A happy and safe holiday to all who celebrate!
For the unawares, here is some information courtesy of About Dot Com.
All About Beltane, Celebrating the Fertility of Spring
April's showers have given way to rich and fertile earth, and as the land greens, there are few celebrations as representative of fertility as Beltane. Observed on May 1st, festivities typically begin the evening before, on the last night of April. It's a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth, and a day that has a long (and sometimes scandalous) history.
History of Beltane
Beltane kicks off the merry month of May, and has a long history. This fire festival is celebrated on May 1 with bonfires, Maypoles, dancing, and lots of good old fashioned sexual energy. The Celts honored the fertility of the Gods with gifts and offerings, sometimes including animal or human sacrifice. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the balefires, and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year. In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane, and all other fires were lit with a flame from Tara.
The Romans, always known for celebrating holidays in a big way, spent the first day of May paying tribute to their Lares, the Gods of their household. They also celebrated the Floralia, or festival of flowers, which consisted of three days of unbridled sexual activity. Participants wore flowers in their hair (much like May Day celebrants later on), and there were plays, songs, and dances. At the end of the festivities, animals were set loose inside the Circus Maximus, and beans were scattered around to ensure fertility. The fire festival of Bona Dea was also celebrated on May 2nd.
A Pagan Martyr
May 6 is the day of Eyvind Kelve in Norse celebrations. Eyvind Kelve was a Pagan martyr who was tortured and drowned on the orders of King Olaf Tryggvason for refusing to give up his Pagan beliefs. A week later, Norwegians celebrate the Festival of the Midnight Sun, which pays tribute to the Norse sun Goddess. This festival marks the beginning of ten straight weeks without darkness.
The Greeks and Plynteria
Also in May, the Greeks celebrated the Plynteria in honor of Athena, the Goddess of wisdom and battle, and the patroness of the city of Athens (which was named after Her). The Plynteria includes the ritual cleansing of Athena’s statue, along with feasting and prayers in the Parthenon. On the 24th, homage is paid to the Greek moon-Goddess Artemis (Goddess of the hunt and of wild animals). Artemis is a lunar Goddess, equivalent to the Roman moon-Goddess Diana – She is also identified with Luna, and Hecate.
The Green Man Emerges
A number of pre-Christian figures are associated with the month of May, and subsequently Beltane. The entity known as the Green Man, strongly related to Cernunnos, is often found in the legends and lore of the British Isles, and is a masculine face covered in leaves and shrubbery. In some parts of England, a Green Man is carried through town in a wicker cage as the townsfolk welcome the beginning of summer. Impressions of the Green Man’s face can be found in the ornamentation of many of Europe’s older cathedrals, despite edicts from local bishops forbidding stonemasons from including such Pagan imagery.
A related character is Jack-in-the-Green, a spirit of the greenwood. References to Jack appear in British literature back as far as the late sixteenth century. Sir James Frazer associates the figure with mummers and the celebration of the life force of trees. Jack-in-the-Green was seen even in the Victorian era, when he was associated with soot-faced chimney sweeps. At this time, Jack was framed in a structure of wicker and covered with leaves, and surrounded by Morris dancers. Some scholars suggest that Jack may have been a ancestor to the legend of Robin Hood.
The Beltane Altar
It's Beltane, the Sabbat where many Pagans choose to celebrate the fertility of the earth. This Sabbat is about new life, fire, passion and rebirth, so there are all kinds of creative ways you can set up for the season. Depending on how much space you have, you can try some or even all of these ideas -- obviously, someone using a bookshelf as an altar will have less flexibility than someone using a table, but use what calls to you most.
Colors of the Season
This is a time when the earth is lush and green as new grass and trees return to life after a winter of dormancy. Use lots of greens, as well as bright spring colors -- the yellow of the daffodils, forsythia and dandelions; the purples of the lilac; the blue of a spring sky or a robin's egg. Decorate your altar with any or all of these colors in your altar cloths, candles, or colored ribbons.
Flowers and Faeries
Beltane is the time when the earth is greening once again -- as new life returns, flowers are abundant everywhere. Add a collection of early spring flowers to your altar -- daffodils, hyacinths, forsythia, daisies, tulips -- or consider making a floral crown to wear yourself. You may even want to pot some flowers or herbs as part of your Sabbat ritual.
