Joy and merriment abound, as the festivities begin... Beltane is one of the largest celebrations found on the Wheel of the Year. This celebration is observed on April 31st / May 1st (or October 31st / November 1st if you are in the Southern Hemisphere). Typically, the eve before the first, begins the traditional celebrations. The how's, are varied from tradition to tradition, as well as, personal preferences. The focal however, is usually consistent, revolving around fire and fertility. It is time to rejoice in the Earth opening and new life beginning. As this happens, we celebrate the future of healthy and strong crops, livestock, and life.
Throughout history, legends and lore have shown this holiday to be tied to a multitude of various cultures and each have brought their own twist to the celebration. As one of the fire holidays, you would expect to find that bonfires are a must, and for many paths, the eve before the 1st is celebrated in the lighting of such. In addition, the holiday Beltane is when the veil between the worlds is said to thin, thus, many traditions believe one of the ideal times to contact the spirits. Although each culture has derived its own specific meaning, many seem to pay tribute to specific Gods and Goddesses. Below is a brief description, of some of those that are most commonly known to be associated with Beltane.
Bes (Egyptian) was the God of the Home Protection. He was said to watch over young children and their mothers. Paired with Beset, his wife, they are often celebrated in order to bring about an end to infertility issues.
Bacchus (Roman) was the God of Celebration. Often thought to be the party animal of the Gods, he was best recognized for his association with sexual freedom and fertility.
Cernunnos (Celtic) is the horned God, aligned with male animals, often depicted as the stag in rut, or thought to be the Lord of the Forest / Wild God of the Forest. Thus, his association is fertility and vegetation.
Flora (Roman) is known as the Goddess of Flowers and Springtime. Bright colors of the season, floral wreaths, along with offers of milk and honey are associated with this Goddess.
Hera (Greek)/ Juno (Roman) are the Goddesses of Marriage. They are said to bring blessings and wishes to the new brides, instilling within each, a marriage that was fertile.
Pan (Greek) is the God of Agriculture. He was known to watch over the shepherds and their flocks. Due to this connection to the fields, Pan is often honored as a Spring Fertility God.
Priapus (Greek) is celebrated for his connection to the fertility of all and protection of all. He is often re-known for his erect and large phallus and frequently only honored within the privacy of a home.
Bel/Belenus/Balor (Celtic) is the God of Fire, Light, and the Sun. His association with Beltane is relative in that people would leap over the fires to ensure their fertility and drive their livestock through the smoke or ashes to ensure a good yeild.
In addition to specific Gods and Goddesses,specific paths celebrate the entities of the Green Man and Jack-in-the-Green,during Beltane, for their ties to the life forces of the trees and forests. While other paths, view Beltane, as the day when the May Queen and the Queen of Winter, battle on another to see who will rule that time of the year.
As with many festivals, various cultures all have their unique forms of celebrating. One of the most common celebrations associated with May Day, is the May Pole Dance. This traditionally is seen, as the union of Male and Female. The pole is considered the phallus, which in turn, is buried deep within the Earth Mother. The celebrations that ensued, would be thought of, as representative, of their joyous union bringing about new life. Another common tradition, is the giving of May Baskets. Small (often hand made) baskets, filled with treasures of the heart, be they homemade sweets, small notes with wishes or wild flowers. The baskets were anonymously left hanging upon the doorknobs, of those that held sentimental value to the giver (be they: Lover, Parent, Grandparent, Friend or Child). An additional tradition, was the Burning of the Wicker Man. Originally, this was part of the human sacrifices made to the Gods and Goddesses, in order to honor them and ask for a season of fertility for the year. As time has passed, the Wicker Man, that once was filled with humans(often those who had been found guilty of crimes), is now filled with straw. Along with these traditional festivities, Handfasting was also traditional for this time. This form of marriage ceremony and promising of vows, was said to be blessed, as the couple would jump the besom(broom) or the Bel-Fire to enrich their opportunities, of having a family.
Colors traditionally associated with the festivities are those of the spring blooms and their rich melody of colors are found upon Altars in various ways. Tools through petals are used to bring the Altars to life and display the colors of the celebration.
Well, I hope this has been able to offer you a little insight into the Beltane festival and festivities. As you can see, there is no one specific way to celebrate such a wonderful holiday. As the Wheel of the Year turns, so does the wealth of celebrations available. Remember, celebrate in Love, Mirth and Reverence. Blessed Be to one and all...
(Originally posted : Pagan Crossroads /2015)
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