Beltane is a major Pagan ‘holiday’ (celebration) called a Sabbat. The word Beltane means 'Bel's Fire'. It is named after the God Bel an ancient Celtic Sun God. Beltane is a fire festival and is traditional to build a fire on Beltane night to honor the Sun God, called the Belfire.
“Beltane is one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (Oct31-1 Nov), Imbolc (1 February), Beltane (1 May), and Lughnasadh (1 August). Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season, when livestock were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were held at that time to protect them from harm, both natural and supernatural, and this mainly involved the "symbolic use of fire". There were also rituals to protect crops, dairy products and people, and to encourage growth. The aos sí (often referred to as spirits, fairies, or fae) were thought to be especially active at Beltane (as at Samhain) and the goal of many Beltane rituals was to appease them. Most scholars see the aos sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits. Beltane was a "spring time festival of optimism" during which "fertility ritual again was important, perhaps connecting with the waxing power of the sun".’
In Celtic times it would be traditional to build a big bonfire in the center of the village and have a big feast, young men and women would dance around the maypole while many people would marry in a handfasting (Pagan wedding ritual) People wishing to find love or conceive would jump over a Belfire for luck in love and fertility.
The May Bush, May tree, or May Bough was popular in parts of Ireland until the late 19th century. This was a small tree or branch—typically hawthorn, rowan, holly or sycamore—decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, painted shells, eggshells from Easter Sunday and so forth. The tree would either be decorated where it stood, or branches would be decorated and placed inside or outside the house (particularly above windows and doors, on the roof, and on barns). It was generally the responsibility of the oldest person of the house to decorate the May Bush, and the tree would remain up until May 31st.
On Beltane we celebrate the abundance of the earth, it is a happy time when we give thanks for all we have in our lives and look forward to the bright sunny days ahead. We celebrate the coming together of the God and the Goddess and the harvest gifts they will bestow upon the earth. We ask for protection for the new lives to come and for our food, cattle, resources, and land.
‘The earliest mention of Beltane is in Old Irish literature from Gaelic Ireland. According to the early medieval texts Sanas Cormaic and Tochmarc Emire, Beltane was held on 1 May and marked the beginning of summer. The texts say that, to protect cattle from disease, the Druids would make two fires "with great incantations" and drive the cattle between them.
To protect farm produce and encourage fertility, farmers would lead a procession around the boundaries of their farm. They would "carry with them seeds of grain, implements of husbandry, the first well water, and the herb vervain (or rowan as a substitute). The procession generally stopped at the four cardinal points of the compass, beginning in the east, and rituals were performed in each of the four directions". People made the sigils and other symbols (like the cross) with milk for good luck on Beltane, and symbols and sigils also drawn with milk on the back sides of cattle.
Beltane morning few was also considered a source of good luck and health. At dawn or before sunrise on Beltane, women would roll in the dew or wash their faces with it. The dew was collected in a jar, left in the sunlight, and then filtered. The dew was thought to increase sexual attractiveness, maintain youthfulness, protect from sun damage (particularly freckles and sunburn) and help with skin ailments for the ensuing year. Additionally, it was believed that a man who washes his face with soap and water on Beltane will grow a long whisker and thick beard on his face.
On May Night a cake and a jug were left on the table, because it was believed that the Irish who had died abroad would return on May Day to their ancestral homes, and it was also a general belief that the dead returned on May Day to visit their friends.
The celebration persisted widely up until the 1950s, and in some places the celebration of Beltane continues today.
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.’
In the Northern Hemisphere, Beltane starts on April 30th at 12 midday and ends on May 1st at Midnight, and is mainly celebrated on May 1st. In the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane is celebrated on or around November 1.
Altar Ideas For Beltane
Candles - red, orange, yellow, white, purple, green - love, new life, fire, sun, passion, growth
Flowers - rose, daisy's, tulips, wildflowers - love, unity, passion, feminine, life
Crystals - rose quartz, aventurine, moonstone - love, balance, purity, the divine, spirit
Incense - myrrh, frankincense, dragon's blood, jasmine
Food offerings - bread, fruit, wine, milk, water, honey, SUNFLOWER JELLY
Altar decor - candles, flowers, petals, new seedlings, seeds, antlers, horns, plants, branches
Other decoration - ribbon, flowers, vines, colorful yarn, colorful scarves, the sun imagery, trees, outdoors, circles, wreaths, flower crowns
Simple Celebrations For Beltane
Decorate your home/yard/space with colorful ribbons
Make a flower crown
Make sunflower jelly (recipe card below)
Decorate a May Tree with ribbons, flowers, yarn, may balls, bells, bread rings, circles
Braid your hair
Sing, dance, be merry
Take a nature walk
Dance around a may pole
Decorate a may tree
Have a bon fire (Belfire) or just light candles
Cook a feast with in-season fruits and veggies
Bake bread, cake, or cookies using edible flowers
Inscribe your candles with words, symbols, sigils for Beltane (like flowers)
If nothing else is possible, sit and meditate, ground yourself. Reflect on Beltane and it's meaning, send thanks and appreciation to the universe.
For further reading on Beltane, check out one of these books:
Beltane Tarot/Oracle Cards:
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DIY Sunflower Jelly
This recipe yields about four 8 oz. jars of jelly
Sunflower Jelly ingredients:
- 2 cups of Sunflower petals (also known as rays)
- 2 1/2 cups of boiling water
- lemon zest
- 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 box Sure-Jell
1) Place sunflower petals, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a bowl and cover with boiling water, cover bowl and steep for 1.5 hours.
2) Pour sunflower petal mixture and remaining lemon juice into a pot.
3) Stir the Sure-Jell into the mixture and bring to a full boil.
4) Stir in the sugar and return to a boil, stir well, return to full boil.
5) boil for one minute then remove from heat
6) divide liquid quickly into jars, wipe jar rim with wet cloth, place lids on jars tightly
7) store in refrigerator for up to two weeks!
Watch the DIY Video Below: