"Maibaum" by Kristi Malakoff
Hope you're having a blessed and happy Beltane!
Beltane, also known as May Day, is based on an old Celtic holiday. This celebration was mentioned numerous times in Irish mythology and early Irish literature. Some people see this day as the beginning of summer, others as the height of spring. As late as the 1800s, people in Ireland and Scotland would take their cattle and walk around, or jump over, a bonfire as a way to herald the coming summer on this day. At it's core, Beltane is a day that honors life. This is the time of year in which the earth's energy is at it's most fertile.
In Wicca, Beltane is the time of year in which the Horned God and the Great Goddess have their sacred wedding. And with the wedding comes the wedding night. Therefore, this holiday has a huge emphasis on (hetero)sexuality. It's what makes Beltane so great, but it's also what makes Beltane so potentially alienating. What if you want to celebrate with children? What if you're gay? What if you're not dating? Some people can feel completely left out during this holiday. However, there is actually a whole breadth of fun activities that you can use to celebrate Beltane.
- Like most modern Pagan holidays, Beltane is celebrated with a feast. Traditional foods for Beltane include oatmeal, strawberries, dairy, mushrooms, oysters, honey, red wine, fruit punch, herbal greens, venison, mead, and any food traditionally believed to be an aphrodisiac. Sometimes food and drink are offered to the faeries.
- One very well recognized tradition is the Maypole. The pole has a ring of flowers on the top and colored ribbons streaming down. In the Maypole dance, everyone grabs onto the end of a ribbon and then they dance in a circle, weaving in and out of each other so that the ribbons will braid around the pole. In the modern Pagan world this tradition has sexual symbolism, but you don't have to tell the little kids that.
- Flowers are a big part of Beltane. Making and wearing flower crowns is a fun activity. There is also the tradition of leaving flowers on neighbors doors. The May Bush is an old Irish custom that involves decorating a small tree with flowers and ribbon, which may or may not come from an ancient tree rite. Altar decorations can be simple flower arrangements.
- Beltane means "bright fire," so obviously there has to be a bonfire. The flames, smoke, and ashes of a Beltane bonfire are believed to be especially magical. Modern Pagans still jump over the bonfire as a way to purify themselves and increase fertility (use caution when doing this).
- If you are fortunate enough to attend a Beltane festival you'll see many other activities including morris dancing, sword dancing, music, archery competitions, and hobby-horse riding.
- A large part of this holiday is the Great Rite, or going "A-Maying." The Great Rite is a sacred Pagan ritual in which a man and a woman choose to, or are selected to, perform sex magic in the guise of the Horned God and the Great Goddess. This may or may not be performed outside. This may or may not be performed in front of an audience of other Pagans. They are sometimes referred as the May King and Queen. A-Maying is less formal but basically has the same idea: a couple spends the night in the woods together and comes back home with hawthorn branches (hawthorn is very sacred to this holiday). This day can be seen as a sort of Pagan Valentine's Day that honors romantic love.
- But many Pagans use this day to honor any type of love and any type of passion, not just physical love and passion. They celebrate mother-child and friend relationships and encourage new hobbies and goals.
- There is some debate over whether or not this is an appropriate time to get married. Some modern Pagans say that a wedding during the month of May is inauspicious because only a fool would upstage the God and Goddess. But just take a look through Offbeat Bride and you'll see that Beltane weddings are rather popular.
- I feel like I can't talk about this holiday without mentioning the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Judging from the photographs of the event, it's absolutely stunning. They have also started festivals for Imbolc, Lughnasadh, and Samhain, but their Beltane festival remains the biggest. If you're a Pagan who loves to travel and this isn't on your bucket list, then what are you doing with your life?
Mythical beings associated with the season:
Greenman (English folkloric)
Jack (as in Jack-of-the-Green)
Robin (as in Robin Hood)
Fiammetta ("little fire")
Galatea ("milky white")
Parisa ("like a fairy")
Siofra ("elf, sprite")
Alfred ("elf counsel")