Beltane – A Celebration of Togetherness
Dance, Sing, Celebrate, let the fires burn bright on Beltane night
We have waited all year to see this day, a spring in our step as we dance through the fire, the dew still cool upon our skins as we stand and shout to welcome the summer in!
The Spiral Dance Beltane is the beginning of the Celtic Summer, the light season of the year. Like Samhain, it is a time when the veil is thin between the worlds, a time to communicate with spirits, particularly at this time nature spirits and the faye.
In Irish Gaelic, Bealtaine is the name of the month of May and in Scottish Gaelic Bealteinne means May Day.
Beltane is celebrated in Celtic traditions from the Gaelic Bealtaine – the fires of Bel -, and the Germanic May Day festival – focusing on fertility and May pole dancing.
Beltane is normally celebrated in the Northern hemisphere May 1 or May day and follows the seasonal wheel of the year or Celtic medicine wheel.
Light the Fires
The Beltane fires were lit to encourage the sun’s warmth back to the land and these fires had restorative properties so shepherds and farmers would herd their cattle between them before being loosed on the new spring pastures to increase fertility. Young, unmarried people would leap the bonfire and wish for a husband or wife, young women would leap it to ensure their fertility and couples leap it to strengthen a bond.
As summer begins, weather becomes warmer, and the plant world blossoms, an exuberant mood prevails. A time of unabashed sexuality and promiscuity where marriages would be declared for a year and a day. A time for dancing, merriment and ‘making hay’, when young people spend the entire night in the woods “A-Maying,” and then dance around the phallic Maypole plunged into the earth (the Goddess) the next morning. Older married couples were allowed to remove their wedding rings (and the restrictions they imply) for this one night.
Dance in the May
The May pole was a focal point of the old English village rituals. Many people would rise at the first light of dawn to go outdoors and gather flowers and branches to decorate their homes. Women traditionally would braid flowers into their hair and men and women alike would decorate their bodies.
May morning is considered a magickal time for wild water (dew, flowing streams, and springs) which is collected and used to bathe in for beauty, or to drink for health. It is said that washing your face in the first dew of Beltane would ensure your continued beauty and youth. A May Queen is still elected in many village May Day festivals, along with their consort. The May King is the Green Man, and was often covered entirely with leaves.
The Hawthorn tree (also called the May tree) blossoms at this time, and we are in the Hawthorn month. The blossoms can be gathered, and a delicious wine made from them, to be drunk the following Beltane.
Mythology and legend
The mating of the Green Man with the Goddess as Queen of May was a magickal act considered necessary for the fertility of the Earth. This mating is often celebrated in the ‘Chase’, where the God pursues the Goddess and captures her, taking her into the woods.
Ancient Pagan traditions say that Beltaine marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, he desires the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms, and unite. The Goddess becomes pregnant of the God. To celebrate, a wedding feast, for the God and Goddess must be prepared.
The Christian religion had only a poor substitute for the life-affirming Maypole — namely, the death-affirming cross. Hence, in the Christian calendar, this was celebrated as ‘Roodmas’ and in Germany; it was the feast of Saint Walpurga.
It is also the World Tree connecting the three Worlds, its root in the Underworld, its branches in the Heavens. The shaman’s spirit may travel between the realms via the World Tree, and the phallus is also connected with life, love and death.
Beltaine marks the return of vitality, of passion.