|Apr. 30-May 1||Celtic Summer||Celtic||Feminine||Eve||Bilé|
Beltane (“BEY-al-TIN-ah”) is celebrated from sunset of 30th April to sunset of 1st May, halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. If working by the moon, it is the first full moon when the sun is in Taurus. “Beltane” is derived from Lá Bealtaine, an Irish Gaelic term meaning “Day of Beltane/May”. Some derives the word from the God Bel (“bright”) and the Irish Gaelic word tene (“fire”). This Major Sabbat marks the beginning of the Celtic Summer or the lighter half of the year. This is a time for acknowledging the impregnation of nature and for doing fertility rituals connected with the waxing power of the sun. Like Samhain, it is a time when the veil is thin between the worlds, a time to communicate with spirits, particularly at this time nature spirits. In the Lord and the Lady Narrative, Beltane marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, He desires the Goddess. They fall in love, lie amongst the grasses and blossoms, and unite. The Goddess becomes pregnant of the God.
The Daoine Sídhe were thought to be especially active at Beltane and the goal of many Beltane rituals was to protect humans from these beings, as well as from witches who may try to cause harm. Gatherings would be accompanied by a feast, and some of the food and drink would be offered to the aos sí. Beltane is a favored time to honor Bel, the Gallic God of the Sun and Cernunnos, the Gallic Horned God associated with fertility and vegetation. On Beltane eve, rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. The Celts would build two large fires, Bel Fires, lit from the nine sacred woods. The Bel Fire is an invocation to Bilé, the Celtic Sun God, to bring His blessings and protection to the tribe. The herds were ritually driven between two needfires (fein cigin), built on a knoll. The people and their cattle would walk around the bonfire, or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over flames or embers. The herds were driven through to purify, bring luck and protect them as well as to ensure their fertility before they were taken to summer grazing lands. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. Doors, windows, byres and the cattle themselves would be decorated with yellow May flowers, because they evoked fire. In parts of Ireland, people would make a May Bush; a thorn bush decorated with flowers, ribbons and bright shells. A Scottish legend tells that between Samhain and Beltane, The Cailleach rules on the world. Her retreat is celebrated by a Beltane cake.
Holy wells were often visited at Beltane, as Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well. They would then leave offerings; typically coins or clooties. The first water drawn from a well on Beltane was seen as being especially potent. At dawn on Beltane, maidens would roll in the dew or wash their faces with it. It would also be collected in a jar, left in the sunlight, and then filtered. The dew was thought to increase sexual attractiveness, maintain youthfulness, and help with skin ailments.
Modern Celebration of Beltane
From the late 18th century to the mid-20th century, many accounts of Beltane customs were recorded by folklorists and other writers. John Jamieson, in his Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808) describes the Beltane customs which persisted in the 18th and early 19th centuries in parts of Scotland, which he noted were beginning to die out. In the 19th century, folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912), collected the song Am Beannachadh Bealltain in his Carmina Gadelica, which he heard from a crofter in South Uist. As a festival, Beltane had largely died out by the mid-20th century, although some of its customs continued and in some places it has been revived as a cultural event. In Ireland, Beltane fires were common until the mid-20th century, but the custom seems to have lasted to the present day only in County Limerick (especially in Limerick itself) and in Arklow, County Wicklow. However, the custom has been revived in some parts of the country. Some cultural groups have sought to revive the custom at Uisneach and perhaps at the Hill of Tara. The lighting of a community Beltane fire from which each hearth fire is then relit is observed today in some parts of the Gaelic diaspora, though in most of these cases it is a cultural revival rather than an unbroken survival of the ancient tradition. In some areas of Newfoundland, the custom of decorating the May Bush is also still extant. The town of Peebles in the Scottish Borders holds a traditional week-long Beltane Fair every year in June, when a local girl is crowned Beltane Queen on the steps of the parish church. Like other Borders festivals, it incorporates a Common Riding, an equestrian tradition in the Scottish Borders in Scotland. Since 1988, a Beltane Fire Festival has been held every year during the night of 30 April on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland. While inspired by traditional Beltane, this festival is a modern arts and cultural event which incorporates myth and drama from a variety of world cultures and diverse literary sources. Two central figures of the Bel Fire procession and performance are the May Queen and the Green Man.
Beltane and Beltane-based festivals are held by some Neopagans. As there are many kinds of Neopaganism, their Beltane celebrations can be very different despite the shared name. Some try to emulate the historic festival as much as possible. Other Neopagans base their celebrations on many sources, the Gaelic festival being only one of them. Neopagans usually celebrate Beltane on 30 April – 1 May in the Northern Hemisphere and 31 October – 1 November in the Southern Hemisphere, beginning and ending at sunset. Some Neopagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the spring equinox and summer solstice (or the full moon nearest this point). In the Northern Hemisphere, this midpoint is when the ecliptic longitude of the Sun reaches 45 degrees. Wiccans use the name Beltane or Beltaine for their May Day celebrations. It is one of the yearly Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, following Ostara and preceding Midsummer. Unlike Celtic Reconstructionism, Wicca is syncretic and melds practices from many different cultures. In general, the Wiccan Beltane is more akin to the Germanic/English May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as maypole dancing). Some Wiccans enact a ritual union of the May Lord and May Lady. As Beltane is the Great Wedding of the Goddess and the God, it is a popular time for Handfastings. Bonfires continued to be a key part of the festival in the modern era. All hearth fires and candles would be doused before the bonfire was lit, generally on a mountain or hill. Many observe the traditional bonfire rites, to whatever extent this is feasible where they live.
