Considered as the first day of summer, the 1st of May is also when pagans celebrated Beltane.This is a festival of fertility and awakening as earths energies are at their strongest. It was the time that cattle, would be put out to graze on the fields once again.
Fire plays an important role in the Beltane celebration, Belfires would be lit to cleanse and purify. Often cattle would be driven between the fires to protect them from disease and illness.During the celebration people would jump the Belfires for luck, also it would represent symbolic contact with the Sun.
At this time the Maiden Goddess has reached her prime – she represents renewal and growth. The Young Oak King is said to have fallen in love her. Following their union the May Queen – Goddess becomes pregnant, thus creating new life.
Beltane is a time to celebrate love, commitment and growth and therefore this is why Hand Fasting ceremonies – betrothal – would be held at this festival.
The ceremony is often personal but common rituals involve the exchange of rings or tokens. The couple will have their hands tied together with a red ribbon or cored during the ceremony and then later unbound. This represents the coming together of the couple and then the untying represents their choice to stay together willingly. They would also use a broomstick laid on the floor to represent the threshold and the couple would then be expected to jump over it – representing moving from one life to another as a married couple.
The May Pole…
Historically the Maypole dance is thought to have originated from Germanic fertility rituals. Pagans then across Europe began to adopt this practice. As part of the Beltane celebrations the May Pole dance would have originally been carried out around a living tree, removing its lower branches and then decorating the top with ribbons and garlands.
The May pole represents male fertility and new life with the garlands and flowers representing the fertile goddess – the dance as we know it today dates back to the 19th century but the principle is the same with the weaving of the ribbons representing union and the promotion of fertility.
As this is a celebration of fertility and new life the colours that are used will be vibrant greens to represent nature flourishing, bright colours to represent the flowers which will begin to bloom in abundance.
You can add flowers to your altar…..if they are in a pot you will be able to see them grow as the season progresses.
As Beltane is a fire festival, candles will take centre place.
Fertility symbols can also be used.
At Home Celebrations…
As with many pagan festivals the community and family are at the heart of the celebration. If the weather is good gather loved ones together for a BBQ and light a bonfire, ask each person beforehand to write down their wishes for the year ahead and what they are grateful for. These can then be read out and placed onto the fire if people wish to.
Decorate the door way of your home with flowers to bring good luck. Make your own miniature Maypole to decorate your altar or a flower garland.
However you decide to celebrate Beltane take a moment to embrace this exciting time of year and draw on the positive energy and love surrounding this celebration.
The dancers weave, their threads are wound;
Some gold, some red, some darkest brown.
Their cords (our lives) spun to the sound
Of Mother Earth changing her gown.
Some gold, some red, some darkest brown;
The ribbons pull us round and round
As Mother Earth changes her gown.
Fine patterns form, colours compound.
The ribbons pull us round and round
While time keeps counting swiftly down.
Fine patterns form, colours compound;
Life’s tapestry can then be found.
While time keeps counting swiftly down,
The dancers weave, their threads are wound.
Some gold, some red, some darkest brown,
in Mother Earth`s most changing gown.
By Rachel Firmin