In some cultures, Beltane is sacred to the Fae. If you follow a tradition that honors the Faerie realm, leave offerings on your altar for your household helpers.
Because Beltane is one of the four fire festivals in modern Pagan traditions, find a way to incorporate fire into your altar setup. Although one popular custom is to hold a bonfire outside, that may not be practical for everyone, so instead it can be in the form of candles (the more the better), or a table-top brazier of some sort. A small cast-iron cauldron placed on a heat-resistant tile makes a great place to build an indoor fire.
Other Symbols of Beltane
• May baskets
• Honey, oats, milk
• Antlers or horns
• Fruit such as cherries, mangoes, pomegranates, peaches
• Swords, lances, arrows
Legends and Lore of Beltane
In many cultures, there are different legends and lore surrounding Beltane. Here are a few of the stories about this magical spring celebration.
• Like Samhain, the holiday of Beltane is a time when the veil between the worlds is thin. Some traditions believe that this is a good time to contact the spirits, or to interact with the Fae. Be careful, though -- if you visit the Faerie Realm, don't eat the food, our you'll be trapped there, much like Thomas the Rhymer was!
• Some Irish dairy farmers hang a garland of green boughs over their door at Beltane. This will bring them great milk production from their cows during the coming summer. Also, driving your cattle between two Beltane bonfires helps protect your livestock from disease.
• The pious Puritans were outraged by the debauchery of Beltane celebrations. In fact, they made Maypoles illegal the mid 1600's, and tried to put a halt to the "greenwood marriages" that frequently took place on May Eve. One pastor wrote that if "tenne maiden went to set (celebrate) May, nine of them came home gotten with childe."
• According to a legend in parts of Wales and England, women who are trying to conceive should go out on May Eve -- the last night of April -- and find a "birthing stone", which is a large rock formation with a hole in the center. Walk through the hole, and you will conceive a child that night. If there is nothing like this near you, find a small stone with a hole in the center, and drive a branch of oak or other wood through the hole -- place this charm under your bed to make you fertile.
• If you go out at sunrise on Beltane, take a bowl or jar to gather morning dew. Use the dew to wash your face, and you're guaranteed a perfect complexion. You can also use the dew in ritual as consecrated water, particularly in rituals related to the moon or the Goddess Diana or Her counterpart, Artemis.
• In the Irish Book of Invasions, it was on Beltane that Patholan, the first settler, arrived on Ireland's shores. May Day was also the date of the defeat of the Tuatha de Danaan by Amergin and the Milesians.
• Babies conceived at Beltane are considered a gift from the Gods. They were sometimes referred to as "merry-begots", because the mothers were impregnated during Beltane's merrymaking.
• In Cornwall, it's traditional to decorate your door on May Day with boughs of hawthorn and sycamore.
• Eating a special oatcake called a bannock or a Beltane cake ensured Scottish farmers abundance of their crops for the year. The cakes were baked the night before, and roasted in embers on a stone.
Deities of Beltane
Beltane is a time of great fertility -- for the earth itself, for animals, and of course for people as well. This season has been celebrated by cultures going back thousands of years, in a variety of ways, but nearly all shared the fertility aspect. Typically, this is a Sabbat to celebrate Gods of the hunt or of the forest, and Goddesses of passion and motherhood, as well as agricultural Deities. Here are a list of Gods and Goddesses that can be honored as part of your tradition's Beltane rituals.
• Artemis (Greek): The moon Goddess Artemis was associated with the hunt, and was seen as a Goddess of forests and hillsides. This pastoral connection made Her a part of spring celebrations in later periods.
• Asasa Ya (Ashanti): This earth mother Goddess prepares to bring forth new life in the spring, and the Ashanti people honor Her at the festival of Durbar, alongside Nyame, the sky God who brings rain to the fields.
• Bacchus (Roman): Considered the equivalent of Greek God Dionysus, Bacchus was the party God -- grapes, wine, and general debauchery were His domain. In March each year, Roman women could attend secret ceremonies called the Bacchanalia, and He is associated with sexual free-for-alls and fertility.
• Bast (Egyptian): Bast was an Egyptian cat Goddess who protected mothers and their newborn children. A woman suffering from infertility might make an offering to Bast in hopes that this would help her conceive. In later years, Bast became strongly connected with Mut, a mother Goddess figure.
