Handfasting As Beltane is the Great Wedding of the Goddess and the God, it is a popular time for pagan weddings or Handfastings, a traditional betrothal for 'a year and a day' after which the couple would either choose to stay together or part without recrimination. Today, the length of commitment is a matter of choice for the couple, and can often be for life. Handfasting ceremonies are often unique to the couple, but include common elements, most importantly the exchange of vows and rings (or a token of their choice). The act of handfasting always involves tying the hands Handfasting ('tying the knot') of the two people involved, in a figure of eight, at some point in the ceremony and later unbinding. This is done with a red cord or ribbon. Tying the hands together symbolises that the two people have come together and the untying means that they remain together of their own free will. Another common element is 'jumping the broomstick' - this goes back to a time when two people who could not afford a church ceremony, or want one, would be accepted in the community as a married couple if they literally jumped over a broom laid on the floor. The broom marked a 'threshold', moving from an old life to a new one. Mead and cakes are often shared in communion as part of the ceremony. Mead is known as the Brew of the Divine, made from honey which is appropriate for a love ceremony (and is the oldest alcoholic drink known to humankind).
Going A-Maying Handfasting or not, both young and old went A-Maying... Couples spent the night in the woods and fields, made love and brought back armfuls of the first May or haw thorn blossoms to decorate their homes and barns. Hawthorn was never brought into the home except at Beltane - at other times it was considered unlucky. Young women gathered the dew to wash their faces, made Flower Crowns and May Baskets to give as gifts. Everyone was free to enact the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God, and there was an accepted tradition of Beltane babies arriving nine months later...Maypole The Maypole is a popular and familiar image of May Day and Beltane. A phallic pole, often made from birch, was inserted into the Earth representing the potency of the God. The ring of flowers at the top of the Maypole represents the fertile Goddess. Its many coloured ribbons and the ensuing weaving dance symbolise the spiral of Life and the union of the Goddess and God, the union between Earth and Sky. The colours of Beltane are green, red and white/silver. Green represents growth, abundance and fertility. Red represents strength, vitality, passion and vibrancy. White represents cleansing and clearing and the power to disperse negativity. Here are 6 fun ways that you can celebrate Beltane this year at home!! Beltane Eve It was believed to be good luck to put out all fires and candles in your home on Beltane Eve. That way, the next day you can relight the hearth fire and candles welcoming good fortune though out the summer. To honor this custom, you can put out all the candles on your altar and around your home. The next day relight your candles while focusing on the blessings of the season. Gathering Morning Dew It was believed to be good luck to gather the morning dew come Beltane morn. You can share in this tradition by collecting the first dew of the morning. Once you have gathered the dew, use it to wash with, to anoint yourself, or add it to your ritual bath.
Make A May Day Hair Garland The sweet smells of flowers, mosses, and earth are intoxicating. One way to participate in a tradition of this turn of the wheel is to make a hair wreath. You may use any flowers that lend themselves to creating a circlet for your hair. Make it as elaborate or simple as you like. Feel the beauty and summer energy while you wear it.
Sacred Cleansing Beltane is an ancient fire festival. Consequently, it was also the day they turned their cows out into the pastures. Before they did so, the early people of Europe would build two fires out of sacred woods and plants believed to cleanse their livestock. Once the fires were going, they drove the animals through the fires to have them cleaned and to protect them from disease or harm. You can celebrate this tradition by using any sacred smudge such as sage. Use the sage it to smudgeyourself for the coming season. Jumping The Bel Fire After the livestock had been turned out to pasture, it was time for the attendees to jump the plants. Doing so was believed to bring good luck, and ward off evil spirits. You can recreate this custom by jumping or stepping over a candle or a small cauldron with a charcoal and herbs burning. The May Pole Another modern remnant of Beltane is the May Pole that represents the union of the feminine and masculine. For example, the pole represents the male energies of fertility. The wreath atop the pole represents the feminine divine. The dance itself weaves the ribbons in opposite directions around the pole. You can make your own smaller symbolic version of a May Pole, or attend a May Pole ceremony in your area.
Whichever way you choose to celebrate this joyous and beautiful time of year, I send you all love and light and wish you a Blessed Beltane! Enjoy!!