Beltaine is one of my favourite of all the Pagan festivals.
It's the time when the Sun is at mid-point between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice, and one of the times during the year when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest; and it's said that it is a time for the Fey, the spirits of the Earth, and those who have gone before can find their way into our world, sometimes influencing the mortals, sometimes just playing pranks on them.
May day or May 1, begins May Day Eve from moonrise to sunset. A thousand years ago or more, Druid priests chanted spells as they lit the Beltaine fires, beginning with the fire at Tara, and from there, all Beltaine fires in Ireland were allegedly lit. The fires heralded the coming of the second half of the Ancient Celtic year, and were symbolic of contact with the Sun, its warmth, and the growth that the Earth displays as its rays encourage new life.
Once lit, community members would drive their cattle between two fires to prevent illess and to foster good health, abundance and fertility in the herds. The priests would bless the fields to ensure a bountiful harvest, and then bless the members of the community; asking for abundance, health and fertility for all.
When the fires of Beltaine were lit, it became the one night when married couples were allowed to 'forget' they were married, and in the name of the God and Goddess, along with the younger, unmarried members of the community, would spend the night in the fields and forest celebrating the fertility of the earth with someone other than their spouse.
Beltaine is the most joyous of all Pagan festivals; a celebration of life, and the rituals are symbolic of the marriage of the May Queen and the Oak King. The Queen comes to the God, who has given up his wild and youthful ways, and together they create the abundance for which the season is known.
For me, it's the passion of the Sun touching the Earth, warming it and encouraging life in all its forms. The smell of spring flowers, the herbs that have overwintered spring to life and my environment is filled with brilliant colours and tantalising scents.
Named for the Celtic God 'Bel' (the Bright One) and the Gaelic word for fire, 'teine', Beltaine is a Fire Festival celebrating fertility, youthful power; when the young God matures and comes into manhood, and the Goddess takes him as her lover. On May Day, the tradition of dancing around the phallic symbol of the Maypole is still carried on these hundreds of years later, although for many, perhaps not with the awareness of what the Maypole symbolises.
Because Beltaine is as much a fertility festival as a Fire Festival, it celebrates human sensuality and sexuality, and the coming together of male and female in perfect balance. Because of this, it's seen as a time of new beginnings; a perfect time for many Pagans to choose to have their handfastings, or to dedicate their children to the Goddess. Whatever you wish for, be it a pregnancy, seeing your business grow and prosper, or abundance from your garden, Beltaine is a perfect time to perform a prosperity ritual. May Day morning is one of the most magical times for gathering dew, or water from streams, rivers or springs to drink for improving ones health and beauty. Legends say that bathing in this water will give an 'otherworldly beauty' to a woman's face. (Hmm, maybe I should do this...)
The mythology of Beltaine Eve lives on in the stories of the Elves and Fairies, as well.
It's said that if you sit under a tree on Beltaine Eve, you will hear the sound of bells from the harness of the horse belonging to the Queen of the Fae, as she rides with the rest of the Sidhe Court in the moonlight. The legends say that the Sidhe seek out humans who are alone to take back to the Land of the Fae for seven years. The tales say that if you cover your face, she will pass you by; but if you look into her eyes, she will take you. Keeping in mind that time is said to move differently in the Land of the Fae than it does here on the Earth Plane, are those seven years in human time, or in the time of the Fae?
Stories abound of humans who returned after a seven year stay with the Fae to discover that one hundred years have passed and all that they knew was gone. Sadly, they were unable to return to the Land of the Fey, and so ended up living their lives yearning for friends and family long gone, and for the beauty of the Sidhe Court, so if you're out on Beltaine Eve, and you've stepped under a tree to rest from your merrymaking, remember not to look into the eyes of the Sidhe Queen as she rides past you!
Whether you celebrate Beltaine with a group or as a solitary, remember that it is a ritual of abundance and prosperity you're creating; a time when new seeds are planted - literally and figuratively - from which you expect and desire new, powerful and meaningful growth. Honour the Earth Mother and the Horned God of the Forest in your endeavour; most of all, allow yourself to feel the Joy that comes with new beginnings.
It is your birthright to begin anew.
Marisa Ward is the founder/CEO of White Light Enterprises UK, a Reiki Master and Teacher, and professional Psychic/Intuitive Reader.