• Bes (Egyptian): Worshiped in later dynasties, Bes was a household protection God, and watched over mothers and young children. He and His wife, Beset, were paired up in rituals to cure problems with infertility.
• Bona Dea (Roman): This fertility Goddess was worshiped in a secret temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and only women were permitted to attend Her rites. A woman hoping to conceive might make a sacrifice to Bona Dea in hopes that she would become pregnant.
• Brighid (Celtic): This Celtic hearth Goddess was originally a patron of poets and bards, but was also known to watch over women in childbirth, and thus evolved into a Goddess of hearth and home. Today, She is honored at the February celebration of Imbolc.
• Cybele (Roman): This mother Goddess of Rome was at the center of a rather bloody Phrygian cult, in which eunuch priests performed mysterious rites in Her honor. Her lover was Attis, and Her jealousy caused Him to castrate and kill Himself.
• Demeter (Greek): Demeter is one of the best known Goddesses of the harvest. When Her daughter Persephone was kidnapped and seduced by Hades, Demeter went straight to the bowels of the Underworld to rescue Her lost child. Their legend has persisted for millennia as a way of explaining the changing of the seasons and the death of the earth each fall.
• Freya (Norse): Freyja, or Freya, was a Norse Goddess of abundance, fertility and war. She is still honored today by some Pagans, and is often associated with sexual freedom. Freyja could be called upon for assistance in childbirth and conception, to aid with marital problems, or to bestow fruitfulness upon the land and sea.
• Frigga (Norse): Frigga was the wife of the all-powerful Odin, and was considered a Goddess of fertility and marriage within the Norse pantheon. Like many mothers, She is a peacemaker and mediator in times of strife.
• Flora (Roman): This Goddess of spring and flowers had Her own festival, Floralia, which was celebrated every year between April 28 to May 3. Romans dressed in bright robes and floral wreaths, and attended theater performances and outdoor shows. Offerings of milk and honey were made to the Goddess.
• Gaia (Greek): Gaia was known as the life force from which all other beings sprang, including the earth, the sea and the mountains. A prominent figure in Greek mythology, Gaia is also honored by many Pagans today as the earth mother Herself.
• Hera (Greek): This Goddess of marriage was the equivalent of the Roman Juno, and took it upon Herself to bestow good tidings to new brides. A maiden about to marry could make offerings to Hera, in the hopes that She would bless the marriage with fertility. In Her earliest forms, She appears to have been a nature Goddess, who presides over wildlife and nurses the young animals which She holds in Her arms.
• Isis (Egyptian): In addition to being the fertile wife of Osiris, Isis is honored for Her role as the mother of Horus, one of Egypt's most powerful Gods. She was also the divine mother of every pharaoh of Egypt, and ultimately of Egypt itself. She assimilated with Hathor, another Goddess of fertility, and is often depicted nursing Her son Horus. There is a wide belief that this image served as inspiration for the classic Christian portrait of the Madonna and Child.
• Juno (Roman): In ancient Rome, Juno was the Goddess who watched over women and marriage. As a Goddess of domesticity, She was honored in Her role as protector of the home and family.
• Kokopelli (Hopi): This flute-playing, dancing spring God carries unborn children upon His own back, and then passes them out to fertile women. In the Hopi culture, He is part of rites that relate to marriage and childbearing, as well as the reproductive abilities of animals. Often portrayed with rams and stags, symbolic of His fertility, Kokopelli occasionally is seen with His consort, Kokopelmana.
• Pan (Greek): This agricultural God watched over shepherds and their flocks. He was a rustic sort of God, spending lots of time roaming the woods and pastures, hunting and playing music on His flute. Pan is typically portrayed as having the hindquarters and horns of a goat, similar to a faun. Because of His connection to fields and the forest, He is often honored as a spring fertility God.
• Priapus (Greek): This fairly minor rural God has one giant claim to fame -- His permanently erect and enormous phallus. The son of Aphrodite by Dionysus (or possibly Zeus, depending on the source), Priapus was mostly worshiped in homes rather than in an organized cult. Despite His constant lust, most stories portray Him as sexually frustrated, or even impotent. However, in agricultural areas He was still regarded as a God of fertility, and at one point He was considered a protective God, who threatened sexual violence against anyone -- male or female -- who transgressed the boundaries He guarded.