Celtic Reconstructionists strive to reconstruct the pre-Christian religions of the Celts. Their religious practices are based on research and historical accounts, but may be modified slightly to suit modern life. They avoid modern syncretism and eclecticism (i.e. combining practices from unrelated cultures). Celtic Reconstructionists usually celebrate Lá Bealtaine when the local hawthorn trees are in bloom. Many observe the traditional bonfire rites, to whatever extent this is feasible where they live. This may involve passing themselves and their pets or livestock between two bonfires, and bringing home a candle lit from the bonfire. If they are unable to make a bonfire or attend a bonfire ceremony, torches or candles may be used instead. They may decorate their homes with a May Bush, branches from blooming thorn trees, or equal-armed rowan crosses. Holy wells may be visited and offerings made to the spirits or deities of the wells. Traditional festival foods may also be prepared.
Beltane Reference Guide
|Event||Marks the beginning of the Celtic Summer|
|Time||Halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice|
|Traditional Date||May 1 (Northern Hemisphere) | November 1 (Southern Hemisphere)|
|Astrological Timing||Sun at 15o of Taurus (Northern) | Sun at 15o of Scorpio (Southern)|
|Connection||May Day (May 1), Walpurgis Night (Germanic), Roodmas (May 3)|
|Alternate Names||May Day (Ásatrú), May Eve|
|Cultural Names||Irish Gaelic (Goídelc): Beltaine / Céad-shamh(ain) (“first (of) summer”) Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig): (Lá) Bealltainn, Bealltuinn Manx Gaelic (Gaelg): (Laa) Boaltinn/Boaldyn Welsh (Cymraeg): Calan Mai/Haf (“Beginning of May/Summer”) Proto-Celtic (Common Celtic): *belo-te(p)niâ (“bright fire”) Irish Reconstructionist: Bealtaine, Belteine|
|Spiritual Focus||Abundance, creation, fertility, growth, love, psychic ability, purification, sexuality, union|
|Magickal Focus||Abundance, cooperation, fertility, growth, love, manifestation, passion, protection, purification, union|
|Suggested Workings||Building sacred fires, giving offerings, handfastings, protecting plants, animals, people and possessions, visiting sacred wells, walking the boundaries of one’s property, working with faeries|
|Female Archetypes||Maiden and Mother aspects of the Goddess, Earth Goddess, Goddesses associated with water, plants or animals|
|Male Archetypes||The lusty young god getting ready to fertilize the goddess earth with his seed, Dying and resurrecting gods, Gods associated with fire, plants or animals, Green Man, Horned God, Lord of the Wild Wood, Sun gods|
|Celtic Goddesses||Danu (Irish)|
|Celtic Gods||Belenus (Gallic), Beli Mawr (Welsh), Bilé (Irish), Cernunnos (Gallic), Lugh (Irish)|
|Colors||Brown, Green, Pink, White, Yellow|
|Herbs||Lemon, Mint, Mugwort, Woodruff|
|Trees||Birch, Hawthorn, Oak, Pine, Willow|
|Flowers||Daisy, Ivy, Lily of the Valley, Rose, Violet|
|Incense & Oil Scents||Frankincense, Jasmine, Lemon, Mint, Pine, Rose, Woodruff, Ylang-ylang|
|Crystals & Stones||Bloodstone, Emerald, Rose Quartz, Sapphire|
|Metals||Copper, Gold, Silver|
|Animals||Bee, Cow, Dove, Frog, Rabbit|
|Tarot Keys||The Emperor, The Empress, The High Priestess, The Magician|
|Symbols & Tools||Flowers, Maypole, Priapic wand|
|Food||Honey, Light cakes|
|Drinks||Lemonade, May Wine (White Wine, Lemon Slices, Woodruff Milk)|
|Activities||Bringing in the May by collecting foliage the night before and placing it in the home in time for the Beltane sunrise, decorating a May Bush, distributing May baskets, divination, feasting, fertility magick, handfastings and other romantic partnerships, lighting bonfires, making offerings to deities, ancestors and faeries, Maypole dancing, nature walks, purification ceremonies, protection rituals, sacred sex, singing, visiting wells|
|Acts of Service||Beautifying a neighbor’s living quarters with fresh flowers and herbs, planting a tree, removing litter from an outdoor area, working on a community garden|
Rite of Beltane
This rite can be included in your usual seasonal ritual order.
• 2 Green Candles
Declare the Statement of Purpose:
I am doing a rite today to celebrate Beltane
The holy day of sacred marriage
Between the Goddess and the God
As nature rejoices
In a blaze of color and life
Light the surrounding rituals candles. Then, pick up the chalice filled with wine, hold upwards and say:
Blessed be the sacred union
Which manifests in all creation
Behold the womb of the Mother
The entity from which all life flows
Blessed be the Lady!
