In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re now right in the Beltane window, between May 1-5, midway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. The sap has risen, the seeds are being sown, and the lambs are born and frolicking in the fields. A festival at this time has long been celebrated, with a focus on fertility and also on labour, and is still commemorated as May Day in many countries.
This is the time of year when farms get hungry for workers and historically this would have been the most active time for hiring labour. After the semi-hibernation of the pre-industrial winter, the rhythm shifted at this point from gradual reemergence to full immersion in activity. Beltane coincided with the moving of livestock to summer grazing areas, an activity that took people out of their homes and into the woods and fields. These seasonal shifts are hardwired into our DNA and honouring them helps ground us in the current moment. Modern day equivalents for this particular seasonal shift include planting frost-sensitive flowering plants and crops, moving winter clothes to the back of the closet, buying new furnishings after the Equinoctial spring clean, and spending as much time as you can outside in the countryside.
Beltane is usually celebrated on either April 30 (May Eve), or on May 1. This year, as most years, the Beltane cross-quarter day falls on May 5 (when the Sun is at 15 Taurus), and this is an alternative to May 1 as a time to celebrate Beltane. Before there were calendars, Beltane was signalled by the blooming of the hawthorn (also known as the May). Beltane occurs exactly at the opposite end of the ceremonial year to Samhain/Hallowe’en, and celebrates life as Samhain honors death. Beltane is the time of conception, of the physical beginning of new life. It is the most physically passionate of the ancient festivals.
Beltane was the time for celebrating the blossoming of spring, and the fertility of land and livestock. It is one of the four cross-quarter days of the year, traditionally seen as the most potent moments for transformation. The cross-quarter days were celebrated when the Sun was at 15 degrees of the fixed signs. Beltane falls under the fixed sign of Taurus, ruled appropriately by Venus, the goddess of love, fertility, and abundance. At 15 degrees of Taurus this energy is ripe and charged for activation. (In Britain, chimney-sweeps, traditionally associated with other worlds and with sacred sexuality, have their saints-day on May 5.)
The name Beltane is thought to have meant bright or sacred fire, (bealltainn in Gaelic) and on May Eve the hilltops would have been ablaze with huge bonfires, and the woods and fields ablaze with the fires of love. Like Mardi Gras, Beltane functioned as a ritualized antidote to the rules and laws of relationship and sexuality that keep society well-ordered. These rules, if adhered to rigidly, can cause depression, aggression, and general malaise. At Beltane the rules were lifted, in honor of the burgeoning, expansive energy of springtime, and the primitive need to ensure the fertility of the fields by sacrificing the individual personality to acts of sacred, impersonal sexuality. Children conceived at Beltane were considered to be special, produced from the union of two people meeting the god and goddess within each other, not just the temporal man and woman.
Beltane is a time when new bonds can be formed as inhibitions loosen, inspired by the blossoming, heart-opening atmosphere of full spring. Beltane/May Day is the juncture of the year hardwired into our DNA as the strongest moment of life-giving lust. The Maypole is more than just a phallic symbol: the twining of the ribbons around the pole evokes the DNA spiral, and symbolizes the eternal round of life.
Here are some ritual ideas for a modern day version of Beltane, taken from old ceremonies: Light a fire/candles, and let the smoke purify you, (you can also use sage or incense for this). Dance clockwise around the fire, praying for fertility (of body and/or mind). If you are attracted to someone, this might be a good time to talk to them about your feelings and see if they are reciprocated. Whether your relationship is new or old, it’s a great time to go with your beloved into the countryside for a day, or better still a camping trip that allows you to sleep outdoors and perhaps build a campfire. And this is an ideal time for a party and general merry-making.
A HAPPY BELTANE to all my readers!