As part of the Wheel of the Year, Beltane is the time when the Goddess sheds her robes as Maiden and becomes the Mother. The God, grown now, comes to Her side as Consort instead of son. The Goddess and the God celebrate Their union, mating in the spring warmth and conceiving a child.
The Themes and Practices of Beltane
The main themes of Beltane are the great fires of Bel and the associated fertility rites. The sexual union of the Goddess and the God is traditionally celebrated by performing the Great Rite. Symbolically, the Great Rite is represented using a chalice and athame. The chalice, representing the womb of the Goddess, is filled with liquid (usually wine, but juice works for the non-alcoholic crowd) and placed upon the altar. The athame, representing the phallic nature of the God, is lowered into the chalice. Usually, this is part of a greater ritual and is not done on its own.
The Great Rite can also be performed literally, as a part of Pagan sex magick. This is only done by a consenting adult couple.
Since this Sabbat represents the marriage of the Goddess and the God, many Wiccans and other Pagans celebrate with a wedding, handfasting, or simple renewal of vows. In times of old, the fertility of livestock and people was important, so marriages would take place and animals would be driven between two large bonfires to encourage fertility. People would then jump the bonfires to help ensure their own fertility in the years to come.
Some of the symbols associated with Beltane include:
- Flower garlands
- Balefires (bonfires)
- Passion and sensuality
Since Beltane is the celebration of the marriage between the Goddess and the God, it is time for a major feast. Consider it a wedding supper. If you live in a climate conducive to outdoor meals, consider making this the first picnic of the year. This would also allow you to plan games and activities that can be held outdoors, which is traditional for Beltane.
Some popular dishes for Beltane include:
- Roast pork
- Apple sauce
- Lightly cooked or raw spring vegetables and herbs
- Cucumber soup
- Deep fried elderflower heads
- Roast chicken
- Egg recipes
Drinks appropriate for Beltane are similar to those consumed at the Spring Equinox. Make your own Honey Mead or look for other sweet wines and liqueurs. Elderflower wine or cordial made with a sparkling mineral water is also an excellent selection. Cool fruit teas or light fruit drinks are an excellent alternative for the non-alcoholic crowd.
In ancient times, mineral water would have been considered festive because spring is the time when ice has just melted. To spruce up your mineral water, add a squeeze of fresh fruit juice. Try to choose fruits that are in season in the area where you live.
There are many ways to celebrate Beltane. One of the most traditional is the selecting of a May Queen/King to preside over the Beltane festivities. The Queen or King directs the celebration and organizes any rituals or ceremonies to be performed. She or he also organizes the dance around the May Pole. If you’re worried about anyone feeling left out, let the selection of May Queen/King be random by drawing lots. Allow the selected person to choose their partner. To make the celebration more elaborate, have special cloaks and thrones prepared for the royal couple.
Make chains of daisies or other seasonal flowers for everyone in your group. These can be worn around the head or around the neck. Children especially love to make these, so put the children in your family to work weaving chains of flowers.
Set up a May Pole for your merrymakers to dance around. While a large pole with multiple ribbons might be traditional, you can make a smaller pole with a broomstick or umbrella pole. Even a flagpole will work. Bury the pole into the ground so that it is secure. Make sure a random child or animal can’t knock it over. Tie a number of ribbons or streamers to the top of the pole. You should have as many ribbons as you will have dancers, and you should always have an even number of dancers. Have your dancers assemble and instruct half your dancers to dance clockwise, the other counterclockwise. Your clockwise and counterclockwise dancers should alternate and weave in and out of each other. This may take a little practice, so have your dancers do a test run if necessary.
To make the May Pole dance more traditional, place a flower garland at the top of the pole before the dance begins. As the ribbons weave around each other and around the pole, the garland should descent gracefully. If you don’t think you can manage to set up a May Pole dance, look around your area for events that might have one. They are becoming more and more popular as time goes by.
Most Wiccans also mark Beltane with a ritual. As Sabbats are celebratory in nature, magick is generally not performed. However, if there is a true emergency, such as healing, an exception may be made.
Dressing for Beltane
Like most holidays, fancy dress is an excellent way to get into the spirit of things. You might wish to wear ritual robes or choose simpler clothing. While there is no firm rule, try to make it special for the occasion. Traditional colors for Beltane include green and the bright colors of the rainbow. Colors associated with the Maiden and Her Lover include bright red or silver for the Goddess and green and gold for the God. Alternatively, consider blue and gold for the Goddess and red and gold for the God. You can use the colors for your clothing or simply to decorate the ritual space.
Beltane is regarded as a sacred time for Wiccans around the world. It is a time to celebrate the natural cycles of the earth and look forward to the coming heat of summer.