Saturday, April 27, 2013


April's showers have given way to rich and fertile earth, and as the land greens, there are few celebrations as representative of fertility as Beltane. This holiday incorporates traditions from the Gaelic Bealtaine, such as the bonfire, but it bears some relation to the Germanic May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as May pole dancing).  It is the celebration of the mystical union with the land, honoring Freyr and Freya.  Observed on May 1, festivities typically begin the evening before, on the last night of April.  It's a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth.

May Day on May 1 is an ancient Northern Hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday; it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures.  May Day is a festival that has been somewhat lost but is best known for its tradition of dancing the maypole dance.

Depending on your particular tradition, there are many different ways you can celebrate Beltane, but the focus is nearly always on fertility.  An early morning walk through a local park or forest could be fun for everyone. Gather up some plants or flowers to display in your home.  Mom and daughter could braid their hair and weave in a few tender blossoms.  It's the time when the earth mother opens up to the fertility god, and their union brings about healthy livestock, strong crops, and new life all around.

Beltane Fire

Bonfires are traditionally lit to keep away malevolent spirits or those who might do us mischief.  The ritual welcoming of the sun and the lighting of the fires was also believed to ensure fertility of the land and the people. Animals were transferred from winter pens to summer pastures, and were driven between the Beltane fires to cleanse them of evil spirits and to bring fertility and a good milk yield. The Celts leapt over Beltane fires - for fertility and purification.


For many contemporary Pagans, Beltane is a time for planting and sowing of seeds -- again, the fertility theme appears.  Urban Pagans can start a herb garden in their kitchen.  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.   Norse legend, the God Odin hung from an Ash tree for nine days, and it later became known as the World Tree, Yggdrasil.


The maypole (May Tree) - a phallic pole planted deep in the earth representing the potency and fecundity of the God, its unwinding ribbons symbolized the unwinding of the spiral of life and the union of male and female - the Goddess and God. Young maidens and lads each hold the end of a ribbon and dance revolving around the base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons.  It is usually topped by a ring of flowers to represent the fertile Goddess. 


This ancient Pagan and Celtic ceremony marked the taking of a partner - this involves a commitment to perform an annual review of relationship.  The couple's hands are ritually bound together to symbolize their union.  Some people choose to use a ribbon that they have both signed.  Between Beltane and the Summer Solstice is the most popular time for handfastings.


Thanks to the Earth Mother

Great earth mother!
We give you praise today
and ask for your blessing upon us.
As seeds spring forth
and grass grows green
and winds blow gently
and the rivers flow
and the sun shines down
upon our land,
we offer thanks to you for your blessings
and your gifts of life each spring.


Wisdom from the world's religions inspires our ethical and spiritual life.


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