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Beltane May Day festival. Commonly observed on the first of May, the festival falls midway between the spring equinox and summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. The word “Beltane” roughly translates as “Bright Fire” and, as such, one of the most important rituals, which survives today in our modern festival, concerns the lighting of the Beltane bonfire. Fire was seen as a purifier and healer and would have been walked around and danced, jumped over by the members of the community. Farmers would also have driven their cattle between bonfires to cleanse and protect them before being put out into the fields. It marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures.

Rituals were performed to protect cattle, people and crops, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were kindled, whose flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around or between bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. These gatherings would be accompanied by a feast, and some of the food and drink would be offered to the Beltane. Doors, windows, byres and livestock would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire.

In ancient communities, all hearth fires would have been extinguished and a new neid fire lit which would have then been used to relight people’s hearths in their own homes. In this way the community was connected to each other by the sacred fire which was central to all. The festival would also have been a time of courtship rituals and a celebration of our own fertility.

The important point to note when thinking about our own festival is the joy and the revelry that is fostered in the ritual. It is about casting off the darkness and celebrating the light. It is a time for celebrating fertility, both in the context of our biological functions as well as our own creative energies, the fertility of our creative community.

Yellow and white flowers such as primrose, rowan, hawthorn, gorse, hazel, and marsh marigold were traditionally placed at doorways and windows. Sometimes loose flowers were strewn at doors and windows and sometimes they were made into bouquets, garlands or crosses and fastened to them. They would also be fastened to cows and equipment for milking and butter making. It is likely that such flowers were used because they evoked fire. Similar May Day customs are found across Europe.

Beltane Rituals

  • Fire: Go outside and safely have a bonfire with friends. Bring fresh foods from local gardens to eat over the flames and give thanks to your community by bringing them together.
  • Create A Fairy Altar: The veil is thin during Beltane and creatures from the other realms often visit. Create a small altar for them when they visit, fill it with colorful flowers, ripe smells and sweet tasting food.
  • Create Flower Crowns: The season is bursting with flowers, why not adorn yourself and your family with them too. Weave together long grasses and stems with flowers and sing songs throughout your neighborhood.
  • Maypole: This can be done on a small and large scale. Wooden dowels work amazing for every person to craft their own maypole with flowers and ribbon. They also make great garden ornaments when you’re done.
  • Cast A Spell: Beltane is rich with magic, especially for fertility and love. Write your intention or wish on a piece of paper and blow it into the wind, or sing it out and let the wind carry your words out into the universe.
  • Moon Phases: Couples, if you and your significant other are long-term partners, this is a time of renewal and rededication of devotion.

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