I love Beltane, which marks the beginning of the light half of the year in the Celtic calendar. It is celebrated with bonfires, revelry, dancing, maypoles …. and rituals and ceremonies celebrating the union of the Goddess and the Green Man. [You may remember the song “The Lusty Month of May” from the musical “Camelot”, a song which definitely captures all aspects of this feast day! ]
But when to celebrate Beltane can be confusing… as well as how to pronounce it and spell it!
Because we are translating from the Celtic / Irish-Gaelic language, use the phonetic English spelling that works best for you … Beltane, Bealtaine, etc. Most folks pronounce the word literally (bell-tane). In Ireland, Irish-Gaelic speakers refer to the month of May as Bealtaine, and pronounce it bee–yowl–tanna.
So when exactly is Beltane and why does it have three different dates?
The dates of four of the major Celtic feast days are relatively easy to define as they fall on major astronomical events — the Spring Equinox (Ostara), the Fall Equinox (Mabon), the Summer Solstice (Litha) and Winter Solstice (Yule) .
The other feasts — Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain — fall on “cross-quarter days” which are halfway between other events. For instance, Beltaine falls halfway between Ostara (the Spring Equinox) and Litha (the Summer Solstice).
That sounds easy enough, but with shifts in equinox and solstice dates each year – and the additional choice to use solar calendars and/or lunar calendars (dependent of a person’s ideology) – many have opted for a fixed date approach noted in the picture above.
So, you have a choice! Some folks like to attune with the rhythms of Mother Earth, Grandfather Sun and Grandmother moon by working with the solar or lunar calendars, whilst other opt for the fixed date approach:
🌞 is defined as when the sun is at the exact midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice in the Northern hemisphere (or fall equinox and winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere). This year that is Thursday, May 5th at 1.34 AM GMT, which is Wednesday, May 4th at 6:34 PM PST.
🌝 is defined as the full moon in Scorpio, which is apparently the oldest calculation method. This year, that was last week at 5:24 AM April 22 UTC.
🌎 is celebrated on May 1st, also known as May Day.
And let’s not forget that for our Celtic ancestors, the start of the day was actually nightfall. So, May 1st would officially begin at sunset April 30th. Many folks start the Beltaine bonfires the evening of April 30th, Beltane Eve.
I tend to follow both the calendar date system (very easy!) and the solar dates (a little more complex), so will be celebrating both this week.
How will you celebrate Beltane? I tend to be a solitary practitioner so I create my own altar (decorating it with rowan and oak leaves, flowers, vines, a maypole), light a candle, and follow a personal ritual.
Whenever possible, however, I join in with fellow practitioners on the major feast days – also known as sabbats – such as Beltane, Samhain, etc. It so much more fun to celebrate in Circle.
For the solar/astrological dates of the feast days click here ,
and for the lunar dates click here.