The month of May is full of life and vitality that rings true with sayings such as ‘April showers bring May flowers,’ and is also a magical time to celebrate the Earth-honoring, Pagan holiday of Beltane. Beltane, also referred to as ‘May Day’, is celebrated on the first of May with festivities even beginning on the evening before. As one of the eight major holidays celebrated by our European ancestors, this traditional holiday marks the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice and marks a time to embrace the closure of Spring and the first spark of Summer.
Earth-honoring people of Europe believed that Beltane was associated with fertility and the festivities and rituals performed to celebrate this holiday reflected these beliefs. The animals would be paraded around the bonfires (and specifically walked in-between two bonfires) before being put out to pasture for the summer to purify the animals and protect the herds, community, crops, and to encourage growth and fertility.
This was a practice of connection among communities.
The word Beltane originates from the Celtic culture meaning ‘the fire of Bel‘ and has been translated to associate with ‘bright fire.’ Along with the communal bonfire celebrations, the villagers would put the fires out in their hearth and attend a ceremonial lighting of the Beltane fire. Then, over the course of the evening, they would light a piece of wood and take it back to their hearth to re-ignite the fire in their homes. The re-igniting of the fire was said to have protective powers that came from the ashes and embers.
Beltane celebrations would last all night and into ‘May Day’ to honor the return of Summer with prayers for a bountiful and fertile season. While these rituals aren’t practiced as thoroughly today as they once were, modern Pagans will still light fires and practice fertility ceremonies for the start of the season.
Modern day rituals and celebrations of Beltane are expressed in many ways – one of the more common being the creation and dedication of the Maypole to encourage fertility. In this custom, individuals (typically women and girls) will gather around a center pole each holding their own colorful ribbon and would participate in a specific dance of weaving the ribbon around the pole to create a wrapped pattern.
Other modern day celebrations include surrounding your environment with the abundance of yellow flowers, weaving flowers into ones hair, creating floral wreaths to wear at the top of ones head, and connecting with spirit guides, ancestors, and the Faeries (associated with plants and springtime) within the community and gardens.
Cooking and preparing foods that were made with fertility encouraging ingredients were also highly favored to connect to the celebrations and abundant Earth energy of Beltane. The use of honey was highly popular (and one of my personal favorites, too) in whipping up a batch of Beltane Honey Cakes.
In my kitchen – I substitute Moscato, gluten free flour, and coconut sugar instead of white sugar and aim to pan fry in coconut oil, too. To add even more floral energy, I’ll put some dried rose petals into the coffee/spice grinder and after drizzling them with honey, I’ll dust them with pink rose powder and decorate with one dried rose petal. Nom nom.
Mead (one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world, and also made with honey!) was the main beverage of choice source for the Beltane festivities and was often met with the energy of “shit or get off the pot” in terms of evaluating relationships to promote love, growth, fertility, and abundance within the kinship.
If you can’t tell – Beltane is quite an exciting and fruitful holiday!
So – why celebrate Beltane you may ask? The traditional and modern rituals represent where the veil between the spiritual realm and the change of seasons is at its thinnest giving us the opportunity to connect to what is bigger than ourselves.
Whether you choose to (safely) have a bonfire, create a floral wreath, make your own Maypole, surround yourself with yellow flowers, or whip up some honey cake fritters – celebrate however feels best to you. After all, Beltane is the time for connecting to the seasonal changes and spiritual realm of fertility and abundance!
I personally love to host a gathering, to see the faces fo friends who I have not connected with in a while and to share a delicious meal around a fire. I find it most helpful to connect with the celebrations and traditions of my ancestors so that I can stay in touch with where I have come from and in touch with my healthy ancestors. This keeps me feeling rooted in myself and in the Earth.
What are your favorite ways to celebrate Beltane and welcome in the start of Summer? How do you stay connected with your ancestors?