The Wheel of the Year is constantly in motion. It represents a full cycle of the seasons and refers to the changing of the seasons. Each season is marked by a series of holy days called Sabbats to honor the particular qualities of each time of the year.
The eight Sabbats depict life’s lessons as revealed through nature, and our relationship with the Goddess and God.
The spokes of the Wheel are comprised of the greater and lesser Sabbats. These holy days reflect the themes of birth, death, and rebirth. The Wheel begins at Samhain, the Celtic New Year, which is also known as Halloween or All Hallows Eve. The Greater Sabbats are Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh/Lammas, and Samhain. These are highly spiritual occasions, undertaken with great regard and dignity. The Lesser Sabbats are Yule (the Winter Solstice), Ostara (the Spring/Vernal Equinox), Litha (the Summer Solstice), and Mabon (the Fall/Autumnal Equinox). Although these are referred to as lesser, they are not any less spiritually important or significant than the others. These are days when the lessons of balance and place-in-time take on a greater meaning.
Beltane falls on May 1st. It is also referred to as May Day and is a Celtic Fire Festival. The themes of Beltane are passion, mischief, sensuality, sexuality, love, commitment, beauty, romance, fertility, vitality, and abundance. Blossoms on the trees are giving way to robust leaf growth, young animals are growing into maturity, and the daylight continues to lengthen and strengthen as we move toward the full power of Summer.
The word “Beltane” literally means “Bright Fire” and refers to the ritual extinguishing and rekindling of all fires.
Fire symbolizes warmth, life, and transformation. The Sun God comes to the Earth Goddess signaling good fortune and change. The Sabbat is celebrated with bonfires, Maypoles, and dancing. The Celts honored the fertility of the gods with gifts and offerings. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the balefires and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year. In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane, and all other fires were lit with a flame from Tara.
While a Beltane bonfire is a traditional way to purify by burning away the last remnants of winter and turning stuck energy into vibrant power and life, it’s possible to replicate the action on a much smaller scale by making a candle bonfire. Just place a pillar candle on a plate and arrange naturally shed twigs and fresh blossoms around its base. Light the candle, breathe deeply, and send your consciousness into the center of the flame: feeling, seeing, and sensing the fire burn away all old, unnecessary conditions and stuck energy into beautiful, radiant light.
Beltane honors Life. It represents the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Earth energies are at their strongest and most active. All living things are bursting with potent fertility and at this point in the Wheel of the Year, the potential becomes conception. On May Eve, abundant fertility on all levels is the central theme. The Maiden goddess has reached her fullness. She is the manifestation of growth and renewal. The Young Oak King, as Jack-In-The-Green or as the Green Man, falls in love with her and wins her hand. The union is consummated and the May Queen becomes pregnant. Together the May Queen and the May King are symbols of the Sacred Marriage, the union of Earth with Sky.
As Beltane is the Great Wedding of the Goddess and the God, it is a popular time for pagan weddings or Handfastings, a traditional betrothal for ‘a year and a day’ after which the couple would either choose to stay together or part without recrimination.
Whether people were handfasted or not, many went A-Maying. Couples spent the night in the woods and fields, made love and brought back armfuls of the first May or hawthorn blossoms to decorate their homes and barns. Hawthorn was never brought into the home except at Beltane because at other times it was considered unlucky. Young women gathered the dew to wash their faces, making Flower Crowns and May Baskets to give as gifts.
The Maypole is a popular and familiar image of May Day and Beltane. A phallic pole, often made from birch, was inserted into the Earth representing the potency of the God. The ring of flowers at the top of the Maypole represents the fertile Goddess. Its many-colored ribbons and the ensuing weaving dance symbolizes the spiral of Life and the union of the Goddess and God, the union between Earth and Sky.
It’s a time of decorating homes, barns, and other buildings with Green budding branches, making and wearing garland wreaths of flowers and/or greens. May Baskets are often given or placed secretly on doorsteps to friends, shut-ins, lovers, and others. Contemporary Pagans burn sacred wood and dried herbs as offerings in their Beltane fires. Getting your head and hair wet in Beltane rain is a means to bless the head. Music, dancing, revelry and spending time in nature are all part of regular Beltane celebrations.
Unlike spirits of the deceased coming to visit at Samhain, Beltane brings the magickal beings from the land of fae — the faeries, elves, gnomes, leprechauns, and more.
Welcome the fae into your life, garden, home, and Beltane celebrations. They weave magick into every facet of life on earth and use all of the tools the earth has to offer to bring you magick and messages. But know that not all faeries are Tinkerbell. Some can be mischievous and even vindictive if you rub them the wrong way. So to be in their good graces, why not create a fairy garden, make a faerie house, or leave out offerings such as a handful of birdseed, tumbled or faceted crystals, shiny coins, and beer, ale, or champagne in walnut shells?
Because Beltane is a powerful time for purification, and doorways are very much in alignment with this transitional time; it’s a good idea to smudge your front door with white sage, desert sage, Palo sage, Palo Santo, or wash it with warm water and essential oils like spearmint or cedar. You can even mist it with a smudge spray. In doing this, you’re clearing away energetic blocks and opening yourself up to your natural flow of blessings, just as when we clear our chakras or undergoing acupuncture to remove blockages that gunk up our chi.
There are several types of magick that are traditionally practiced at Beltane including Fertility Magick, Earth Magick, and Garden Magick.
Fertility Magick can take the form of practicing intimacy either literally with your partner or symbolically as in joining an athame and chalice in ritual. It can also be as simple as casting a spell by lighting a red or pink candle for love and passion, or a green candle for fertility. Etch your desires into the candle with a needle or pin and light the candle for five minutes at a time as often as you wish. When you blow out the candle, gather the smoke in your hands, then turn your palms upward to the sky as you let go of the smoke, repeating out loud the words you wrote on the candle.
The purpose of both Earth and Garden magick is to ground the Earth and connect with your garden. Plant herbs and flowers that you can use in your magickal works like chamomile for money and prosperity, clover for luck, valerian and lavender for peace, and rosemary for protection.
I also use crystals in my garden. After all, if the energy from crystals can be used to heal the human body, it can do the same for the plants and flowers in a garden!
For example, Aventurine protects plants from negative energy and pollution. Tiger’s Eye encourages healthy roots. Tree Agate calms plants and encourages full growth. Gardeners who are struggling to keep pests away from their prized plants should consider using onyx or another dark-colored crystal.
This is the time of year when we celebrate the joys of being alive, so here is my blessing to you:
May nature inspire you,
May love surround you,
May spirit protect you, and
May you manifest your heart’s desires.
So Mote It Be.