Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Beltane, also referred to as May Day, is a Gaelic/Celtic festival held on May 1st, or halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. At Beltane the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon.
Beltane is the Celtic festival honoring the Sacred Union of Marriage resulting in the conception of a Divine Child. It’s a deeply joyous affair ultimately honouring our striving for that union of the Divine Masculine and Feminine deep within us and exploring that magical process when we truly open to another. Associated deities include Maia, Flora or Minerva and Cernunnos, Vulcan or Apollo, or you can imagine whomever you relate to at this time of year.
Celebrants mark the holiday by lighting bonfires, dancing and feasting. Beltane rites celebrate birth, fertility and the blossoming of all life, as personified by the union of the Goddess and the Sun God, also known as King Winter and Queen May. Beltane is also sacred to the Fae/Faerie realm.
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May Day ushers in the fifth month of the modern calendar year, the month of May. This month is named in honor of the Goddess Maia, originally a Greek mountain nymph, later identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. By Zeus, she is also the mother of Hermes, God of magic. Maia’s parents were Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph.
The Maypole is a symbol of the union of the God and Goddess to create life, the pole itself a phallic symbol while the dancers and their streamers/ribbons/greenery/vines of flowers represent the fertile womb of the goddess as it takes in the Phallus of the god and takes in his seed.
The traditional May day dance, known as Maypole Dancing, is where the Maypole is hung with ribbons which were woven around the pole in the course of a grand-right-and-left spiral dance, intertwining the young men and women in the process.
Beltane is a time for planting and sowing of seeds — again, the fertility theme appears. The buds and flowers of early May bring to mind the endless cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth that we see in the earth. Certain trees are associated with May Day, such as the Ash, Oak and Hawthorn. In Norse legend, the god Odin hung from an Ash tree for nine days, and it later became known as the World Tree, Yggdrasil.
Flowers are a crucial symbol of Beltane, they signal the victory of Summer over Winter and the blossoming of sensuality in all of nature and the bounty it will bring. Hawthorn tree blossoms were a symbol of fertility, youth and sexuality and was considered sacred, bringing abundant blessings to the newly weds. It is believed that in Celtic times, most marriages took place at this time of year.
The Handfasting Wedding Ritual is a blessed marriage rite in which the hands of you and your beloved are wrapped in ribbon as you “tie the knot”. There are many variations of the traditional handfasting. After the bride and groom both declare their intent to enter into this union, the hands of the couple are clasped and fastened together with a cord or cords just before, just after, or during their vows are made to one another. The wrapping of the cord forms an infinity symbol. The handfasting knot that is tied is a symbolic representation of oneness between the couple. In a show of unity, they become bound to each other.
As for purification, fire has always been seen as its chief agent. It was traditional to build these fires out of nine of the sacred woods from Druidic folklore, including oak, ash, rowan, apple, birch, alder, maple, elm, hazel, holly, hawthorn, willow and others. Lucky Fire leaping is a favorite activity during this festival.
Water, the other element of purification, also plays a strong role in Beltane custom. Spring was the traditional season of “well dressing” particularly in Ireland where wells were seen as holy places (many wells were dedicated to the Virgin Mary). But even more specific to Beltane, morning dew was seen as sacred and magical.
The central color of Beltane is green. Green is the color of growth, abundance, plentiful harvest, abundant crops, fertility, and luck.
White is another color that is customary. White brings the energies of cleansing, peace, spirituality, and the power to dispel negativity.
Another color is red, which brings along the qualities of energy, strength, sex, vibrancy, quickening, health, consummation and retention. Sun energy, life force and happiness are brought to Beltane by the color yellow.
Blues and purples (Sagittarius energies: expansion, Good Fortune, magic, spiritual power, Success), and pinks (Venus energies).
Beltane is rich in vibrant color, lighting the eyes and cheering the Spirit as we leave the dreariness of winter behind. Reawaken to the vivid colors, vibrant scents, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture of summer after a long dormant winter.