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Beltane – Celtic summer beginning on 1st May

NamesBeltane, Beltaine, Walpurgis Night, High May, Lady Day, Cetsamhain ( Counter Samhain)
Importance in the Wheel of the yearBeginning of summer, beginning of the ripening or growth period
Symbolsfire, flowers, maypole, sun, oak, hawthorn, birch, symbols of sexuality
Colourswhite, red, strong colours
Stonesheliodor, fire opal, red coral
Keywordsfertility, union, sexuality, dance, mating, wild time
beltane-festival-celtic-summerbegin

Why are we celebrating the Beltane festival?

Finally, it’s here: Summer. After long perseverance and shivering, we can finally pay homage to the fertile mother earth. Beltane is standing opposite to Samhain in the Celtic annual circle, which marks the beginning of winter. The Celts only knew two seasons: summer and winter.

With Beltane, the bright season finally begins. Fertility, sexuality and union of heaven and earth are celebrated. For our ancestors, the time of hunger was over now. Lightness and joy warm our hearts. The first of May has been preserved for us as ‘Labour Day’ as a national holiday. Religiously seen, many Beltane rituals were postponed to Pentecost. The origin of the word ‘Beltane’ is not known, but it could stand for ‘light fire’.

How do we celebrate the Beltane festival today?

Today we celebrate Beltane mainly with fire and dance. A wild festival to welcome the summer and to celebrate your own liveliness.

Rituals for the Beltane festival

Beltane Fire

To celebrate the return of fertility, fires were lit on hills. These were made of oak or yew, sometimes 9 different types of wood were used. The fire jump should bring luck and fertility. A jump over the fire hand in hand represented an engagement or even a wedding. The Celts put their cattle into the smoke of the Beltane fire to protect them from injuries in the coming season. Today we can celebrate Beltane with a fire and an exuberant party as well. While jumping over the fire, you can let go of old things and express wishes.

Plants

beltane-festival-maypoleThe Celts paid homage to nature with many rituals. For example, there was a so-called “maybush”, which was usually a hawthorn bush or a rowan bush. It was decorated with bows and flowers. (Christianity integrated this bush into the Pentecostal customs). The most important tree in Beltane is the hawthorn. It was considered as a tree of the goddess and was only allowed to be felled to Beltane.The best-known plant of Beltane today is probably the maypole. This is mostly spruce, fir, birch or willow. This custom also comes from the Celts, who danced around a tree. Today the tree is peeled up to the crown and decorated with a wreath and ribbons. Often, competitions are held here in Austria in which young men have to climb to the top of the tree. My two brothers always took part in this competition, and they also won. Smeared and scraped with resin from the rough surface of the trunk, they shared their booty with me (mostly sweets).

Fertility

The Celts crowned a May queen and a May king at Beltane. They symbolized the nature gods who married that night. The two chosen ones were the centre of the celebrations. Often a handfasting ceremony (Celtic wedding) was also held. Today we can celebrate this union with our partner. If you have no partner yet, but would like to have someone on your side, you can use the evening to imagine and manifest your dream partner.

May Water

beltane-festival-maywaterThe May water (rainwater and dew in May, especially from 1st May) is said to have a healing effect. Women washed their faces in the morning, dew on the 1st of May. Apparently this makes you look especially pretty, it’s worth a try. You can also draw spring water on this day (morning hike up the mountain to the spring) and use it all year round for healing rituals.

May dance

The Walpurgis Night (April 30th) became famous, especially through Goethe’s Faust. According to legend, witches meet on the Brocken on this night. On this mountain with 1142m height in Northern Germany a wild festival was/is celebrated. Exuberant dances have been preserved until today. In many places, the locals organize the May dances around the maypole. Forget all the rules, and just start dancing. Unleash your energy and enjoy your wild freedom!

Parallels to Hinduism

Also, in Hinduism, we find a story that fits Beltane. Krishna (8th Avatar of God Vishnu) danced with the Gopis (cowherdesses) in an ecstatic dance at the full moon. Each girl danced with a mirror image of Krishna while he danced with his beloved Radha. Today traditional dance theatres (Ras Lila) perform this story.

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