The Holy Bride of Heaven and Earth
Come unite with The Lord
In the ancient rite of sacred marriage!
Now pick up the athame, hold upwards and say:
Behold the phallus of the God
Fruitful principle of the universe
Blessed be the Lord!
The Holy Groom of Heaven and Earth
Come unite with Thy Lady Goddess
In the ancient rite of sacred marriage!
Now, symbolically re-create the Great Rite. While slowly dipping the athame into the chalice, say:
Chalice to athame
As Goddess is to God
Father is to Mother
As man is to woman
Behold the sacred union!
Replace the chalice and athame back on the altar and say:
By this act of love, all life comes to be
By this act of faith, I proclaim my place
On the eternal cycle of life!
Now toast to the Lord and Lady by drinking from the chalice.
Witch Recipe: Scottish Beltane Cake
The Beltane Cake was a Scottish custom. It was divided into a number of pieces, and distributed in great form to the company. There was one particular piece which whoever got was called cailleach beal-tine (“the Beltane carline” – a term of great reproach). Upon his being known, part of the company laid hold of him and made a show of putting him into the fire; but the majority interposing, he was rescued. In modern times, the Beltane cake celebrates sexuality and bring out the sex Divine in everyone. It is a rich, intensely flavorful cake loaded with aphrodisiac ingredients.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Total Time: 1 h 15 min. (Preparation: 25 min. | Cooking Time: 50 min).
• 1 ¾ Cups All-Purpose Flour
• ½ Tablespoon Baking Powder
• ¼ Teaspoon Nutmeg
• ½ Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
• ½ Teaspoon Ground Cloves
• ¾ Tablespoon Ground Ginger
• 3 oz. Unsweetened Chocolate
• ½ Cup Milk
• ¼ Cup Brandy
• ½ tsp. Vanilla
• ¾ Cups Butter
• 1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
• 3 Eggs
• ¾ Cups Amaretto Liqueur
• Confectioner Sugar
- Preheat oven to 350o F.
- Grease a large Bundt pan or spring-form pan
- Melt chocolate in a double boiler and set aside.
- Mix milk, brandy, and vanilla.
- Mix flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, and ginger in a separate bowl.
- Cream the butter, then add brown sugar and beat until fluffy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, into the butter mixture.
- Add cooled chocolate to the butter mixture.
- Add the flour mixture and milk mixture to the butter mixture a little at a time.
- Pour mixture into greased Bundt pan or spring-form pan.
- Bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until knife inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
- Let cake cool for 20 minutes before removing from pan, then place it into a bowl (flat side up).
- Using a skewer, pierce the cake with 10-12 holes, being careful not to go all the way through.
- Pour 1/3 of the amaretto over the cake. When that is absorbed, pour another 1/3 amaretto; when absorbed, pour the remainder onto the cake. This will take several hours.
- When all of it has been absorbed, gently invert the cake onto a plate (flat side down).
- Dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar.
- Keep the cake covered until serving. It will get better if you wait 8-24 hours.
Witch Craft: Making a Miniature Maypole
For centuries, Beltane or May Day rituals welcomed the arrival of spring in Germany, England, Sweden and other European countries. Americans have adopted the custom to pay tribute to nature and celebrate the change of seasons. Each May 1, according to tradition, revelers plant a tree trunk or wooden pole in the ground and decorate it with flowers and colorful ribbons. Dancers hold the ends of the ribbons and circle the pole, creating an intricate braided pattern as they go. To bring the spirit of this charming springtime ritual into your home, create a miniature maypole for tabletop display.
• Wooden disk, 12-inch-by-1-inch
• Sharpened pencil
• Dowel, 1/2-inch-by-12-inch
• White craft glue
• Sheet moss
• Satin ribbons in assorted colors, 1/8-inch-by-16-inch
• Dowel cap with 5/8-inch hole, 1-inch diameter
• Small silk flowers in assorted colors
- Make a pilot hole through the center of the wooden disk with a drill. Make sure the hole is large enough to hold the dowel snugly.
- Apply craft glue to the disk and cover it with pieces of sheet moss, taking care not to cover the hole. Allow the disk to dry completely.
- Glue one edge of each ribbon to one end of the dowel, spacing the ribbons evenly. Squeeze a small amount of glue into the dowel-cap hole and place the cap on the ribbon-covered end of the dowel. Apply glue to the other end of the dowel and insert it into the hole in the wooden disk. Let the glue dry.
- Glue small flowers to the dowel cap, covering it completely. Glue a few flowers on the top and sides of the moss-covered disk. Let the glue dry.
- Twist the ribbons around the pole, creating a woven pattern that covers the top 2 inches of the dowel. Drape the loose ribbons toward the edges of the disk and glue a small flower on the end of each ribbon.
Tips: When displaying the miniature maypole on a table, scatter additional silk flowers around it or place it within a spring wreath. Celebrate the progress of spring by continuing the ribbon pattern down the pole, weaving a small section each day.
Further Reading: Beltane by Melanie Marquis (2015)