On May 1st, we celebrate Beltaine in the northern hemisphere and Samhain in the southern hemisphere. These are my favourite celebrations in the Celtic calendar, a time to tune in to the rhythms of Nature and celebrate the seasons, the elements, and the sacred dance with Gaia. These celebrations divide our year into one long day, with Beltaine bringing in the summer (the light) and Samhain marking the transition to winter (the dark).
On both days, the Celts – and modern Wiccans and Pagans – believe that on these dates the veils between the worlds is at its thinnest. Some call this “no time”, a time when the physical world and the spirit world mingle freely and magick happens. In Faerie lore, it is believed that on Beltaine, Faeries come back from their winter homes, ready to make mischief in our world.
The roots of the word Beltaine are somewhat lost in time but scholars typically translate it as “Bael’s Fire” or “Brilliant Fire” (Bel was a Celtic god, and the Celtic word for “shining” is beal; tene means fire).
Beltane is the third of the Celtic fertility festivals (Imbolc in February and Ostara in March) and is also considered a Fire festival (along with Imbolc, Lughnasadh and Samhain).
It falls evenly between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, and is traditionally celebrated as the start of summer, a time when the flocks were lead to pasture, and the fertility of crops and livestock were celebrated with bonfires (representing transition and purification); decorating with garlands, rowan sprigs and boughs of spring flowers; and – in more recent times – dancing around the May Pole. Many communities would also have an honorary May Queen and her consort, the Green Man.
The May Pole tradition is rooted in early fertility rites. Typically the pole (representing male fertility) would be placed in the village green, decorated with red and white ribbons (representing female and male fertility, respectively) and then celebrated with a ribbon dance around the pole by the village maidens.
The kindling for the Beltaine fire is typically drawn from the Nine Sacred Woods. This lovely old Scottish poem in our header image names only eight (and is slightly different to those in the Rede). The Wiccan rede names nine but cautions that the ninth, elder, “is the Lady’s tree burn it not or cursed you’ll be”.
The ancient ritual of Beltaine can serve as a reminder to us all to think about our own transitions and intentions:
- What are the changes that we seek and manifest in the new light of Beltaine?
- What are the commitments and values that we will continue to honour?
- What are the new directions that we can explore?
- As we turn away from the dark of Winter, what can we let go of – clutter, self-limiting beliefs, excess?
- What can we do to live a life of simplicity and purpose, in alignment with our values and with the flow of nature?
You may also choose to celebrate Beltaine in the traditional ways – with an altar, crafts and recipes, and creating spells or prayers or affirmations to honour the day.
Over the next few days, I will share some of my favourites such as this Beltaine Incense formulation from Magical Recipes Online.
This can be used as an incense (in which case, use the actual flowers, and orris root):
It may also be used as an essential oil master blend for your diffuser, or for use in a carrier oil (where “parts” equal “drops”)