• Shiela-na-Gig (Celtic): Although the Sheela-na-Gig is technically the name applied to the carvings of women with exaggerated vulvas that have been found in Ireland and England, there's a theory that the carvings are representative of a lost pre-Christian Goddess. Typically, the Sheela-na-Gig adorns buildings in areas of Ireland that were part of the Anglo-Norman conquests in the 12th century. She is shown as a homely woman with a giant yoni, which is spread wide to accept the seed of the male. Folkloric evidence indicates that the figures are theory that the figures were part of a fertility rite, similar to "birthing stones", which were used to bring on conception.
• Xochiquetzal (Aztec): This fertility Goddess was associated with spring, and represented not only flowers but the fruits of life and abundance. She was also the patron Goddess of prostitutes and craftsmen.
• Yemaya (West African/Yoruban): This Orisha is a Goddess of the ocean, and considered the Mother of All. She is the mother of many of the other Orishas, and is honored in connection with the Virgin Mary in some forms of Santeria and Vodoun.
Rituals and Ceremonies
Depending on your particular tradition, there are many different ways you can celebrate Beltane, but the focus is nearly always on fertility. It's the time when the Earth Mother opens up to the fertility God, and Their union brings about healthy livestock, strong crops, and new life all around.
Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites
Today's Pagans celebrate Beltane much like their ancestors did. A Beltane ritual usually involves lots of fertility symbols, including the obviously-phallic Maypole dance. The Maypole is a tall pole decorated with flowers and hanging ribbons, which are woven into intricate pattern by a group of dancers. Weaving in and out, the ribbons are eventually knotted together by the time the dancers reach the end.
May Queen and the Queen of Winter
In some traditions, Beltane is a day in which the May Queen and the Queen of Winter battle one another for supremacy. In this rite, borrowed from practices on the Isle of Man, each queen has a band of supporters. On the morning of May 1, the two companies battle it out, ultimately trying to win victory for their queen. If the May Queen is captured by her enemies, she must be ransomed before her followers can get her back.
The Fae at Beltane
There are some who believe Beltane is a time for the faeries -- the appearance of flowers around this time of year heralds the beginning of summer and shows us that the fae are hard at work. In early folklore, to enter the realm of faeries is a dangerous step -- and yet the more helpful deeds of the fae should always be acknowledged and appreciated. If you believe in faeries, Beltane is a good time to leave out food and other treats for them in your garden or yard.
Bud, Blossom, and Leaf
For many contemporary Pagans, Beltane is a time for planting and sowing of seeds -- again, the fertility theme appears. The buds and flowers of early May bring to mind the endless cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth that we see in the earth. Certain trees are associated with May Day, such as the Ash, Oak and Hawthorn. In Norse legend, the God Odin hung from an Ash tree for nine days, and it later became known as the World Tree, Yggdrasil.
If you've been wanting to bring abundance and fertility of any sort into your life -- whether you're looking to conceive a child, enjoy fruitfulness in your career or creative endeavors, or just see your garden bloom -- Beltane is the perfect time for magical workings related to any type of prosperity.
• Ritual Sex and the Great Rite
• Fertility Magic and Customs
• Chocolate and Sex
• Plant a Magical Moon Garden
• Magical Spring Flowers
• Magical Herbal Correspondences
• Graveyard Dirt
• Magical Prosperity Soap
• Plant a Goddess Garden
Crafts and Creations
As Beltane approaches, you can decorate your home with a number of easy craft projects. Start celebrating a bit early with fun floral crowns and a Maypole altar centerpiece.
• Floral Crown
• Maypole Altar Centerpiece
• Faerie Chair
• Make a May Day Cone Basket
• Magical Weaving & Braiding
• Beltane Fire Incense
Feasting and Food
No Pagan celebration is really complete without a meal to go along with it. For Beltane, celebrate with foods that honor fertility of the earth. Enjoy light spring soups, Scottish bannocks, fertility bread loaves, and more.
• Scottish Bannocks - the Beltane oatcake
• Early Summer Salad
• Southern Style Peppery Green Beans
• Candied Flower Petals
• Fertility Bread
• Green Man cake
From Rituals For Sacred Living by Jane Alexander: