Beltaine is one of the Celtic fire festivals. It’s also known as Mayday or May Eve and falls on the 1st May, although it can be celebrated on the 30th of April as well. It is primarily a fire festival, but also a festival of fertility, abundance, regrowth and renewal. The year being divided into two main seasons. Spring the beginning of summer on May 1 (Irish: Beltaine) & the beginning of Winter on November 1 (Irish: Samhain) These two junctures were thought to be critical periods when the bonds between the human and supernatural worlds were temporarily erased; on May Eve witches and fairies roamed freely, and measures had to be taken against their enchantments and so too the same with Samhain when the veil is thin.
The May Queen
We have the Goddess Flora to thank for the crowning of the May Queen. Flora represented fruit and flowers. In the villages young girls hoping to be crowned the May Queen make hooped garlands decorated with leaves and flowers to represent the goddess of Spring. The Queen traditionally sits in a flower-decked chair as she is celebrated by her subjects on MayDay.
The Green Man
GIt’s quite common, especially in England for on May day people to dress up as the green man or the man in green as he’s often called, especially in places like Glastonbury, there are whole carnivals and festivals where there are hundreds of people with leaf masks on and wearing leaves in their hats, to associate with the green man and his fertility, abundance and prosperity at this time of year. He’s a common figure found in wall hangings, artwork, candles, everywhere within the pagan world, especially in Europe. The making masks like masquerade masks out of leaves, whether that be real leaves or fake leaves, you work with whatever you can.
At Beltaine, we are in a time when the veil between different worlds is thinnest. It is similar to Samhain and is at the opposite end of the calendar. While Samhain is a time of death, Beltaine is a time of rebirth.
At both of these times, the veil between the different plains is thinnest, and because of that, we find a lot of Fay and a lot of spirits crossing over at this time of year. You tend to find a few mischievous Fay crossing the boundary between that plain and ours, so it’s a nice time to work with the Fay and leave out offerings, and to create fairy gardens, if you wanted to draw the fay into your space so that they can eventually assist you within your workings. The fay can be wonderful to work with, but they can also be very mischievous. So do this with care. An example of offerings for the fay are milk, honey or oats.
It is also a good time to work with spirits or if you have an ancestor altar to redo the ancestor altar. Because the veil is at its thinnest, you can have good and negative spirits or Fey so it is also a good time to put up protections against those that you don’t want coming into your space. So iron is a prevalent one. The Fay do not like iron at all. So working with iron nails, iron horse shoes is something to think about including.
If you want to shield yourself from negative spirits and negative fay, salt also works but take care as it can be harmful to a lot of creatures and the environment as well.
Bonfires are associated with Beltaine as it is a fire festival, but you can have a mini fire in your cauldron, or just candles or the burning of incense. But you can also burn wishes. Write your wish on a piece of paper, fold it and then each of paper with each wish, in the bonfire or cauldron and the tradition also including walking in a clockwise motion around the flames at the same time. The idea is that the fertility, the abundance, the prosperity, the new growth that comes with Beltaine, as well as the energy of the fire acts to manifest your desired wish within the physical world.
You can do this with a large group of people, or you can do it just by yourself by taking a small petition or wishes for yourself or other people who aren’t able to do
Traditionally this is done with Rowen, Hawthorne or Birch the three sacred trees of Beltaine, but it can really be done with any tree you want. Often seen at sacred sites like Glastonbury or any kind of sacred location you will likely see the after-effects of tree dressing at Beltaine. Traditionally you take a piece of ribbon, in the colors of Beltaine – red, white, yellow, green, and silver, go to the tree where you want to leave this offering and tie it around a branch. As you are tying it, you will think of your desired outcome of your wish or your petition.
Some people do this in complete silence. Some people hum, some people will chant. Some people will just speak meaningful words of intention into the ribbon as it is tied. It is done to assist in manifesting of the wish in connection with the sacred woods and spirits of Beltaine. Some people will choose to dance around the tree to sing, to just spend time meditating before during or after they are doing this mini ritual.
Maypole dancing is a tradition on May Day. It is believed to have stared in Roman Britain around 2000 years ago when soldiers celebrated the arrival of spring by dancing around decorated trees thanking their goddess Flora. These days dancers weave ribbons around a pole rather than a tree.
The Maypole is the representation of fertility. The phallic pole that is sticking out of the earth with the very feminine flower crown around the top.
The colored ribbons are often in the colors of Beltaine of red and yellow and green, white, and silver, and people dance and sing as they spiral around the maypole. Some people do this to channel their wishes and intentions into the maypole, as it’s bound with a ribbon. It’s all about the spiral of life, the repeating nature of the circle as you dance around the maypole but it’s also about the connection between the sky and the earth, the interconnectedness of the world that we live in and how everything we do has an effect on the things around us.
Another traditional dance associated with the beginning of May is Morris dancing. The dancers are usually male and wear different outfits depending on which part of the country they are from. Their clothes are often white with coloured belts across the chest, and they wear bells and shake handkerchiefs or bang sticks together as part of the dance.
At Beltaine it is often found that music plays a very large part. The most common instruments at Beltaine are drums, bells, horns and bagpipes. Drum trance work and meditation circles are sometimes seen at celebrations.
The belief of handfasting at Beltaine is connected to the marriage of the Green man and the May queen, as they join themselves together at Beltaine with a release of fertility and abundance in nature when the flowers are coming into bloom and it contains the intertwining of the hands, the binding of them together.
The tradition of jumping over the broom – this goes back to a time when two people who could not afford a church ceremony, or want one, would be accepted in the community as a married couple if they literally jumped over a broom laid on the floor. The broom marked a ‘threshold’, moving from an old life to a new one. The broom is often made of Rowan Hawthorne or Birch.
Mead and cakes are often shared in communion as part of the ceremony. Mead is known as the Brew of the Divine, made from honey which is appropriate for a love ceremony (and is the oldest alcoholic drink known to humankind).
Some of it is alcohol. Some of are specifically chosen as aphrodisiacs because at this time of year it’s a celebration of fertility and abundance. So drinks are Mead, May wine or milk, grape juice and ginger ale.
In more modern times Chilies and curries are eaten or any kind of spicy food because it adds to the heat of the fire festival.
Bread, pastries, a lot of cakes, and a lot of honey because of its kind of natural component.
The last collection of foods you can eat at Beltaine are the aphrodisiacs. These are almonds and asparagus, oysters, bananas, figs, nutmeg, vanilla, pineapple, strawberries, and truffles.