Beltane is Celtic festival celebrated halfway through the spring (Vernal) equinox and Summer Solstice. It celebrates the return of life and the sun as it is released from the shadows of winter. Beltane marks the end of winter’s difficult journey; freeing us from weariness, fatigue and despair bringing jubilation to the earth and our souls.
Beltane, however, remains a delicate time and caution should be exercised as seedlings are young and vulnerable to frost and affliction. Ancient peoples would do everything in their powers to encourage the sun’s warming light. Grand celebrations, festivals, rituals and fires were used to gently arouse the earth from her long winter sleep.
Traditional celebration began on Beltane Eve with bon fires. Wood was gathered to build two sacred Bel fires, known for their healing and purification powers. Once the fires were built, people and their animals would walk between them for purification. The ash of the fires would be sprinkled in the fields and smudged onto the faces of villagers. Homes fires were snuffed out and re-lit with fire from the Bel fires. Young couples hoping to ensure fertility would leap over these sacred fires. Others, wanting to guarantee good luck in the coming year, would circle them clock-wise three times.
In honor of the Beltane homes, villages were decorated with garlands, ribbons, streamers, flowers and flower wreaths. Flowers are an important part of Beltane festivals as they symbolized the summers defeat of winter. Festivals also included sports tournaments, music, food, drinking, merriment and Maypole dancing.
The Maypole and its dance is a significant element in Beltane festivals. The tall poles are decorated with long vibrant streamers, flowers, leaves and the treasures of spring. Then equal numbers of boys and girls, each holding a streamer, begin to dance with boys facing clockwise, girls facing counter-clockwise, interweaving the streamer around the pole, while keeping them taunt. The finished weaved pattern is said to predict the success of the upcoming harvest. Click here to watch the dance.
During Beltane water is also honored for it is imperative to life. Legend states that if you bath in dew gathered before the mornings light, beauty will be granted to you for the year, and for those who sprinkle themselves in May dew shall be blessed with health, happiness and good fortune. If you are looking for a few ways to celebrate Beltane click here.