Beltane–also spelled Bealtaine, Beltaine, and pronounced in a variety of ways–is the last of the spring fertility holidays in the pagan calendar. The name comes from Celtic words, “Bel” being the god of light, and “-tane” meaning “fire.” So Beltane, by this translation means “fire of Bel”. Conventionally celebrated on May Day (May 2nd), the Sabbat actually falls on May 5th this year when the sun is in 15 degrees Taurus. It is a major festival of Celtic association, much like Samhain.
Unlike Samhain, Beltane is a highly sexual holiday because of the time of year and the association with fire. Because of this, Beltane has over the centuries been almost demonized by outside cultures. It is probably one of the biggest reasons for the misconception of pagans being sex-crazed heathens.
Beltane is a fire holiday, and bonfires have been common elements in the celebrations of this day. It marks not the beginning of spring, which was the spring equinox, but the true beginning of the growing time, which will then stretch for a few months until autumn. Flowers come into bloom, animals begin laying eggs or giving birth, and the growing season is truly in full swing. In some traditions of paganism, this time of year is told as the Goddess’s growing time, when she has the growing God in her womb. Beltane is the day when the Goddess and God unite. In Celtic mythology, Beltane is one of the times of the year when the veil between the Otherworld and this world is thin. Faerieland is then accessible to this world, and some of the stories have the Queen of Faeries coming across the veil for a ride and taking back humans (Thomas the Rhymer), sometimes there’s a Hunt or Wild Ride, and sometimes humans fall into Faerieland. Point being, the veil between this reality and the Other is thin, as it tends to be on the Sabbats.
Ways to celebrate:
- Dance a May pole–in the past the men and women who wanted to be together would dance around the May pole, which is a phallic symbol. Considering the festival is a holiday celebrating fertility, growth, and fire (which includes passion and emotional fire, i.e., sex), the phallic symbol of the May pole is appropriate. Then I believe the tradition turned into just young women dancing around the pole, and now we let anyone dance if they want to, even children.
- Leaping over fires–it’s recommended that if you try this one, let the fire burn down to almost nothing, then leap. Leaping over the fire has traditionally been an act of ensuring fertility.
- Gathering spring flowers and/or bringing them into the home.
- Meditation on the meaning of the holiday and what it means, as well as what it means to you. I find this is appropriate even if I am celebrating in other ways as well.
- Break out some colorful clothing, especially the red or green variety (red for fire, green for growth). Beltane is a colorful holiday and wearing bright colors can help you get into the colorful mood.
- Cook bannocks.
A helpful blog post from Silverwheel Astrology that explains the astrological significance of the Sabbats and Beltane in particular: click me!
Happy (early) Beltane!