Beltane is the great spring holiday of the Goddess. Halfway around the year from Samhain, when we honor out beloved dead, Beltane is the festival that celebrates all of the living world: plants, animals, and human beings. On both occasions, the veil between the worlds is said to be thin, and is no more unusual to see the fairies near Beltane, than it is to see the spirits of the dead at Samhain. Beltane is a time of Faerie Magic and the Queen of faeries is represented by the Queen of the May. Along with her consort, she rules over the festivities and serves as representative of the Goddess.
In most temperate climates, flowers are now in bloom, trees are in blossom or in full leaf, and gardens are beginning to grow. All of the hibernating animals are fully awake. The birds have nested and settled down to raise their brood.
Beltane is the Holiday of fertility. For Pagans, one of the great gifts of the Goddess is the power of the earth to grow wonderful flowers and fruits and all the things we eat. We are thankful fu the fertility of the earth, and our job is to keep the land and the soil healthy, to protect the animals and plants and trees so that fertility can continue. The earth is a living being, and all of her creatures are part of her body. Each has a place, a purpose, a special part in the great dance of life.
On Beltane, we also celebrate all the different kinds of human fertility and creativity. We give thanks for the power women and men have to make babies, to bring new people into the world. But people can create in other ways as well. When we paint pictures, make up songs, tell new stories, plant a garden, or cook a dinner, we take part in the fertility of the Goddess.
Beltane is also the time when we celebrate the joys of being alive. We give thanks for all the different kinds of pleasure our bodies give us, for without our bodies we couldn’t see, hear, touch, taste, smell, run, dance, jump, sing, dance, or swim. Adults celebrate sexual pleasure at Beltane. For Pagans, the good, loving feelings that people can give each other with their bodies are special gifts of the Goddess. When we give each other love and pleasure, the whole earth is pleased.
But sexual pleasure, like anything of power, must come at the right time and in the right way, when we have grown ready for it. Children’s bodies are constantly growing and changing and they need time to get to know them to enjoy the things they are able to do as they mature. So, Beltane is a good time for children to celebrate all the things they can do that they couldn’t do before, and to run, jump, play games, climb trees, dance, turn somersaults and cartwheels or do anything that makes them glad they have a body.
Of course, bodies are different. People come in all shapes and sizes and colors. Not everyone can leap or dance, walk, see or hear. Beltane is also a time to admit that sometimes our bodies let us down. We get sick or hurt. Sometimes we well sad and angry about the things we cannot do.
Pagans believe that, just as the different plants and animals each have a special purpose in the web of life, so do the different kinds of people. That’s why we should never mock people because of how they look or what they can or cannot do. People who cannot walk or see or hear or who have some other difference, have been given a special challenge in this life by the Goddess. Many things may be harder for them, but other things may be easier. And the harder the challenges we face, the more we can grow in our inner power.
In ancient times Bel-fires were lit on hilltops to celebrate the return of life and fertility to the world. Jumping over the fire could ensure safe delivery of a pregnant woman, spring spouses to young people, grant traveling a safe journey, ensure health, and bring about conception for a barren woman.
Beltane is a time of chaos, of the wild energy and passion found in the Greenwood. Be careful when you walk abroad on Beltane night – you never know when you’re going to encounter.
The Goddess at Beltane
We have known the Goddess as Mother and as Daughter. At Beltane, She becomes the Lover of all living things. We could call her by some of the ancient names of the Love Goddess: Aphrodite, Astarte, Flora, Maia, Oshun. Many circles especially like to call her Queen Maeve, the Faery Queen, who comes riding forth from the Otherworld, the realm of dreams, imagination, spirits, and visions, to teach us how to move between the worlds.
In Irish mythology, Maeve was a fierce and beautiful Goddess, who honored her husband, Aillil, because he was generous, brave, and not jealous. She was associated with the sacred hare, which brings both magic and inspiration.
The God at Beltane
At Beltane the God is the Green Man, God of all growing things. He too is the lover of all that lives, the protector of the wild things and the guardian of the forest. Often he is depicted as a leafy face peering out from the branches and foliage. He even appears in many old Christian churches, carved on pillars or decorating the altar screen.
One of the Green Man’s ancient names was Robin Hood, the huntsman who lives under the Greenwood Tree. You may be familiar with the stories of Robin Hood, bud did you know that he took his name from our ancient Pagan God? Robin Hood means “Rob in the Hood” – the hood worn by the Good People, the Faeries. He dressed in green and lived in the wilderness with his companions, who protected the poor and taught some hard lessons to the selfish and greedy.
The altar for Beltane can be a simple arrangement of flowers in bloom at this time. May baskets can be made of paper strips or created from existing baskets. Branches of Hawthorne (the May tree) or oak leaves and branches (sacred to Robin Hood) can form a green background. You might also want to include pictures of the Fair Folk. And be sure to set out a bowl of milk or cream for them at night. Don’t worry if the cat drinks it – she’s probably a Faery in disguise!
The Colors of Beltane
Bright colors abound at this time of year. Some especially connect the colors of purple and green with Beltane – the deep plum of grape wine, the peridot and hunter greens of the forest – and the gold of the sun shining through the trees are natural choices for Beltane
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Incenses used for Beltane should be intoxicating, heady, and erotic. Rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, peach, musk, and vanilla are all appropriate.
If you want to use herbs to make an incense or spell powder to throw on the fire, woodruff, fern, rose, chamomile, wormwood, and galangal are good choices.
Often you will read about the nine sacred woods used in kindling the balefire. Obviously, the trees should all have strong connections to magic, but substitutions can be made depending on where you live.
Oak would be the first choice, the backbone of the fire, so to speak. To that add eight other types of wood. Any and all of these are acceptable: apple, Hawthorne, birch, elder, ash, thorn (blackthorn), grape vine, rowan (mountain ash), holly, willow, cedar, yew and hemlock.