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Beltane is also known as May Day (May 1st) in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the halfway point between Ostara, the Spring Equinox, and Litha, the Summer Solstice. This sabbat has a rich history, representing growth and fertility.
During Beltane, nature is bursting with new life! At Ostara, we were starting to get the hint of new life arriving. And now at Beltane, we’re actually seeing new life flourish.
New buds and blossoms, new baby animals, warmer days, and all other remnants of winter are gone. The seeds we planted at Ostara are beginning to push new growth (literally and figuratively).
Traditionally, Beltane has been associated with sunshine, protection, fertility, sexuality, and romance. Many of the same themes from Ostara are carried over, but in a more “official” way. Rather than getting hints of the seasonal change, we’re actually experiencing the seasonal change.
And what a refreshing reprieve it is! If you live somewhere freezing cold like I do, you anxiously await Beltane every year because it marks the official end of the winter. In this podcast, we’re going to talk about the magic of Beltane and some simple, fun ways to honor it!
Ancestors from Europe would usher in May Day, by finally allowing livestock to begin grazing in the fields. This indicated the warm weather was here to stay, and the plants of Earth will begin sharing their abundance.
There’s also evidence that Romans and other pre-Christian societies celebrated a version of May Day. Most of these festivals included fire rituals, romance and fertility rituals, and honoring gods of suns and earth.
All throughout history, Beltane has always been seen as a celebration of light! It was used as the official beginning of the summer season. The cold, dark half of the year is over, and now the bright, warm part of the year will start.
Citizens who were stuck inside all winter long finally have the opportunity to stretch their legs and regain their strength. Much of historical May Day activities included things like races, jumping over fires, and general mischief of the relatively harmless sort.
It was also a time to enact protection rituals. Historically, people would perform rituals to ensure the protection of their livestock and crops. They would also perform rituals to protect their families, some hoped to be blessed with new family members, too.
Beltane is a time to thrive, grow, and regain vitality after a period of dormancy. The Earth and the people are remembering just how wonderful fresh air is. Everyone is soaking it all up, breathing it all in, and reconnecting as a community.
How to Celebrate Beltane
We just spent the last several months of winter reflecting on ourselves during the previous year, and our hopes for the future. Now nature is habitable again, which means it’s time to turn our attention to the outside world once again.
Remember what you’ve been reflecting on during the winter, and bring those realizations with you into the new season!
Just like celebrating Ostara, the best and most fun way to celebrate Beltane is getting outside! Simply breathing in the fresh, clean air can feel rejuvenating. The idea is to reconnect with nature in any way you are able. Here are some other ideas for celebrating Beltane:
Anonymous gift baskets
This idea comes with a little story. When I was a child, my mom, sister and I would put together simple goodie baskets for the neighbors. They had mostly candy and mini toys in them. We would assemble them together on the eve of May Day, giddy with excitement.
Then, once it was late enough and the neighborhood had gone quiet, we would secretly place the baskets on the neighbor’s doorsteps.
It was always so much fun! We loved feeling like secret givers of goodies, and the neighbors always enjoyed it, too. I suspect they had an idea of who left the baskets, but that wasn’t the point. It was more about doing something nice for our friends that was unexpected.
To celebrate Beltane, you could do something similar for the people you care about. Bring them abundance with candy or small gifts left anonymously for them. It’s the thought that counts!
If you would like to be more magickal in your celebrations, you could do a simple Beltane ritual for union and connection. You can do this alone or with others. No supplies are needed unless you’d like to give offerings to the Earth.
All you have to do is lay in the grass (a bit of dew or dampness is preferable), and focus your attention on the sensation of the Earth beneath you. If you’re with others, lay in such a way that you may hold hands or easily make contact with each other.
Meditate together on the feeling of groundedness, growth, creation, and regeneration. Take turns expressing gratitude and declaring your sacred connection with nature and with each other. This will bring a deep sense of inner healing and togetherness that will last throughout the whole season!
