History of Beltaine
Beltaine is a Gaelic word for the month of May (meaning bright/shining fire or sun fire). Shining one or bright one is also a term used for Great Bel, Sun God of the Celts. The festival is also referred to as Cetsamhain, meaning “opposite Samhain”, Beltaine’s direct opposite festival in the dark half of the year. It is the luscious fertility tide of the year; it is the celebration of life. It is Bridget’s fire festival, Goddess of fertility, purification, midwifery, fire and sexuality. Eight holy days and tides of the Earth grace the Mothers body. By weaving ourselves into her rhythms we work with the energy of the Earth and speak her song. The rhythm of this season is Beltaine.
As the Earth sprouts forth in deep pregnancy, flowers and seeds bursting from her flesh, she waits…in her most sensual self…the abundance of birth and fertility of the Earth is coming. The ancient ones watched this tide to help the Mother transform from sensual Maiden to fertile Mother to birth; they offered their own fertility to nourish Her. It is the time where union between people and the land brings fertility and abundance to all. We nurture Her and She in turn nurtures us. The fertility is circular, sensual and beautiful.
The old ones at this tide would make love directly on the land under the light of the purifying Beltaine fires. Across the landscape the hills would be alight with fires and love making as couples left their houses and were considering ‘gone-a-maying’, returning at dawn washing their faces with the Beltaine Dew. Rites of pleasure are however no arbitrary act. By offering your body, your pleasure, your fertility and your love, the Earth is nurtured and She breathes in the passion to heal and rejoice. The Priestesses and Priests of the Celtic tribes would invoke the Gods through mortals, and through the ceremony of the Great Rite they would make love under the apple branches to honor and bring love to the Earth. Traditionally within certain ceremonies the Priestesses asked the Priest to kill the King Stag and return to them for the rite. No King could be crowned in Britain without passing this rite of passage with the Priestesses. Children conceived on this sacred night are considered children of the Gods.
It is also a time a unions. Handfastings (Celtic marriage) or renewals of love were often performed this day. Ribbons are bound with promises and tied onto lovers hands. It was also a time of separation between lovers and cutting the binds the no longer bring love.
Beltaine is a time of deep pleasure and joy. Great fires are burnt for purification; sweets and fruits offered to the Earth and burning everything that is no longer needed in your life- so that only pleasure remains.
Beltaine starts when the Sun enters Taurus and the season turns to light. In the Southern hemisphere Beltaine is October 31st in the Northern hemisphere is fall on April 30th, followed by May Day. The month following Beltaine is a time of joy. Beltaine is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun’s progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Beltaine begins the light half of the year. All fear has been released and for this next month (the mead moon or honeymoon) is the best time for marriage and all sexual taboos are lifted. Newlyweds were given honey to eat during this time to encourage fertility.
Roses- sexuality, love and beauty
Oak- thunder gods, guardians, wisdom and fertility, Sky father
Willow- fertility, Lunar, Goddess, water and love
Neroli- for seduction
Marigolds- to cleanse, bless and decorate the Beltaine circle
Almond- love magick
Apples- given to the Goddess as a symbol of her wisdom and love
Pigs- which feed on acorns the symbol of the Goddess wisdom
Hares-for fertility and luck
Bulls- have been associated with Beltaine. As the community used to walk all their livestock between two fires on Beltaine night for purification
Hawthorn –wreaths placed on top of the maypoles to represent the Goddess
Activities of the Beltaine Tide
Make love, feast, drink and dance and deeply enjoy sensuality, pleasure and beauty
Burn purification fires or do fire jumping if you have the ability to have a bonfire, to cleanse your spirit for the Beltaine season. Or you could burn a small fire in a fire proof container and burn writings or symbols of things you would like to let go of.
Indulge in rich wonderful foods that bring you pleasure and joy
Water or fertilize the plants around you, bring them richness and joy
Leave nuts, fruits and apples out on Beltaine night so the animals can also indulge in pleasure and joy to nurture the Earth
Dress in red and fill your home with flowers and beauty
If you have a partner have a romantic dinner at home and tell them from your heart why you are with them. It is a great time for reaffirming relationships and love.
Leave offerings for faeries (milk, cake, honey, herbs and incense burning throughout the garden) Beltaine nights is considered one of the high tide nights in which the veils between the faerie realm and physical world are thin.
Maypole dancing (or November pole dancing in the southern hemisphere) is a traditional fertility dance of Beltaine performed by men and women dancing in opposite directions. Red ribbons held by women (representing their blood and fertility) white ribbons held by men (to represent their semen and fertility) spiraling together to bind fertility magick for the Earth Mother.
Bind red and white ribbons together as a symbol of fertility and tie them to trees with wishes of things you would like to birth in your life
In Britain Hawthorn or Rowan branches which are flowing at this time are brought into the home. If you are in the southern hemisphere watch your local area. For me is the Jacarandas that blooms and burst forth in the week of Beltaine and bring a carpet of lavender to the city floor.
Whatever ever activities you choose in your life, make sure in this tide of Beltaine you are having some serious fun and pleasure!
The fair maid who, the first of May,
Goes to the fields at break of day
& washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be.
- English folk rhyme
When the fire of Beltaine is lit in flame and in our bodies -we wake up the fiery heart of the Earth Mother… we nurture her birth and allow her fertility and passion to transform us all