May Day ushers in the fifth month of the modern calendar year, the month of May. This month is named in honor of the goddess Maia, originally a Greek mountain nymph, later identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. By Zeus, she is also the mother of Hermes, god of magic. Maia’s parents were Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph.
For the May Day is the great day,
Sung along the old straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back.
A forest or garden shrine is appropriate and will flourish at this time. If you can celebrate under a tree, your ritual is in tune with this Sabbat. Guardian spirits of the home should be honored for Beltane. This Sabbat has origins as a fertility festival, with “Nature Enchantments and Offerings to the Elemental Spirits”. Beltane represents a Union of God and Goddess, the Sacred Marriage, all new life, and fertility in all living things.
The Beltane Celebration
The altar cloth and candles are dark green. Adorning the altar are a crown made of daisies, a potted azalea bush with beaded strings representing the Maypole, hydrangeas, gardenias, lilies-of-the-valley and garlands of carnations.
Take a walk through nature and enjoy spring in full beauty. Make May Baskets filled with flowers and give them to friends, people in nursing homes or other facilities, shut-ins and loved ones.
Dance and sing in celebration of the day. Place a lit candle on the floor and jump over it for good fortune. Bless your garden and houseplants.
Place in the Natural Cycle
Beltane is the cross-quarter festival that marks the start of the summer quarter of the year and the end of the spring quarter. This is a time when nature blossoms and felicity and fertility return to the land. In times past, the livestock stockaded at Samhain was returned to summer pastures at Beltane.
Beltane is a joyful festival of growth and fecundity that heralds the arrival of summer. It is the festival of the ‘Good Fire’ or ‘Bel-fire’, named after the solar deity Bel. Bel was also known as Beli or Bile in Ireland, with Bile meaning ‘tree’, so Beltane may also mean ‘Tree-fire’. Beltane is the counterpart of Samhain (and is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain, the ‘first Samhain’), and these two important festivals divide the year into summer and winter halves, just as the two equinoctial celebrations, Ostara and Mabon, divide the year into light and dark halves.
Lighting fires was customary at Beltane, and traditionally a Beltane fire was composed of the nine sacred woods of the Celts. All hearth fires were extinguished on Beltane Eve and then kindled again from the sacred “need fires” lit on Beltane. People would leap through the smoke and flames of Beltane fires and cattle were driven through them for purification, fertility, prosperity and protection.
In terms of the God and Goddess cycle, Beltane marks the union of the two deities, bringing new life to the earth. It is a traditional time for Handfastings (marriages), and was a time for couples to make love outside to bless the crops and the earth. Maypoles were often danced around at Beltane to bring fertility and good fortune. The later addition of ribbons which were wrapped around the pole by the dancers brought a further sense of the integration of male and female archetypes, mirroring the union between the God and the Goddess. Beltane lore also includes washing in May-day dew for beauty and health, and scrying in sacred waters, such as ponds or springs.
The festival is sometimes referred to as Roodmas, a name coined by the medieval Christian Church in an attempt to associate Beltane with the Cross (the Rood) rather than the life-giving symbol of the Maypole. Beltane was also appropriated by the Church as the Feast Day of Saint Walpurga, who was said to protect crops and was often represented with corn.
Beltane is a time to devote energy to growth and integration. It is a time of celebration, exuberance and hope, when we should enjoy and appreciate the gifts of nature.
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