Well, spring was here…and gone…and here…and…so I’ve decided it’s all right that I’m a little late with my Beltane wishes, which should have happened around the first of May. Beltane is one of a number of seasonal celebrations based on ancient Celtic festivals (and often practiced by modern pagans–and others, like me).
The Celtic festivals centered around the seasons: four of them mark the change of season (solstice or equinox) and four mark the midpoints between. Beltane marks the point between the spring equinox and summer solstice, also known as one of my absolute favorite times of the year.
By User:The Wednesday Island, after en:User:Brenton.eccles –
Based on en:Image:Wheel_of_the_Year.gif but redrawn, Public Domain,
I consider myself essentially to be a Celtic mutt, based on mostly a mix of Irish, Scottish, (probably) Welsh, etc. ancestry, so I’ve long been interested in these ancient festivals. Since I’m refreshing my memory on them, I thought I’d share.
The word Beltane is Celtic for “fires of Bel.” Belenus was one of the most widely worshipped Celtic gods, apparently known as “The Bright [or Shining] One.” Beltane was celebrated at a time when the barren landscape of winter had begun to burst forth again into life. The Hawthorn, or May-tree, was showing its abundance of snowy white blossoms and the land was coloring itself a fresh, vibrant green. People would be preparing to turn out their livestock into summertime pastures, so at Beltane, they’d burn ritual fires for the animals to pass between. This, they believed, would help protect the livestock and ensure their fertility. Fertility for the people themselves was also of the utmost importance, so Beltane was often a time for couples to court or marry.
Hawthorn, or May-tree, in bloom
Some of the ways people celebrated (and continue to celebrate) Beltane, was by lighting these bonfires, which were central to the festival. The merrier the bonfire bash, the better, no? Also, maypoles aren’t phallic by accident. They represent the fertility of Beltane, with its burgeoning life. People have historically danced around maypoles, while decorating them with colored ribbons and flowers, including those of the Hawthorn.
I’m not an ancient Celt or a practioner of paganism, but I’m perfectly prepared to celebrate Beltane (even belatedly). I can offer gratitude for the physical fertility I’ve had in my life (no need for more of that, thank you very much), but I can also welcome in other types of fertility and abundance–creative and spiritual fertility, and maybe some financial abundance would be nice. Spring is here, with its new beginnings, and bountiful summer is on its way. I don’t need a better reason to celebrate, do you?
If I dance around my May-tree, you’ll join me, right?