May Day is more than just a day… it is the marking of a festival and a celebration of life
Beltane honours Life. It represents the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Earth energies are at their strongest and most active. All of life is bursting with potent fertility and at this point in the Wheel of the Year, the potential becomes conception.
On May Eve the sexuality of life and the earth is at its peak. Abundant fertility, on all levels, is the central theme. The Maiden goddess has reached her fullness. She is the manifestation of growth and renewal, Flora, the Goddess of Spring, the May Queen, the May Bride. The Young Oak King, as Jack-In-The-Green, as the Green Man, falls in love with her and wins her hand. The union is consummated and the May Queen becomes pregnant. Together the May Queen and the May King are symbols of the Sacred Marriage (or Heiros Gamos), the union of Earth and Sky, and this union has merrily been re-enacted by humans throughout the centuries. For this is the night of the Greenwood Marriage. It is about sexuality and sensuality, passion, vitality and joy. And about conception. A brilliant moment in the Wheel of the Year to bring ideas, hopes and dreams into action. And have some fun…..
This festival is also known as Beltane, the Celtic May Day. It officially begins at moonrise on May Day Eve, and marks the beginning of the third quarter or second half of the ancient Celtic year.
The word ‘Beltane’ roughly translates as ‘bright fire’ and, as such, one of the most important rituals, which survives today in our modern festival, concerns the lighting of the Beltane bonfire. Fire was seen as a purifier and healer and would have been walked around and danced/jumped over by the members of the community. Farmers would also have driven their cattle between bonfires to cleanse and protect them before being put out into the fields. In ancient communities, all hearth fires would have been extinguished and a new neid fire lit which would have then been used to relight people’s hearths in their own homes. In this way the community was connected to each other by the sacred fire which was central to all. (from the Beltane Fire Society)
It is celebrated as an early pastoral festival accompanying the first turning of the herds out to wild pasture. The rituals were held to promote fertility. The cattle were driven between the Belfires to protect them from ills. Contact with the fire was interpreted as symbolic contact with the sun. In early Celtic times, the druids kindled the Beltane fires with specific incantations. Later the Christian church took over the Beltane observances, a service was held in the church, followed by a procession to the fields or hills, where the priest kindled the fire. The rowan branch is hung over the house fire on May Day to preserve the fire itself from bewitchment (the house fire being symbolic of the luck of the house).
This is a holiday of Union–both between the Goddess and the God and between man and woman. Handfastings (Pagan marriages) are traditional at this time. It is a time of fertility and harvest, the time for reaping the wealth from the seeds that we have sown. Celebrations include braiding of one’s hair (to honour the union of man and woman and Goddess and God), circling the Maypole for fertility and jumping the Beltane fire for luck. Beltane is one of the Major Sabbats of the Wiccan religion. We celebrate sexuality (something we see as holy and intrinsic to us as holy beings), we celebrate life and the unity which fosters it.
The myths of Beltane state that the young God has blossomed into manhood, and the Goddess takes him on as her lover.
Together, they learn the secrets of the sexual and the sensual, and through their union, all life begins.
Beltane is the season of maturing life and deep found love. This is the time of vows, handfastings and commitment. The Lord and his Lady, having reached maturity, come together in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust to celebrate the joy of their union. This is a time to celebrate the coming together of the masculine and feminine creative energies. Beltane marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, he desired the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms and unite.
The flowers and greenery symbolise the Goddess and the Maypole represents the God. Beltane marks the return of vitality and passion of summer. Another common focal point of the Beltane rituals is the cauldron, which represents the Goddess. The Welsh goddess Creiddylad is connected with Beltane, often called the May Queen, she was a Goddess of summer flowers and love.
May Day has long been marked with feasts and rituals. May poles, supremely phallic symbols, were the focal point of old English village rituals. Many people arose at dawn to gather flowers and green branches from the fields and gardens, using them to decorate the village Maypoles.
The May Queen (and often King) is chosen from among the young people, and they go singing from door to door throughout the town carrying flowers or the May tree, soliciting donations for merrymaking in return for the “blessing of May”. This is symbolic of bestowing and sharing of the new creative power that is stirring in the world. As the kids go from door to door, the May Bride often sings to the effect that those who give will get of nature’s bounty through the year.
In parts of France, some jilted youth will lie in a field on May Day and pretend to sleep. If any village girl is willing to marry him, she goes and wakes him with a kiss; the pair then goes to the village inn together and lead the dance which announces their engagement. The boy is called “the betrothed of May.”
Things To Do
Whatever you do, remember this is the Great Wedding! Dress in your best, especially in green, and wear a flower crown.
Stay out all night, gathering the green, watch the sunrise and make love. Wash your face in the morning dew.
Conceive a new project, grasp that idea, and get on with it.
Dress your home and/or altar with greenery – especially with hawthorn, rowan and birch branches. Ask permission from the tree before you take anything.
Dress a tree. This is the perfect time to go out and celebrate a tree. Especially a hawthorn, rowan or birch – but the tree spirit will welcome you attention whichever kind of tree it is. Sit with it, talk to it, dance around it (maypole), honour the tree and its fertility. Hang ribbons from its branches, each ribbon represents a wish or prayer.
Flowers, flowers and more flowers. This is the festival of Flora. Make a flower crown to wear – the daisy chain in the simplest of all. Make a traditional flower basket. fill it with Beltane greenery and all the flowers and herbs you can find. Think about, and honour, their magical and healing properties while you do so. Give it someone you love.