Beltane is one of the sabbaths celebrated on the wheel of the year. It is a cross-quarter holiday that sits in between Ostara, the spring equinox, and Litha, the summer solstice. In this post, we look at what is Beltane and what it means today.
The history of Beltane
Beltane has been celebrated in some form and name for thousands of years. The Romans celebrated for a week at the beginning of May with much merriment. The name Beltane translates to ‘bright fire’ in the Celtic language which makes sense as Beltane is a fire festival.
The traditional themes of the celebration centred on fertility and sexual pleasure, protecting the crops which had grown so far and hoping for more good crops to come.
As an earth centred holiday, there would be lots of music, dancing and a bonfire. One of the ways that people would celebrate would be to have sex outside as a way to honour the gods and connect with nature. The maypole was a symbol of male energy and the cauldron was a symbol of female energy.
Women who wanted to conceive would light a small fire and place a cauldron on it. They would then jump over it!
Farmers would walk their animals between two fires as a way of protecting the animals and helping them with fertility.
While we may no longer have animals to walk through the fires or be as flamboyant as those who would be having sex outside, there is still much that we can take from Beltane today.
Beltane is a celebration of life. A happy time where we are thankful for what we have and hoping for more of what we want over the coming months. A time to connect with your local community and celebrate (when not in a pandemic!).
Beltane is very much linked with all things love. Be that fertility, marriage, sex, lust, or simply new friendships. It has also been nicknamed by some the ‘sex sabbath’! Therefore, working on any of these areas with magick, or journaling is a suitable way to celebrate the day.
Symbols and themes of Beltane
Maidens dancing around the maypole has been a long-held tradition in the united kingdom. As a very young girl, I remember being made to dance the maypole at primary school which was a church of England school.
The Maypole is a pole that has colourful ribbons attached. Girls would then hold one ribbon each and dance around the maypole which would weave the ribbons together around the pole.
Learn Religion suggests that the Maypole actually originates from Germany. No matter, where it originates from, it certainly made an impact on Britain. That is until for nearly two centuries the Maypole celebrations were wiped out by the puritans who found the whole idea to be much too sexual and inappropriate!
In the 1800s people became interested in old customs and traditions and the maypole was revived. However, it was more linked to church celebrations of Mayday which explains why my primary school made us participate in Maypole dancing in the 1980s.
Unconventional weddings describe how handfasting takes elements from the Celtics which have been incorporated with other earth centred ideas to make what we now know as handfasting in the neopagan format. The Celts did not believe in a marriage having any religious or contractual elements. They believed that both men and women were equal and could ‘marry’ if they both consented but the woman would still keep her family and any property that came from it.
A popular Beltane tradition celebrated by the Celts was to have a handfasting of sorts without any actual tieing of the hands which was a temporary commitment of a year and a day. It could then be reassessed and renewed if both parties wanted to.
Today handfastings are a great way to incorporate a couple’s spirituality into their wedding, but they are not a legal wedding so many couples have to also have a civil ceremony to attain their marriage license.
Flowers symbolise fertility, feminity, growth and Beltane so making a flower crown to wear for your Beltane celebrations is a fantastic way to honour the holiday. If you have children it can also be a great way to get crafting with them to make their own.
Beltane sits opposite Samhain on the wheel of the year and like Samhain, Beltane is a time that the veil is thin. However, this time it is the veil between this world and that of the fae and the nature spirits. This is the perfect time to reach out to them and connect.
Now is the last chance for planting seeds. whether that be actual seeds in your garden or local allotment, or seeds of intentions of your goals for the rest of the year.
The National Wildlife Federation says that traditionally children would make small baskets of flowers and leave them on the doorstep of someone that could not make the celebrations in the village green. They would place the basket on the doorstep, knock and then run away so that the person would not know who had left it.