When is Beltane: April 30 or May 1
Beltane pronunciation: bee-YAWL-tinnuh, or BELL-tinnuh
Themes: passion, mischief, sensuality, sexuality, beauty, romance, fertility, vitality, abundance
Also known as: May Day, Walpurgisnacht, Floralia, Calan Mai, Beltaine, Beltain
Celebrated on May 1st, Beltane marks the transition point from Spring to Summer on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. This is a heady time of lust, passion and fertility, marking the return of vitality to both the Earth and the Sun. Blossoms on the trees are giving way to robust leaf growth, young animals are growing into maturity, and the daylight continues to lengthen and strengthen as we move toward the full power of Summer. Love and commitment are themes of this Sabbat, along with abundance and creativity. Handfastings, or Wiccan wedding ceremonies, are traditionally held at Beltane.
Beltane is a very sensual Sabbat in many Wiccan traditions, celebrating sexual energy and co-creation. Wiccan mythology holds that the God and Goddess come together in physical union at this time, having reached full maturity in their growth over the Spring. Their coupling ensures the continued propagation of all life, as now the God will be reborn of the Goddess after he dies in late Autumn. It also symbolizes the coming together of masculine and feminine energies at work in all creation. This is when the Goddess begins to step into her Mother aspect, and the God has almost reached the height of his power.
Many pagan cultures had their own version of a festival marking the beginning of Summer around this time. The ancient Romans celebrated Floralia, and for many centuries the eve of May 1st has been known as Walpurgisnacht in several Eastern European cultures. In England, the holiday became known as May Day. One distinct custom in England and elsewhere that has never died out entirely is dancing around the Maypole—a tall, wooden pole said to represent male virility. Typically, people gather flowers and green branches to decorate the Maypole, or else use brightly colored ribbons. Many Wiccan groups incorporate this tradition into their Beltane celebrations.
Fire is also a big focus at Beltane—so much so that many places host a Beltane fire festival. In ancient Irish culture, from which the name of the Sabbat is borrowed, people lit giant sacred fires on this day to purify and protect their cattle from illness. The cattle were driven between two fires to ritually cleanse them and connect them with the Sun. It was also considered good luck for people to jump over a bonfire at this time, and this is another Beltane ritual that is often found in Wiccan celebrations.
The word “beltane” actually comes from an ancient Celtic word meaning “bright fire,” so it’s highly appropriate to include fire of some kind in your festivities. If, like many Wiccans, you don’t have the means to build a fire either indoors or outdoors, you can still decorate your Wiccan altar with images of fire. If you have a mini-cauldron, place it over a few scraps of red and orange paper for a symbolic fire right on your altar!
Other ways to celebrate Beltane include making a “wedding feast” for the God and Goddess. Breads and cereal grains, oatmeal cookies and dairy foods are all traditional Beltane treats. Include seasonal spring vegetables as well for a true feast. Gather flowers and green leaves to decorate your altar with. Many people like to create a “mini-Maypole” for their altar and decorate it with ribbons. If you have long hair, braid it as a symbol of the union between the Goddess and God, weaving in some wildflowers or tree blossoms if you like. Traditionally, couples would spend the whole night outdoors, romping in the fields and forests, but if this isn’t practical, take a long walk with your sweetheart somewhere out in nature. If you’re single, enjoy a few hours of communion with the spirit world in a beautiful outdoor place. The important thing is to make sure you spend some time outdoors on this day!