Beltane

Image of a cross-stitch Greenman by Diana.

 

Southern Hemisphere    October 31st - November 1st.

Northern Hemisphere     April 30th - May 1st.
 

As the days grow longer and warmer we find ourselves at the gateway of summer. We celebrate this with the fertility festival of Beltane also known as Bealtainn, May Day, Green Man Festival, Celtic Summer and the Festival of the Great Rite. Beltane is a time of sacred union, fertility and love. These celebrations are carried out with the crowning of the May King and Queen, market days, fertility rites such as the raising of the May pole, the Great Rite and many more festivals. Although our Beltane does not fall in May as in the Northern hemisphere, it doesn´t mean to say that we miss out on all the May Day treats and festivities. In New Zealand, October 31st marks our Beltane eve and November 1st, our May Day so to speak. We must remember that these festivals were carried out long before dates and calendars took place, all events occurred by nature and the cycles of the sun and moon. This is what is important here, not the dates, but of the tuning into nature and the wheel of life.

Many people however find it difficult in New Zealand to celebrate any festival other than Halloween on October 31st. They go about their celebrations, trick or treating, and symbolizing death, barren lands and the onset of winter, while if they look around them they will see the flourishing life at their very feet, lush grass and foliage, an abundance of growth, and nature striving to reach it´s peak, not dying and hibernating away from us.

Many moons ago Beltane was the time when many cattle were finally let out to begin grazing in the fields. Penned up during the colder months, the cattle welcomed the thought of being outside with the sun on their bodies, as well as the fresh food before them. Nowadays most cattle are moved to higher ground during the cold months rather than penning them in. ( especially difficult for large scale cattle farms. ) The lambs born earlier have grown and playfully leap over and around their mothers, forever trying to get another meal even though they are already nibbling at the grass below them. Ducklings have doubled in size and are trying to make that first flight while bees buzz around happily and birds chirp with enthusiasm.

Beltane also symbolizes the occasion when the young God has reached manhood and reunites with the Goddess who once again becomes pregnant of the God. A celebration of fertility within the lands and nature while it is at it´s most active. Because Beltane was considered a sacred time of unity between the Gods and Goddesses, mortals were not supposed to marry within the month of May. To do this was thought to be unlucky and would bring disharmony to those who did marry. Many religions and faiths instead dedicated this time to the Gods and Goddesses and re-enacted the symbolic crowning of the May King and Queen who were to be reunited during Beltane. Beautiful garlands would be made with flowers and ribbons including oak for the God and birch for the Goddess. Two leading members of the village, coven or group would be chosen to represent these two Deities and to symbolize this sacred marriage. Words of honour were spoken, the crowning of the garlands took place and the gesture of the Great Rite were performed. 

 

THE GREAT RITE

The Great Rite is an act of fertility. This was when men and women would re-enact the joining of the Gods and Goddesses upon the fields and meadows consummating their love for each other while invoking their energies into the earth to encourage abundance and fertility. Sometimes the May King or Queen were already partners and would carry out the Great Rite in the privacy of their own quarters as a physical sexual union of two people in love. However, the Great Rite was usually performed in front of the guests or village in a gesture by using the symbolic "Athame" ( a double edged blade,) and a "chalice." ( goblet)

The Athame, represents the God or male aspect and is placed point first into the chalice. The chalice is symbolic of the Goddess aspect and has been filled with water or wine. This is a re-enactment of the symbolic joining between two forces which in turn will bring about fertility and abundance within the lands and self.

BONFIRES

Bonfires or more so known as "Balefires," once again play an important part in any festival and Beltane is no exception, whether it be dancing around, warmth, light, fire gazing ( an old custom ) or fire leaping, fires are always a welcome sight when kept under control. Generally fire leapers wore no clothes, a lot safer especially if one likes to wear a long cloak. Nowadays a cauldron is sometimes used, this contains a small fire which is easier to jump over, clothes and all. The Beltane fire leaper would dance around the balefire releasing any fears or negative energies within and as they leapt across the fire they saw the flames consume any disharmony while purifying the jumper and dissolving all worries and upset. If you do decide to follow in this tradition and leap over your Beltane fire, please do be sensible and I´m sure all Wiccans will agree, fire is not a force to be reckoned with.

 

THE MAY POLE

Another celebrated event of Beltane is the May Pole. Made from birch, ash, larch or nowadays pine, the tree used sometimes reached a height of ten metres or more. This tree was ceremoniously cut down, the branches stripped and the bare trunk was then carried with great festive honour through the town or village. It was then placed into a large hole in the ground and well secured. The May Pole represented the erect male phallus coming from out of the female aspect, portrayed by the hole in the earth. Ribbons usually of white and red were attached to the top of the tree. These would be bound and intertwined as dancers of young and old wove their way in and out of each others paths until the ribbons got shorter. This was done with much fun, music and merriment.
The decorating of the May Pole has been practiced since long ago by our own Pagan ancestors and still carries on strongly today, especially in some of the smaller villages of Europe. It is said to invoke the fertility of the earth. The May Pole is also said to be symbolic of the "Tree of Life" with it´s roots emerging into the Underworld, thus the connection from one plane to another.

 

      

BELTANE CORRESPONDENTS

Associated Names

May Day, Bhealtainn, Celtic Summer, May Eve, The Great Rite, Faerie Summer, Floralia, Walurgisnacht, End of Winter.

Symbols

May pole, flowers, garlands of flowers, dairy, faeries, marriage of the Deities (sacred marriages), Horned God, The Green Man, chalice and athame, The Great Rite, love symbols and foods, fertility symbols, hearts, balefires, bells, may wine, well dressing, King and Queen crowns, marigold and heartsease wreaths symbolizing love and strength.

Deities

All Mother Goddesses, Flower and Fertility Goddesses, Cernunnos,Gods of love, Fertility and The Hunt.

Animals

Stags, rabbits, hares, boar, pig, love birds, honey bees, goats, sheep, Pegasus, deer, cattle, all wild animals.

Activities

Erecting and decorating the may pole, may pole dancing, making garlands and May baskets of flowers, decorating the home, dancing, music and singing, balefires, feasting, crowning of the May King and Queen, symbolic ritual of The Great Rite, well dressing, looking for Faeries and Faerie rings, making a Faerie garden in their honour, talismans and charm making, gods eyes, leaping the Beltane fires, hobby horse races, baking love foods, music, village fairs and much merriment.

Herbs and Plants

Hawthorn, hazel, lilac, roses, rosemary, birch, passionfruit, marigolds, vanilla, hibiscus, honeysuckle, violets, heartsease, any pink or red flower, primrose, rosehips, manuka, balm of Gilead, wisteria.

Colours

Red, green, white, pink, all bright colours, dark green, deep pink.

Foods

Dairy foods, sweets, oats, passionfruit, all love foods, strawberries, cherries, small delicate cakes for Faeries, pork, sausages, barbeques, (outdoor cooking) salads with edible flowers and blossoms including foods made with rose petals, heart shaped food, vanilla flavoured puddings and cakes, cheese, yoghurt, cream, custards, bannocks, may bowls, fruit and blossom wines and jams, wiccan love honey, honey, all sweet foods, icecream, kiwifruit, seasonal herbs, oatmeal cookies, marigolds, porridge, foil baked potatoes, woodruff scented drinks and foods, rosewater, flavoured creams and ices, elderflowers, gooseberries, junket.

 

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