Beltaine

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1st May or 1st November in the southern hemisphere.

Beltane is the cross-quarter festival that marks the start of the summer quarter of the year and the end of the spring quarter. It is a joyful festival of growth and fecundity that heralds the arrival of summer. It is the festival of the ‘Good Fire’ or ‘Bel-fire’, named after the solar deity Bel, god of light and fire, the Bright One. Bel was also known as Beli or Bile in Ireland, with Bile meaning ‘tree’, so Beltane may also mean ‘Tree-fire’.

This is a time when nature blossoms and felicity and fertility return to the land. In times past, the livestock stockaded at Samhain was returned to summer pastures at Beltane. Beltane is the counterpart of Samhain (and is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain, the ‘first Samhain’), and these two important festivals divide the year into summer and winter halves, just as the two equinoctial celebrations, Ostara and Mabon, divide the year into light and dark halves.

Fires are built at Beltaine and traditionally a Beltane fire was composed of the nine sacred woods of the Celts. All hearth fires were extinguished on Beltane Eve and then kindled again from the sacred “need fires” lit on Beltane. People would leap through the smoke and flames of Beltane fires and cattle were driven through them for purification, fertility, prosperity and protection.

Beltaine is a celebration of fertility and is represented by the union of the Goddess as May Queen with the God as Green Man bringing new life to the earth. It is the time when the Goddess moves on in her cycle from Maiden and her union in the greenwood with the God is still celebrated with the phallic May pole and Morris dancing in many villages.

It is a traditional time for Handfastings (marriages), and was a time for couples to make love outside to bless the crops and the earth. Maypoles were often danced around at Beltane to bring fertility and good fortune. The later addition of ribbons which were wrapped around the pole by the dancers brought a further sense of the integration of male and female archetypes, mirroring the union between the God and the Goddess. Beltane lore also includes washing in May-day dew for beauty and health, and scrying in sacred waters, such as ponds or springs.

The festival is sometimes referred to as Roodmas, a name coined by the medieval Christian Church in an attempt to associate Beltane with the Cross (the Rood) rather than the life-giving symbol of the Maypole. Beltane was also appropriated by the Church as the Feast Day of Saint Walpurga, who was said to protect crops and was often represented with corn.

Beltane is a time to devote energy to growth and integration. It is a time of celebration, exuberance and hope, when we should enjoy and appreciate the gifts of nature.

Alternate Names: Beltain, Bealtaine, Beltine, May Day, Cetsamhain (‘first Samhain’), Walpurgis Night (Beltane Eve), Celtic ‘Flower Festival’

Druidic Name: Beltane

Christian Equivalent: Roodmas, Rood Day, Feast of Saint Philip and Saint James, Feast of Saint Walpurga

Check the Beltaine Ritual Page, Beltaine Recipes and Beltaine incense blends for more ideas.