Beltane is a spring festival celebrated by many traditions that trace their history to Northern and Western European agrarian culture. It may be celebrated when the sun is at 15 degrees Taurus or on the fixed date of April 30 – May 1 in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane may be celebrated at 15 degrees Scorpio or on October 31-November 1.
Related Festivals and Alternative Names and Spellings: Beltane, Beltain, Beltaine, May Day, Walburga, Galan Mai, Shenn de Boaldyn, Bealtinne, Beltine, Beal-tine, Rudemas, Roodmas, Cetsamhain, Walpurgisnacht, Hexennacht, May Eve, Tana’s Day, La Giornata di Tana, Samhradh, La Baal Tinne, Whitsun, Aphrodisia, Maia’s Feast
Beltain is the opposite of Samhain on the traditional, Celtic-based Wheel of the Year and like Samhain, the night when the veil between the worlds is quite thin. Some say the faeries return from their winter hideaway and the night is filled with magic and beauty. Others say the spirits of those who will be born the coming year return to the land of the living this day.
In some traditions, this is the night that the God expresses his love for the lovely Goddess and they will consummate their union in the Sacred Marriage resulting in the conception of the Divine Child who will take the God’s place next year after He has died so that the people of Earth may be fed. It is considered terribly bad manners to upstage the God and Goddess with a mortal wedding, but announcing a betrothal is perfectly acceptable. In other traditions, the God and/or Goddess of Love and His/Her consort are celebrated and possibly invoked. One particular example is Aphrodite and Adonis, another pair is Anghus Mac Og and Caer Iborméith. On this night of passion, many couples will wander off alone to make a little magic of their own. Children conceived on this night are gifted of the Gods and are known as Merry-be-gots.
The Maypole dance is a traditional part of the Beltaine festival, with the pole representing the male and the ribbons female. May baskets may be exchanged, in quite the opposite way that gifts are exchanged on Samhain. Instead of going door to door collecting gifts, people hang May baskets filled with goodies from the doorknobs of their friends and neighbors.
Beltain is one of the fire festivals of the Wiccan calendar. In ancient times this may (or may not) have been a time of sacrifice, including human sacrifice. The tradition of leaping over the fire may be a reflection of this, as passing custom of passing livestock through two bonfires for blessings and fertility may reflect ancient animal sacrifices. Or these may simply be an innocent form of ritual fumigation.
In celebrating or decorating for this Sabbat, the following may be utilized, according to tradition and geographic availability:
Incense- Frankincense, lilac, rose, musk, ylang ylang, tuberose, jasmine
Colors- green, pink, blue, yellow
Stones- rose quartz, beryl, garnet
Herbs– Honeysuckle, St John’s Wort, hawthorn, phlox, rose, lilac, all flowers
Symbols- May pole, wreathes of flowers, strings of beads, ribbons, phallic symbols, cauldron
Food- Dairy, oatcakes, cherry, strawberry, May wine, salad greens
Gods and Goddesses
Modern Pagan practices have incorporated the worship of many different deities into the Beltane celebration. The Gods honored at this time are often Gods of fertility, reproduction, lust and love, Maiden goddesses and Gods and spirits of wild nature. Divine romantic couples are also often shown honor at this time as are members of the Fae, depending on tradition. The following list is not exhaustive.
Bel, Belanos, Aphrodite, Adonis, Achilles, Arianhrod, Ariel, Artemis, Astarte, Anghus Og, Cybele, Diana, Freya, Rhiannon, Shiela-na-gig, Skadi, Var, Venus, Xochiquetzal, Apollo, Bacchus, Cernnunos, Cupid, Eros, Faunus, Frey, the Horned God, Herne, Odin, Orion, Pan, Puck, Robin Goodfellow, Maia