One of the four Celtic holy days, Beltaine (May 1 in the northern hemisphere, November 1 in the south) is the feast of the God Belenos and the first day of summer. Belenos protects the cattle with his sacred fires. He is also the guardian of medicinal herbs, and his own plant is the henbane
The word baltaine translates from old Gaelic as 'bone fire'
pronounced: bal tin nae emphasis on the first syllable
A favorite holiday celebrated amongst most of the pagans and wiccans I know, it is unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) usually misinterpreted. The common intepretation of it these days makes it basically a holiday of sex, instead of fertility. This misplaces the joining of the God and the Goddess providing fertility of all things, and places it onto a solely human aspect, resulting in sex. Lots of it.

Note: From personal experience, if you throw a Beltane party... put down plastic tarps.
Beltane has been celebrated in many different forms for centuries. The most commonly thought of one (the one wiccans and pagans use today) is the Celtic fertility rite which took place on or around May 1st.

Nowadays the tradition is used by wiccans to celebrate the union of the goddess and the god. It's when the goddess changes from maiden to warrior and the god stops being her child (incest is lovely, eh?). This is also where she becomes pregnant with the god's child, who will be the reincarnation of the god after his death. (But please do note that just because someone's pagan doesn't make them wiccan).

For many pagans this is the best holiday of the year. Picnics, dancing, and lots of sex. There's a Maypole to dance around, a fire to leap over, and faeries to leave presents for, all in the name of fertility for the earth.

This fire festival is traditionally the exact opposite of Samhain.

Bealtaine was a Celtic feast which fell on 1 May (May Day). It marked the half-way point of the Celtic year. Bealtaine marked the beginning of a month-long celebration of sexual freedom in honor of the Great Mother and the Horned God. Trial marriages of a year and a day could be made at this time; if this proved unworkable, partners simply went their separate ways at the end of that time. Virginity was not prized among the Celts, since families were important to them. Sexual activity was encouraged, especially at Bealtaine. Green clothing was worn at this time of year, to honour the Earth Mother.

The opposite of Bealtaine in the Celtic calendar is Samhain.

Beltane is an ancient Celtic festival that marks the return of vitality, or passion and hopes consummated. It is still celebrated today by many pagans and Wiccians. On the eve of April 30 or the first full moon in Taurus, two large bon-fires are lit, while people and cattle walk between them. During this evening only, men are considered God and women the Goddess. Women in a Beltane carrying cup of an alcoholic drink called mead, when they offer this drink to a man it is looked at as an offer of sex. If accepted the couple find a nice quiet spot in the woods, not to far from the fire and celebrate the joining of the God and Goddess. Through this act the couple is considered married for a year and a day, if a child is conceived from this marriage the young one will be looked as a god or goddess for the entirety of its life.

On May 1 or May Day, many people woke early in the morning to gather flowers and green branches from the fields and gardens, using them to decorate their homes or the Maypole. A May pole is a supremely phallic symbol and represented the God, that was the focal point of old English village rituals. The flowers and greenery that people would gather symbolized the Goddess.

Today’s pagan sometimes uses the May pole but normally the cauldron is more common. The cauldron represents the Goddess—the essence of womanhood, the end of all desire. If possible Beltane is celebrate in a forest or near living trees. Pagans will bring a small token or charm in honor of the wedding of the Goddess and God to hang upon the tree, these charms can be bags filled with fragrant flowers, strings of beads, carvings, flower garlands, just to name a few.

Weaving is a traditional art at this time of year, for the joining together of two beings to form a third. The foods that are usually served at the Beltane feast come from the fairy, and dishes like marigold custard and vanilla ice cream and oatmeal cakes.

Beltane (a.k.a. Bealtaine, Bhealltainne, May Day, et cetera)

(May 1, in some traditions the day before or after)

Beltane is a Pagan Sabbat: a holiday celebrated by Wiccans, Witches, and many others whose religions fall under the umbrella of Earth spirituality and Paganism. It is the origin of the maypole festivals.


Beltane lore:

The God is now a fully grown young man and He and the Goddess make love for the first time. She is impregnated at this time. Love and union are embraced.


Beltane sentiments:

Fertility rites are the main objective of this holiday. We ask for fertility for ourselves and for our animals or crops if we have any, and also for our plans conceived at Imbolc and put into motion at Ostara to grow and become what they were expected to be. This is a time of extreme vitality and consummation of many aspects of life. It is also a time to help others; to aid others in making their plans and aspirations work out. Some people believe elves and faeries and other "little people" begin to come out at this time and might leave offerings for them. Beltane is a good time also to commune with the deities of choice and to celebrate the blessings of love and fertility They have bestowed.


