Beltane also known as Beltine is the Fire festival marking the start of summer. The modern celebration of Beltane is celebrated from sundown on 30th April to Sundown on 1st of May as Celts historically celebrated from sundown to sundown. The earliest references to Beltane celebrations we find are from old Irish and Scottish literature from medieval texts. During the Victorian times an effort was made to collect the folklore and tales from around the Islands and songs and stories referencing Beltane had survived, many of the traditions we now have in May day celebrations are thought to have come, in part, from previous Beltane celebrations in Scotland and Ireland.
The name of the festival is thought to come from the Celtic fire god Belenus (1) (also Belenos, Belinus, Bel, Beli Mawr) – Bel – who was one of the most widely worshiped gods in Celtic mythology, he is known as the ‘Shining one’ and is a sun god most commonly depicted riding across the sky in his chariot. The second part of the name of Beltane is derived from the Gaelic word for fire making the festival a Shining fire.
Beltane is the midway point between the spring equinox and summer solstice, at Beltane the Pleiades (seven sisters) star cluster rises just before dawn and can only be seen momentarily being highest in the sky at midday and at Samhain it sets just before dawn and is most visible at midnight marking the thinning veil between life.
For more information on the Pleiades star cluster please visit Earth Sky who have some fantastic images and information on our night sky.
Beltane marks the marriage and fertilization of Mother Earth and Father Sky – the Earth and the Sun come together to create life again on Earth food to eat, herbs and flowers and warmth.
Traditionally at sunset on 30th two large bonfires would be built side by side, cattle would be drive through the gap between with the fire cleansing and offering protection for the next year. The hearth fire would be put out, cleaned and relit with embers from the communal Beltane fires offering protection to the house for the next year. People would gather branches from the 9 sacred trees in 13th Century Irish poem The Song of the Forest Trees lists them for you:
Handfasting contracts were traditionally drawn up in Scotland and Ireland over Beltane, however these were temporary marriages lasting a year and a day. At the end of the period if the wife had not pleased the husband well enough he could send her and any children back to the wife’s family or they would formalise a wedding the day after Beltane as many considered it rude to the Gods to marry on their special day and so the permanent weddings took place on the next. There have been a fair few clan wars started in Scotland over the sending back of the wife and so in the late 1600’s the temporary weddings were stopped and it was seen as more of an engagement process.
In modern times however many people choose to get married on Beltane and for those pagans who do it is a time of celebration and love and incorporating their Beltane celebrations into their big day.
Modern Beltane festivals have been making a come back since the 1960’s many crown a May Queen and a Green Man with these people making offerings into the Beltane fires, celebrations food and drink flow. The biggest festival in Scotland has a record of their digital celebrations from last year – https://beltane.org/bonfire-2020-6/
A short video of the 2015 Beltane celebrations in Scotland.
Beltane celebrations are about interweaving the female and male energy, about creating balance and harmony and protections for hearth and loved ones. It’s about times of joy, of celebrating your feminine divine, of letting go of any shame you have about your body, sexuality or those you have been made to feel as a woman.
Beltane is a time for feasting, bless the food and drink and share around if you can celebrate with others. If you cannot make a portion to share with the earth, nature and spirits around you, you will not be alone.
Make masks of greenery that only cover the top half of your face leaving you free to eat and drink, Share your food and drink as offerings to the earth and sky on your fire.
If you can light a personal fire to celebrate Beltane, you can burn herbs for protection and meditate before the flames. Fires can help us enter a more trance like state simply by watching, be mindful of what comes to you when watching the flames.
If you are able to safely you can jump your Beltane fire, Jump and say what you leave behind, ask for protection from the flames for what comes ahead, jump and pledge yourself to what you need to do this year. Please don’t jump over a large fire or when you have had a few cups of mead!
If you do not have space for a fire take a bowl with earth and use a red candle to represent the sun, to have your own personal Beltane fire. Speak your wishes for the year, ask for protection and let the flame burn down.
Dance feel the energy and go a bit wild!
Create a shrine area with flowers and greenery, represent the goddess and gods that draw your or natural spirits and give thanks for the summer and the abundance of life around you. Decorate with colored ribbons
Make a headdress of greenery – by weaving plants around a headband, as you weave set your intentions, sing or chant to place your power, love and thanks into the work you are making.
If your an early morning riser washing your face in the dew of a Beltane morning is a way to connect to the day, dress in Green to celebrate the Earth.
Incantations or prayers that work at Beltane are those recognising the marriage of earth and sky, of giving thanks to the awakening land and asking for blessings and protection.
More can be found here if you would like to use someone else’s than these are good to see what resonates with you:
An example used often is the prayer to the Earth Mother:
Great earth mother!
We give you praise today
and ask for your blessing upon us.
As seeds spring forth
and grass grows green
and winds blow gently
and the rivers flow
and the sun shines down
upon our land,
we offer thanks to you for your blessings
and your gifts of life each spring.
If you are lighting a fire safety tips to remember are:
Have a safe, wild and wonderful Beltane, love and blessings the Crow and the Unicorn xxx