If you love decorating a special sacred space for the seasons, now is a great time for a Beltane altar refresh. Use lots of bright colors that represent the sun: orange, yellow, and white are excellent choices.
Honor the gods and goddesses of your choice. Anyone who represents fertility, flowers, Earth, livestock, abundance, love, and union would be a good choice. Roman goddess Flora is popular during this time of year, if that pantheon resonates with you.
You could also add elements of water on your altar, as the first water of Beltane is believed to be sacred. Combining the water and fire elements will bring in prosperity and lots of growth.
Speaking of magical water, you could call back the old tradition of gathering the first serving of fresh water early in the morning on Beltane. If you have a well you can pull from, or a clean spring you can legally collect from, this could be a magical ritual for you.
Magical water has all kinds of purposes, it represents emotions and the subconscious. You can use this water for bathing, watering seedlings, as an offering on your altar, use in any kind of spell or ritual you’d like, or even drink it if it’s safe to drink. This is similar to creating moon water.
Beltane is known for being the festival of fire. Many traditional celebrations include fire and large bonfires. If you feel comfortable, you can have a bonfire on Beltane eve into the next day. Ancestors would only start Beltane fires with friction, symbolizing the hard work we were subjected to over the winter.
Ancestors would also run through fires for protection. Either down a lane between two larger bonfires or leaping right over the top of a bonfire. They would also lead their livestock in a similar fashion so they’d be blessed with protection and health.
You don’t need to jump through flames to honor the fire sabbat. You can always opt for a candle, a hearth fire, or a small bonfire. Give thanks and take a moment to reflect on the passing winter.
You may be surprised to learn that many cities all over the world host cultural fire festivals for May Day! I live in a rural area, and we have a May Day parade not far from us. Especially if you’re in a large city, it will be easy to find a fun May Day celebration within the community.
And the festival doesn’t need to be inherently Pagan to be a fun celebration. Any kind of community activity brings us back to that sense of union and connection that is vital during Beltane.
Maypole or May bush
Your local Beltane festival might even involve a Maypole, especially if you happen to be in Europe. Maypoles are often quite tall, decorated with ribbons and flowers of all bright colors.
A May bush is a similar concept. They helped ensure good fortune and protection for the upcoming summer season. People would dance around them to invite in growth, romance, and fertility.
As mentioned a few times, performing protection rituals is a fantastic way to celebrate Beltane. There are many ways to promote protection, depending on what you want to be protected from.
You can use salt around windows, doors, and along the perimeter of your property to protect from unwanted energies and spirits. Another option is to use flowers as a means of protection against illness.
Piggybacking off of that, you can adorn everything with flowers! Especially if you’re in an area that is already flush with blooms. Ancestors would adorn cattle and farm tools with flowers to bring protection against illness. We can carry out this tradition in a modern way.
We can decorate our house with flowers for that element of protection, as well as inviting in prosperity. We can also adorn our modern tools with flowers: ritual tools, gardening tools, kitchen tools, even your office tools. Opt for yellow flowers if you can. Otherwise, go with whatever you think is beautiful!
Now is the time to have your first outdoor meal! You can make a feast if you’d like. Or, if you’d like to keep it more traditional, stick with foods people of old would have had access to.
They would not yet be experiencing an abundance of food. However, they would have had easy access to various kinds of dairy products, wines, dried herbs, and anything else that would have kept well in a root cellar.
May Day is such a beautiful sabbat! For me, it is a relief. Ostara is the Spring Equinox, the first official day of spring. However, where I live in freezing Minnesota, it still feels like winter during that time.
I love Beltane just for that reason alone. It feels more like the “official” change in season for me.
So when Beltane finally comes around, it is much more spring-like. And it makes me giddy. Even though it’s still quite cold (it’s 30 degrees today, on this May Day), and I can’t do any gardening yet, I can sense the change in the air. Can you?