Beltane practices:

Since the spring flowers have been growing, this is a good time to collect spring flowers and exchange them with people whose favor you desire. People also like to put the flowers in and around their cauldrons (since the cauldron is a symbol of the Goddess). Fertility rites are very popular, such as the maypole. The pole itself is a phallic symbol, and the celebrators skip around the pole holding ribbons that wind into a lovely pattern. Couples who want to conceive children might jump over a small cauldron while holding hands. This is a time when people have large gatherings and get-togethers where they all talk about life and have a great time. Handcrafts are popular for this time of year, especially woven gifts and fabric crafts. Many people like to build a shrine in nature at this time, sometimes in a home garden or in a nearby forest.


The Beltane season:

Some Beltane Recipes: Check out other Sabbats:

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This is ritual one of the priests in the area did recently.

This is the time of the Beginning of summer in the old calendar. The fields are plowed and planted with seeds of hope for the future. It is a celebration of the turning wheel of life, and of the deeds of legend that came before!

The circle casting:

HP: I draw this circle with sword in hand. Round us now between the sky and the land. The ancient gods I now call. Join us, within our hall!

HP: Hear us o' ancient ones, deities, heroes, and ancestors of old! We come before you in this sacred space where the three worlds are made one again. We will sing the songs and tell the tales of old; your deeds will not be forgotten. We will light the sacred fires and perform the ancient rites so the Earth shall be renewed upon this Beltane night!

Quarter caller proceeds in lighting the quarter candles as he/she recites:

EAST: From the halls of Finias, mystical city of old, we call upon the powers of Air, you who bring us clarity and wisdom, descend from your aerial realms and be with us. May the sacred sword of Nuada protect and keep us.

SOUTH: From the halls of Gorias, mystical city of old, we call upon the powers of Fire, you who brings us strength and endurance, descend from your cavernous realms and be with us. May the great spear of Lugh protect and keep us.

WEST: From the halls of Murias, mystical city of old, we call upon the powers of Water, you who brings us fulfillment and healing, descend from your watery realms and be with us. May the fulfilling cauldron of the Daghda sustain and keep us.

NORTH: From the halls of Falias, mystical city of old, we call upon the powers of Earth, you who brings us stability and balance, descend from your mountainous realms and be with us. May the stone of Liafal enlighten and keep us.

ALL: Oath of the Elements (optional): Hear me o' guardian powers! I will keep the faith Until the sky falls and crushes me! Until the fires rage and consume me! Until the seas arise and overwhelm me! Until the earth opens and swallows me! So mote it be.

ALL: Air, I Am. Air I Am! Fire I am Water, Earth, and Spirit I Am! (sing while walking (or dancing) in a circle, building up energy)

HPS: The Blessing of the Water and the Salt

WATER: Blessings upon the waters, they are rivers of life flowing from the womb of Danu.

SALT: Blessings upon the salt that comes from the land, which is her body.

JOIN: As the two are brought together, life brings forth anew! (RAISE CHALICE HIGH) Great Mother, we honor you!!!

HP: The Blessing of the Fire and Air

FIRE: Blessings upon the fire, it is the power of spirit issuing from the mind of the Daghda.

AIR: Blessings upon the air, the power of his voice that grants us wisdom.

JOIN: As the two are brought together, his seed is spread upon the land!

(RAISE THE CAULDRON HIGH) Great Father, we honor you!!!

HPS: Invocation of the Deities

As we stand in this sacred circle, we call the spirits of the Lady and Lord to be here with us. Grant us your power and protection as we seek to unravel the mysteries. Inspire us with your knowledge and wisdom. We honor you o' ancient ones! Blessed be thou names!

THE MYSTERY:

HP: Hear now the song of the Mother, she who gives forth life and nurturing. She is the beginning of all things and from her womb, we sprang forth into this world. She gives us strength to grow and the courage to carry on. When our lives have expired, unto her we shall return!

HPS: Hear now the song of the Horned One. He who gives us power and protection. He leads us through life on our paths and gives us knowledge and inspiration. After our deaths he guides our souls in the world beyond!

HP: Hear now the song of the Tuatha, who came into this world on this day long ago. They who fought the Firbolg and the Fomor. They who brought us the tales and legends of old. They who wait under the hills until the time comes for them to arise once more!

HPS: Hear now the song of the ancestors, they who came before us and participated in the circle of life. They who passed on a part of themselves to make us who we are. Our lives are possible because of them!

HP: Hear now the song of the Pagans, the Seers and Mystics who held the craft of the wise. They who refused to submit. They who passed on the old ways that we should remember our sacred bond with the earth.

HPS: Hear now the song of the feast, the ancient rite of Beltane that marks the beginning of summer. As we give our energies to help renew the Earth, as we light the fires that purify and strengthen us, burning away the old and clearing a path to the future, we rejoice!

HP: Hear now the song of us, the modern ones who have drawn from our roots in the ancient past. We who have braved the persecutions of others as we preserve our individuality. We who now work together to bring things full circle as we celebrate the ancient ways and return to the beginning!

Song: We are a circle Within a circle With no beginning And never ending.

