Beltane (“BEY-al-TIN-ah”) is celebrated on the eve of May 1, halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. “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, the veil is thin between the realms, and this is a perfect time to communicate with Nature Spirits.
The Irish Daoine Sídhe were thought to be particularly active at Beltane and the goal of many rituals was to protect humans from these beings, as well as from human witches who might have try to cause harm. Beltane is a favored time to honor the Gallic God of the Sun Bel (also known as Belenus, Bilé or Beli), and the Gallic Horned God Cernunnos, 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 to bring 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 between the bonfires to purify, bring luck, protection, and to insure their fertility before they were taken to summer grazing lands. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the bonfires. In parts of Ireland, people would make a May Bush wish is 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.
Most modern Beltane celebrations includes maypole dancing, which I never experienced. Many Pagans choose that moment for handfasting festivities, mostly based on the Wiccan narrative of the union of the Lord and the Lady. For me, Beltane is a time to bring productiveness in my projects. I also honor, make offerings and connect with the Nature Spirits.
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