Beltane is a beautiful and powerful time for celebrating the energies of vitality, potency, fertility and growth. During this time, we can take stock of all we have achieved, as well as sowing further seeds of intent.
The Roots and Beginnings of Beltane
Beltane (which is also spelled Beltaine, or less commonly known as Cétamain) has a long history which can be traced back to Celtic roots in Ireland and Scotland. It is traditionally held on May Day (1st May) and is a fire-festival, honoring energies of fertility, growth, renewal and abundance. In ancient times Belfires were lit and cattle were driven between them to protect them as they were turned out into their summer pastures.
Like Samhain, Beltane was thought to be a time when the boundaries between the human and metaphysical worlds were weak. Therefore, historically speaking, the evening before May Day saw protective measures taken from enchantments. Traditions such as dancing around the Maypole, and braiding hair were seen as symbols of fertility and union. Sacrifices were also made to help protect cattle and people.
During Roman times, several festivals were celebrated around the beginning to May – the Fire Festival Bona Dea, a tribute day to the household deity Lares and the three-day festival of Floralia ‘Festival of Flowers’ which included sexual and fertility celebrations.
During the 18th to 20th Centuries many accounts were recorded about Beltane practices. These include the extinguishing of all candles and hearths in the homesteads before the lighting of the belfires. When the belfires were lit, torches were carried to relight the hearths and carried around the boundaries of homes and farmsteads.
Foods such as lamb and oatmeal were cooked, and libations poured on the ground. May flowers were made into garlands or placed in windows and doorways in the home. May Bushes were also made – bushes or trees such as Rowan and Sycamore were painted and decorated, and ribbons tied around them.
How do modern Wiccans and Pagans celebrate Beltane?
Wiccans celebrate Beltane as part of the Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year. In modern times the knowledge that the veil between the worlds is weak at Beltane is a source of celebration rather than anxiety.
Because Beltane marks a potent period of fertility and renewal, it is common for fertility rites to be practiced during this time.
As with many other Wiccan and Paganism practices, the way Beltane is celebrated can vary, especially according to each individual or groups beliefs and spiritual needs. Some pagans celebrate reenactments of traditional Celtic practices, while others choose to celebrate in other ways by honoring the unions of Gods and Goddesses and celebrating sacred sexuality.
In modern tradition, the celebrations for Beltane begin on the evening before Beltane itself and many choose to celebrate from April 30th – May 1st in overnight rituals. People living in the Southern Hemisphere often celebrate Beltane during November.
In some practices, Beltane is celebrated with a good-natured battle between the May Queen and the Queen of Winter. This is a symbolic act representing the renewal of energies after the long winter months. The May queen is an archetype of the Maiden, who will progress to the Mother during the summer months. The Welsh goddess Creiddylad is often celebrated as the May Queen with rituals to embrace her energies of love and beauty.
Because the energies of the Maiden and fertility are strong at Beltane many people choose this as a time to get handfasted. However, this is not the only way that this energy can be worked with.
Rituals for growing ideas, concepts and ways of being are especially potent at this time of year and many pagans and Wiccans choose this time to both celebrate achievements and sow new seeds of intention for projects and goals.
The themes of sacred union between the Goddess and God are also potent Beltane energies to work with on a personal level as well as in couples. The Green Man and The May Goddess are revered as part of sacred union. Rituals for increasing fertility not only physically but spiritually and creatively can be worked at this time to great effect.
The themes of fire and vitality are key during Beltane and modern pagans and Wiccans celebrate these themes with dancing, fires and rituals celebrating energy and growth. Jumping a Beltane fire is a favorite amongst gatherings dedicated to celebrating this time of year.
Using colors which correspond to these energies such as red, yellow, green and white can help to increase the effect of magickal workings.
How can you Celebrate Beltane?
Because Beltane draws from many eclectic traditions and energies there are plenty of ways to celebrate.
If you are part of a Wiccan / Pagan group or coven you may participate in rituals and celebrations which pertain to your group. In other instances, Beltane or May Day festivals and gatherings take place in different parts of the UK or other countries. Fire festivals and arts and culture celebrations often take place around May Day. Celebrating by attending one of these gatherings and then doing your own more focused ritual can be an incredible way to harvest Beltane energy.
If you are coupled / in relationships and open to taking fertility, union or sexual energy in its most literal sense you may choose to participate in sacred sex and magickal workings with your partner.
Or you may choose this time to celebrate your union by honoring the energies of love, abundance and sexuality together. If you are not partnered with anyone sexually you can still honor these energies and even perform rituals to encourage this sort of energy your way, as well as paying homage to past lovers and the spirit of shared intimacy.
If you’re a solitary practitioner, or prefer not to attend a group gathering don’t fear, there are many ways you can honor this time yourself. A dedication, growth and fertility ritual can be a perfect way to harmonize your intent, as well as paying homage to the energies of Beltane.
Remember you don’t need to be in a couple to celebrate Beltane. You can honor the union of male and female energies within yourself as well as giving your goals, plans and ideas an extra potency in the weeks leading to the Summer Solstice.
The best way to choose how to celebrate will be to see how the themes of fertility, growth, joy, union and the energies of fire resonate with you at this time in your life. For some people, it may be that a colorful display on your personal altar representing your achievements and aims feels right.
For others using fire to purify and draw in more vitality might be the best way to celebrate.
If you’re creating your own gathering it can be wonderful to invite friends and family to a celebration. Having a ritual fire, sharing food and drink and encouraging people to dress in May colors and celebrate bonds of love and friendship can be a great starting point for creating your own celebration.
Not everyone is willing or able to have a gathering or attend one so here is an idea for a Beltane ritual for solitary practitioners. This can be performed inside or in your garden or other scared space.