The Blessing of the Feast

HPS: Blessed thou art o creature of water/wine. This wine symbolizes the blood of the Mother, the source of all life. As we drink of thee, may we be fulfilled and remember the life giving essence that flows within us all.

HP: Blessed be thou creature of the earth. This food symbolizes the body of the Father, sacrificed for life. As we partake of thee, may we understand and remember your gifts to us and all who have sacrificed in your name.

Release of the deities:

Hear us o' ancient ones, deities, heroes, and ancestors of old. We thank you for your presence. As we return to the physical world, we know that your blessings go with us. Hail and Farewell!

Quarter caller proceeds to dismiss the quarters:

Powers of the (direction), spirits of (element), we thank you for your attendance. Go now in peace. So mote it be!

HPS: The faith has been kept! Let all be witness, by the powers of Lady and Lord, three times three, Go now in peace. So mote it be!

Opening the Circle

HP: The circle is open, yet ever remains, for through us flows its magical power.

Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet again!

Beltane is an ancient pagan fertility festival celebrating the coming of the Summer, or at least the end of the really bloody cold part of the year. Variations were current in many parts of Northern Europe at least until the middle of the 19th century, and may never have died out completely, but modern celebrations tend to build freely on the old rituals.

Edinburgh's Beltane celebrations are currently the world's largest, and Calton Hill now sees three hundred or so performers and up to twelve thousand punters gather on the 30th of April every year. Athletic hippies make human pyramids while clad in nothing but red paint and thongs, fire dancers spin their toys hypnotically, and dozens of drummers beat out mad rhythms through the night.

At the centre of the ritual is the coming of the May Queen, embodiment of Spring and femininity, and her male counterpart the Green Man, the same guy all those pubs are named after. He starts the night in the form of the Horned God, gnarled and weighted down with the baggage and overgrowth of the old year. At the climax of the night, he is ritually stripped of his excess vegetation to be reborn as the new Green Man, representing the shoots of new life that can flourish when the brash is cleared away. Fires are lit, from a single 'need-fire' started by friction, to burn away the old and superfluous - leaving what survives cleansed, revitalised and a bit warmer.

Up to this point, everything is straight out of recorded folklore. If that was all there was to it, though, it probably wouldn't be that much of a party. Records being patchy, and paganism being a living tradition, large parts of what happens on Calton Hill have been invented anew, sometimes every year. Many new elements have been added since the festival was revived twenty-two years ago, drawing on archetypes and ideas that our ancestors may or may not have been aware of. The resulting mishmash works well both as ritual and theatre.

The Goddess, the God and the fire all start on the Acropolis and then make their way round the hill with an entourage of drummers and White Warriors*, guardians of the goddess. They pass through the Fire Arch, entrance to the Otherworld, and visit each of the four elemental points, waking them as they go (each performs for ten minutes or so, going on for some time after the procession leaves). Then they have a run-in with the Reds*, nearly-nekkid forces of chaos, who generally piss around and show off with acrobatics and dancing, before they move on to the ritual exfoliation of the Green Man. Throughout all this there is other fun stuff happening in various parts of the hill, particularly the Acropolis and the nearby stage, so it's usually best not to even attempt to follow the procession all the way around. Ideally you want to be there with some friends who will keep you entertained while you're not in range of any performance - there's usually a lovely vibe in the crowd.

Hundreds of people, many of them not particularly pagan or even really hippies, devote countless hours of their time to this thing every year. A lot of that has to do with the community that's grown up around the festival, the skills you learn and the inhibitions you overcome when you get involved. It's also the best way to see it all - especially if you're one of the stewards, who typically get to see everything the procession passes.

This will be my third year being involved. I was a satyr-like creature in 2008, guarding the Fire Arch with a flaming sword, and I dressed in muslin with a big wavy cloth to represent the notoriously difficult-to-signify element of Air in 2009. I also took part in the Beltane Fire Society's other main festival, Samhuinn, last year, as one of the 'Valravn' - a half-raven spirit, representing inevitable death. This year I'm looking forward to making and controlling a giant puppet, with the Red Puppeteers.

All in all, Edinburgh's Beltane is a curious amalgam of folk festival and modern creativity, and a truly enormous community arts undertaking. For something that's theoretically all about a single night of the year, it seems to have a remarkably large effect on the social scene and character of the city.

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*The Reds were known in the past as the Red Men, rather confusingly since so many of them were women; the Whites have been known as the White Women, or White Warrior Women, and I think this might be the first year they won't be wearing frocks. A great deal could be written about sex and gender at Beltane, but I think I won't.

Bel"tane (?), n. [Gael. bealltainn, bealltuinn.]

1.

The first day of May (Old Style).

The quarter-days anciently in Scotland were Hallowmas, Candlemas, Beltane, and Lammas. New English Dict.

2.

A festival of the heathen Celts on the first day of May, in the observance of which great bonfires were kindled. It still exists in a modified form in some parts of Scotland and Ireland.

 

© Webster 1913.

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