Beltane is the last of the three spring fertility festivals (preceded by Imbolc and Ostara) and is regarded as one of the most important Sabbats of the year. Landing midway between the spring equinox and midsummer solstice this cross-quarter festival traditionally marked the arrival of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The veil between worlds is thin again, as Beltane heralds the beginning of the Celtic summer season.
Our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating Samhain and the beginning of the winter season at this time.
The Mayday celebration is the oldest of them all, and the one that has survived with a minimum of Christian refashioning. This is a joyful celebration of the flowering of life, filled with music and plenty of dancing. It is an earth-centered holiday that is celebrated all over the world around May 1st—5th. The Roman Catholic tradition of crowning Mary with flowers on May 1st has pagan roots.
Astrological Date: Sun at 15º Taurus
Beltane is a fire festival occurring at the midway point of the sign of Taurus (approximately May 5th). Taurus the Bull is the first of the Earth signs and its energy is one of being grounded in earthly pleasures. Taurus is a sign of security and as in the case of Beltane celebrations, the union of male and female energy is a security of the promise of renewed and sustainable life.
As with the other cross-quarter festivals that occur on the midpoints between equinoxes and solstices, you can celebrate on the secular calendar date (in this case, May 1st) and/or check for the exact transition time and celebrate then. Many witches will hold a public celebration on the popular date and reserve their magical workings for when the Sun transitions at the midpoint of the zodiac sign.
You can check for the exact date of the Sun’s transition >>HERE<<
Seasonal Focus: Sowing
Beltane marks the point where Spring energy is fully realized in nature. Traditional celebrations around May Day involve many fertility symbols, like the maypole or the Beltane fires. The energy of this time isn’t only about physical fertility, but rather how we might sow seeds for many other kinds of things: creative projects, more positive relationships, finding ways of expressing ourselves, and more. Now is when new life bursts forth; flowers bloom, nectar flows, and green has returned to our lands.
- Altar Decorations / Symbols: Acorns, Antlers, Baskets, Blooming flowers and herbs, Candles, Cauldron or Cup, Fertility of the God and Goddess, Floral Crown, May Baskets, Maypoles (includes pole, tree, bush, cross; communal or household; permanent or annual), Sticks, Seeds, Wreaths
- Animals: Bees, Cat, Cattle, Dove, Frog, Leopard, Lynx, Rabbit, Swallows, Swan
- Colors & Candles: All the vibrant colors of Green as well as bright Spring colors – Blues, Purples, Yellows
- Crystals & Stones: Beryl, Emerald, Garnet, Malachite, Rose Quartz, Tourmaline
- Incense & Oils: Jasmine, Musk, Peach, Frankincense, Rose, Vanilla, Ylang-Ylang
- Herbs & Flowers: All-heal, Blessed Thistle, Broom, Coriander, Crocus, Curry, Daffodil, Dandelion, Dragon’s Blood, Fern, Fireweed, Flaxseed, Forsythia, Hawthorn, Marjoram, Meadowsweet, Nettle, Paprika, Primrose, Rose, Rue, Snapdragon, Tansy, Tulips, Violets, Woodruff
- Trees: The Nine Sacred Woods: Alder, Ash, Birch, Hawthorne, Hazel, Holly, Oak, Rowan, Willow
Customs & Celebrations
Traditionally, this is a time of dancing, Maypoles, bonfires, gifts of flower garlands, seeds, and sensual pleasures. May morning is a magical time for wild water (dew, flowing streams, and springs), which is collected and used to bathe in for beauty or to drink for health.
- Gather friends and family together for a traditional Beltane bonfire ritual. Be creative with this! Even if you don’t have access to the space to hold a big bonfire, make do with a smaller fire pit or bowl.
- Make daisy chains and fresh flower wreaths. I love to look for inspiration on Pinterest. Try doing a quick search for a DIY Spring Flower Crown and you’ll find hundreds of easy craft ideas to choose from.
- Leave a fairy offering (shiny objects, miniature food, thimbles of drinks, etc) This is an especially fun custom to begin with children. When my children were little we would always make miniature food to leave out in the garden for the fairies and had a special wild patch that was left untouched for them to play in.
- Place a birdbath in your yard and keep the water fresh. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has helpful tips for creating a birdbath refuge for wildlife. You can download the PDF here.
- Purify your home again to renew the spring cleaning you did at Imbolc: smudge your front door and windows with sage and/or wash it down with warm water and lemon juice.
- Set up your Beltane altar to represent the festive spirit of the season. Loads of fresh flowers and herbs, acorns, green candles and symbols of fertility are all appropriate for this time.
Foods & Recipes
Celebrate in the kitchen with seasonal foods that include: Farm fresh veggies & green salads, Cherries, Strawberries, Honey, Oatmeal and dairy products. Oatmeal brings good fortune and encourages the power and magic of the faeries. Try this traditional Oat Cakes recipe adapted from A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook by Patricia Telesco:
Farls (Oat Cakes)
3 cups real mashed potatoes
2 cups dry rolled oats (not the “quick-cook” kind)
2 Tablespoons vegan or dairy butter
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Soak oats in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes until soft and slightly swollen. Mix them with other ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Knead until mixture is like a thick dough. If it seems too thin or moist, add a teaspoon or two of flour. When thoroughly mixed, form small sections into small patties. Fry in hot vegetable oil in a small skillet until lightly browned. Serve immediately.
How do you like to celebrate this time of year? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham
A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook by Patricia Telesco
My personal Book of Shadows and the traditions of Clan Ravynmyst
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