Four Ways to Celebrate Beltane, the May Day
Beltane is one of the four major Gaelic celebrations that take place every year. The other three are Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh. Beltane, associated with Paganism and Wicca, is celebrated on May 1st. Beltane is held on this date because it is halfway between the spring equinox (Ostara) and summer solstice (Litha). This festival is held to thank the Earth for its abundance. On this day, like on Samhain, the veil between realms grows thinner. With Beltane coming soon, we will explain what this celebration consists of. Then, we will suggest four ways to celebrate it, including a ritual.
What is Beltane?
Beltane, also called May Day, is the celebration of fertility. Beltane celebrates the union of the Goddess and the Green Man. This union joins together the male and the female energies to create new life. In this period, we give thanks to the Earth for her many gifts, including the birth of animals and the blooming of flowers. In May, nature is thriving. People can notice that their energy levels have increased and that they are more productive. During this period, we are also more creative and we feel the desire to enjoy life and our bodies. Beltane is associated with fertility, love, passion, and sex.
Beltane is a Celtic word that means “the fires of Bel”. The name Bel is considered to be a short form of Belenus, the Celtic sun god. It is no surprise then that one of Beltane’s most important symbols is the bonfire. Other symbols associated with this festivity are flowers, the Green Man, the Maypole, and the May Queen.
Fire is one important symbol of Beltane. The Celts used to light two bonfires. They believed that fire would purify the people and bring about fertility. One ritual that they performed involved making the cattle walk between the two bonfires. The belief was that these two fires would ensure the fertility of the herd. In another ritual, couples jumped over the fire to attract fertility and a happy life together. These are not rituals that are practiced today. However, many Wiccans all over the world perform rituals with fire and also fertility spells.
Flowers are included in the celebration because they represent spring. It is common to create and wear flower crowns during the Beltane celebrations. Any springtime blossom can be used. The flowers associated with Beltane are daisies, roses, primroses, marigolds, and lilacs.
Another important symbol for Beltane is the Green Man, an ancient figure that represents virility and growth. His face is covered with leaves. It is common to see the image of the Green Man in Beltane, and some people even paint their faces green and wear leafy costumes.
Another Beltane tradition that continues up to today is the Maypole, which is a fertility ritual. In this tradition, a pole is placed in the middle of the field. Ribbons are attached to the pole, and each person –usually young women– holds a ribbon. Then, they dance around the pole in a special way, and the ribbons form a pattern.
The last custom that we will mention is the election of the May Queen. In folklore, the May Queen is the goddess of flowers and the embodiment of the Maiden. She represents Earth and fertility. In Beltane, the May Queen wakes up from her winter sleep and fights the Crone, who has taken over the world during winter. After the May Queen –the Maiden– wins the fight, nature wakes up. In some Beltane celebrations, one girl or young woman is elected May Queen. Her duty is to begin the May Day celebrations. She usually wears a white gown to symbolize purity. Her outfit is complemented by a tiara or a flower crown. Now that we have gone over the basics, we can delve into specific Beltane rituals and customs.
Lighting a Beltane Fire
One of the most significant rituals you can do is light a Beltane fire. There are many ways in which you can do this. If you have access to a natural area such as a garden or a forest, you can light a fire and invite friends and family to share with you. You can burn one of the nine sacred woods: sandalwood, applewood, dogwood, poplar wood, juniper, cedar, pine, oak, or elder wood. If you don’t have access to these woods, don’t worry, any other will do. In a group, feast on fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables. Spend some time thinking about what you’d like to bring to life. It can be an idea, a project, or a relationship. You can take turns listening to each other’s desires, to energize the intention. You can prepare a mix of dried flowers and herbs to throw into the fire with intention. A good idea is to write in bay leaves what you want to manifest and then throw them into the fire. We only suggest performing this ritual if you have experience with bonfires. Be careful when you build a fire and do it far from places that can suffer from material losses. Needless to say, keep a close eye on all children and pets.
If you don’t have the opportunity to light a bonfire, don’t worry! There are many other Beltane rituals that can be done inside. All of them are equally effective, as long as you do them with intention and reflection. For example, you can replicate the fire ritual with candles. Red, green, and white are traditional Beltane colors. Lastly, if you can’t light candles, you can do the same ritual but with electric candles. You can do this alone or with others.
Taking a Ritual Bath
Another good idea is to take a ritual bath. It will purify your energy and attract abundance and fertility. Remember that fertility is not only related to human reproduction. It can also mean that you will be more creative and proactive in your projects and endeavors. To do this ritual, first, run your bath and add some salt. You can use any bath salt you like or just kitchen salt. After that, add dried flowers. We suggest flowers related to Beltane, like roses and daisies. The more, the better. It is also a good idea to add moon water. You can light some green, red, or white candles around you. Burning some incense provides a nice touch, especially if it is one of the sacred woods, like sandalwood.
Another ritual linked to Beltane is the planting ritual, which can be done alone or in groups. You will need seeds or seedlings, water, gardening tools, and a place to plant your seeds. You can do it in your garden or in pots. First of all, prepare the soil for planting. You can use a shovel to loosen the soil. While you do this, connect with the elements. Feel the earth, the breeze, the warmth of the sun on your face, listen to the birds, watch the insects. Take a moment to connect with nature. After loosening the soil, you can call upon a deity of your choice. Cernunnos, for example, is a fertility god associated with Wicca, so you can ask him to bless the soil and grant abundance. After doing this, you can plant the seeds or seedlings. Get as close to the ground as you can. It would be ideal for you to use your hands to part the soil as you plant the seeds. After planting them, cover them up with loose soil. Finally, water them. While you water the seeds, you can again call upon the deities that you desire. Remember to do everything with intention.
Preparing a May Basket
To prepare a May basket, you will need a basket, fresh flowers, and food. Choose springtime flowers and tie them up with a string. Then, you can include anything you want in your basket. We suggest fruit, baked goods, and anything homemade. Traditionally, the baked goods related to Beltane are cinnamon scones and oat cakes. You can also include something to drink, such as lavender lemonade or rose tea. Finally, you can include anything else you want. The idea is to give this basket to people who are going through a hard time, so keep in mind what they need. Remember to include a can opener alongside any cans of food, and to include feminine hygiene products as those are always welcome.
What did you think about these rituals and customs? Are you going to do them on Beltane? Tell us in the comments!