Beltane, May 1st 2017.
This coming weekend is the May Day bank holiday in the UK and we are going off on one of our camping trips, to a new place we’ve never been that only caters for "off grid” campers. No generators, no electrical hook-ups and no fancy shower blocks, just composting toilets. Sheila and I like places like this where we can enjoy a weekend without modern distractions and where we can spend the evenings sitting around a campfire…..maybe for warmth but certainly for atmosphere.
This got me thinking as this weekend marks the ancient festival of Beltane, a festival which is especially marked by the lighting of a fire.
So what is Beltane?
It marks the beginning of the Summer, a time when cattle would be driven out into the summer pastures. Rituals would be performed to protect the cattle, crops and the family, especially to encourage growth. A special bonfire would be lit and the people and cattle would walk around the fire to invoke the protective powers of the Beltane fire. All of the hearth fires in the village or on the farm would be doused and then re-lit with burning wood from the Beltane fire. Feasting was carried out at these gatherings and some of the food and drink would be offered to the appropriate Gods.
The doors and windows of the homes, the cattle barns and indeed the cattle themselves would be decorated with yellow may flowers to signify the fire. At one time it was believed that bathing in the Beltane dew would help maintain youthfulness.
The Beltane celebrations begin at sundown on the 30th April in the Northern Hemisphere and at sundown on November 1st in the Southern Hemisphere.
Along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh it is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals and it is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish Literature being associated with some important events in Irish mythology.
Beltane is a solar cross-quarter festival, it is the mid-point in the Suns journey between the spring equinox and the summer solstice…..perfectly poised at the cusp of spring and summer. We see the Earth coming to life again, the trees are greening, blossom is flowering and there is a strong sense of the good to come. Pagans and Neo-Pagans believe that as the Power of the Sun strengthens and grows that the God has come of age and continues his courtship of the Goddess.
Beltane or May Day is directly across the wheel of the year from Samhain and marks a gate between the worlds, opening the way for spirits to gain embodiment in new life, as lambs or calves or other animal offspring.
The fire is a major feature of this festival, indeed in ancient times in Celtic lands the Druids would have lit two great fires between which the cattle would be driven and the people would walk. This ceremony would invoke purification, passion, fertility and blessings. Modern Wiccans use this time of year to work their magick for fertility, creative expression, abundance, success and well-being.
Modern Beltane rituals take much from tradition. Many communities celebrate by dancing around a Maypole, but did you know that originally the tree trunk which makes up the Maypole with its tip buried in the Earth symbolises the Male God fertilising the Female Mother Earth. The dancing celebrates this union by decorating the Maypole with ribbons.
Other rituals don’t require a community but can be celebrated individually. One such ritual is to decorate the doors and windows of a house with May Boughs all the while invoking protection and blessings. In some parts of North America the homeowners decorate a May Bush, usually a Rowan or Hawthorn which they decorate with ribbons, flowers and decorated egg shells.
Whatever way you choose to celebrate Beltane do so with joy for this is really a time of celebration and happiness. The dark winter is over and the hard work on the land over the summer has yet to begin, rejoice in all of life’s pleasures……
Dance, Feast, Make Merry and above all celebrate love. All of these acts are nurturing to Mother Earth who in her turn is nurturing to us.
Have a brilliant Beltane!
Kevin, The Crystal Guy
©The Crystal Guy, London Fossils & Crystals 2017