Greetings! And a very merry Beltane to you! Beltane, also known as May Day, is another of the fire festivals, or cross-quarter days, on the Wheel of the Year. The actual festival day is 1 May, but celebrations often take place on the evening prior, much like Samhain, Beltane’s complement on the Wheel, which is celebrated on the eve prior to the actual holiday, which is 1 November.
Beltane is a celebration of fertility as much as it is one of fire. Spring is underway and all traces of Old Man Winter have been thawed by the growing heat of the waxing Sun. The earth is softening, blossoms are appearing, fields are becoming ready for planting. And like the old owl in Bambi so eloquently explains: “Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime.” Amorous energies and urges begin to stir as the earth herself begins to heat up.
One of the traditions of Beltane involves dancing around a Maypole, usually wearing copious amounts of flowers in one’s hair and/or on one’s person. The Maypole is a commonly recognized fertility symbol. The phallic pole is erected and adorned with feminine ribbons and flowers. Celebrants then dance around the pole plaiting the ribbons round it as they go to represent the feminine wrapping around the masculine.
Another tradition of Beltane is the crowning of the May Queen. The May Queen was/is usually chosen from among the maidens in a community. She is a representative of the virgin – untouched body and unseeded earth. In times past the fate of the May Queen was sacrificial – either in forfeiture of her life or her virginity – as insurance of the bounty of the land for the community. In modern times her role is more ceremonial, one in which she presides over the rest of the day’s festivities as a symbol of beauty and fertility.
Being the first day of May, there is a custom for folks to go a-Maying. This was a practice in which members of the community – often the young women and men – would go off into the woods to make amorous liaisons under the guise of gathering May-sprigs (often sprigs of white hawthorn).
Many a maiden would arise early on May Day to wash her face with the morning dew. It was believed to increase her beauty during the following year.
Fire plays a significant role in many Beltane celebrations. Any forms of fire are acceptable: Bonfires, fire dancing, candles, you name it. The word Beltane can be literally translated to ‘blazing fire’. While fire plays a role in each of the cross-quarter holidays, during Beltane it is primarily a symbol of the reawakening of the reproductive energies in both flora and fauna, which have been dormant under Winter’s chill, and now are beginning to stir under the warmth of the waxing sun.
In general, Beltane is one of the more jovial and raucous of the Wheel of the Year holidays, which makes it a favorite among many celebrants.
This year, I am celebrating Beltane on 2 May. (This is for practicality purposes.) I don’t see myself getting particularly raucous. I do, however, plan to surround myself with candles and flowers for the occasion. I may even try to gather up some dew on my morning hike for a sacred facial cleansing. (What girl turns down a free opportunity to accentuate her beauty in the coming year?) And if I’m feeling particularly industrious, I may even try to make myself a circlet of flowers and crown myself a May Queen. How do you celebrate Beltane? Please feel encouraged to share your experiences in the comments below.
Happy Beltane to you all, dear readers! I hope you find many good things growing in your lives as we enter the season of abundance.