With Beltane just around the corner I thought I’d post the short article I compiled for the latest Axis Mundi eNewsletter…
Beltane is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun’s progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice and traditionally marked the arrival of summer in ancient times. It is celebrated in the northern hemisphere on May 1 and in the southern hemisphere on November 1. Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is possible that the holiday was celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It is the last of the three spring fertility festivals, the others being Imbolc and Ostara and it is the second principal Celtic festival (the other being Samhain).
Beltane translated means “fire of Bel” or “bright fire” – the “bale-fire”. (English – bale; Anglo-Saxon bael; Lithuanian baltas (white)). Bel (Bel, Bile, Beli, Belinus, Belenos) is known as the bright and shinning one, a Celtic Sun God. Bel is the father, protector, and the husband of the Mother Goddess.
Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the druids of the community would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and drive the village’s cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck. The Bel fire is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers which further celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires. In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on the fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke. People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves.
Like the festival of Samhain, Beltane was also a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand. Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and summer (Light Part). As Samhain is about honoring Death, Beltane is about honoring Life. It is the time when the sun is fully released from his bondage of winter and able to rule over summer and life once again. Beltane, like Samhain, is a time of “no time” when the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest. No time is when the two worlds intermingle and unite and the magic abounds!
Beltane marks the passage into the growing season, the immediate rousing of the earth from her gently awakening slumber, a time when the pleasures of the earth and self are fully awakened. It signals a time when the bounty of the earth will once again be had and is a time when flowers bloom, trees are green and life has again returned from the barren landscape of winter, to the hope of bountiful harvests, not too far away, and the lighthearted bliss that only summer can bring.
The Maypole is an important element to Beltane festivities, it is a tall pole decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. Young maidens and lads each hold the end of a ribbon, and dance revolving around the base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons. The Maypole dance as an important aspect of encouraging the return of fertility to the earth. The pole itself is not only phallic in symbolism but also is the connector of the three worlds. Dancing the Maypole during Beltane is a magical experience as it is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when these gateways are more easily penetrable. As people gaily dance around and around the pole holding the brightly colored ribbons, the energy it raises is sent down into the earth’s womb, bringing about Her full awakening and fruitfulness.
The central color of Beltane is green. Green is the color of growth, abundance, plentiful harvest, abundant crops, fertility, and luck. White is another color that is customary, white brings the energies of cleansing, peace, spirituality, and the power to dispel negativity. Another color is red who brings along the qualities of energy, strength, sex, vibrancy, quickening, health, consummation and retention. Sun energy, life force and happiness are brought to Beltane by the color yellow. Blues and purples (Sagittarius energies: expansion, Good Fortune, magic, spiritual power, Success), and pinks (Venus energies). Beltane is rich in vibrant color, lighting the eyes and cheering the Spirit as we leave the dreariness of winter behind.