Beltane Festivities to Celebrate Spring
Flowers are a common symbol of life and vibrancy at Beltane Celebrations
When I was a kid, my sisters and I would celebrate May Day by giving flowers to our neighbors. Actually, we would secretly give them to our neighbors. We would put the flowers on their doormats, ring the doorbell, and run before they opened the door. Nowadays I am teaching my kids how to do the same.
As an Earth-Centered Witch, I love rituals and festivities that honor the unique gifts, lessons, and powers of each season. Beltane is an ancient Celtic tradition that has been embraced by today’s witches and woo-curious as a celebration of Spring’s vibrant energy. Let’s dive in and learn more about this festival of life and creativity.
Please note that my thoughts here do not represent “how witches celebrate Spring.” As a Modern Witch, I have curated a set of practices and beliefs that are uniquely mine, woven together from the threads of my ancestry, my relationship with the land I live on, the stories I know, my experiences, and my curiosities.
What is Beltane?
Beltane is a Seasonal Celebration, also known as May Day, that celebrates the boisterous energy at the height of Spring. Beltane is a Cross-Quarter holiday on the Celtic Wheel of the Year. It occurs at the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Earth-Centered Religions have celebrated this lively time of year in many forms: Greeks celebrated the victory of Summer over Winter; the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night is a beloved Spring festival, and Jorė in Lithuania honors the awakening of the Earth.
Where does Beltane Come From?
Beltane was originally celebrated by the Celtic Gaels of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Pastoral people, the Gaels aligned their farming and livestock practices with the changes of the season. Beltane marked the time of year when they would put their livestock out to pasture. Part of their seasonal celebrations was a cleansing and protection ritual incorporating smoke and fire. They would pass their livestock between two fires to keep illness away. These seasonal celebrations were considered best-practices for guaranteeing the success of their Earth-dependent lives. But, by the 1900’s Beltane’s traditional celebrations had almost disappeared.
Who Celebrates Beltane Today?
In the 1970’s Neopagans and Wiccan practitioners sought to revive the seasonal celebrations of their ancestors. Today, Beltane continues to be observed throughout Ireland and Scotland. The Bealtaine celebration on the hill of Uisneach and the Edinburgh Fire Festival are long-standing and beloved. These days, Beltane has been embraced by Modern Witches and Earth-Centered Mystics as a celebration of the energies of Spring. You can likely find a Spring festival with a maypole and/or a bonfire near you.
What Does Beltane Celebrate?
Traditionally the Irish observed the First of May as the first day of Summer. Today, Witches who observe the Wheel of the Year celebrate Beltane as the height of Spring! We give thanks for the fertility of our planet and the ability of the Earth to renew herself. We revel in the new growth and general fecundity of the season. As co-creators with the Universe, we witches also like to tap into the energy of Spring to help us bring new life into our own endeavors.
Classically, Beltane is observed on May 1st with a maypole and a bonfire. In the Wiccan tradition, they celebrate the sexual union of the Goddess and the God, an allegory of the Mother Earth impregnated by the seed of the Green Man. Beltane celebrations are often infused with a boisterous and bawdy energy that reflects the fertile energy of the season. The maypole is a phallic symbol of the masculine energy which is then joyfully embraced by colorful ribbons, symbolic of the beautiful abundance and diversity of our living world.
How to Celebrate Beltane at Home?
I do not live on Gaelic lands or in a pastoral community. I live on Wappinger and Munsee Lenape land in the Hudson Valley of New York. I celebrate Beltane differently than my Irish ancestors because the energy of the Earth in New York is different. As an Earth-Centered Witch, my spiritual practice is anchored in my relationship with the land I am on. Below are some ways that my family and I celebrate the First of May.
Notice the World Around You
Seasonal celebrations honor the ever-changing yet spiralic energies of our planet, communities, homes, and bodies. So, we begin our celebrations by noticing the energy around us. Witchcraft is in large part the practice of listening to the quality of the energy in our communities. What is happening in the natural world? What colors do you see? What do you hear? Engage all of your senses. What do you feel inspired to celebrate? What are you grateful for?
Connect with Your Personal Story
Beltane is a celebration of growth and life. How have you grown over the last season? My family decorates a Yule log for the Winter Solstice as we set intentions for the year ahead. At Beltane we burn our Yule log, revisiting our intentions and reflecting on how we have grown and changed. We also like to reflect on past May Days. How is life different? Who has supported us? How can we honor our progress and our mentors? I like to use Tarot and Oracle cards in my seasonal reflections. Beltane is a good time to examine how we feel about sexual pleasure.
Seasonal celebrations honor the ebb and flow of solar energy as the Earth orbits the Sun. And, cultures around the world have created stories to explain this pattern. Below are a few stories and myths that correspond with Beltane and help us connect with the energy of the season.
- Both the Pueblo people of the Southwest and the ancient Greeks have stories of a Battle between Summer and Winter
- The Celts tell a story of the union between the God Bel and the Great Mother.
- The Irish also believe that on Beltane the veil between the worlds is thin and the faeries can easily come and visit. The Scottish ballad of Thomas the Rhymer tells the tale of a human who travels to Elfland.
- The Romans honored Flora, the Goddess of flowering and fruit-bearing plants. Her stories can be a bit spicy.
My top 3 resources for family-friendly seasonal stories: (1) Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions, (2) Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, and (3) A Year Full of Stories: 52 classic stories from all around the world.
Have a Party
My favorite Beltane celebration was a dinner party we had in our backyard. We hung streamers and ribbons from the orange tree, and the boys set out their artwork as “gifts for the faeries.” The dinner table was decorated with an abundance of flowers, and we made smores over a bonfire. We listened to Irish music and told tales of our Fey ancestors.
Here are a few more ideas for a Beltane party:
- Put up a maypole and learn how to weave the ribbons with a dance.
- Have a spa day and revel in the pleasure of beauty rituals.
- Plant seeds, be in the garden.
- Make art. Exercise your creativity.
- Make flower crowns.
Our house has a seasonal altar, a place where we display items collected on nature walks. It is a living meditation on the world around us. Each branch, berry, and flower carries the feeling of being connected to the Earth and her cycles. The seasonal altar is often a source of conversation and storytelling for our family.
On the day of our party, I also create a special altar for the celebration. I always invite my family to add what calls to them, “Bring something that feels like Spring,” I might say. Here are a few of my favorite things for a Beltane altar:
- Colorful fabrics
- Nature Gifts
- Rose Quartz
- Spiral shaped cookies
- Image of Sacred Marriage
- Candles (always)