Also known as Roodmas or May Day
Beltane has long been celebrated with feasts and rituals. Beltane means fire of Bel; Belinos being one name for the Sun God, whose coronation feast we now celebrate.
As summer begins, weather becomes warmer, and the plant world blossoms, an exuberant mood prevails. In old Celtic traditions it was a time of unabashed sexuality and promiscuity where marriages of a year and a day could be undertaken but it is rarely observed in that manner in modern times.
In the old Celtic times, young people would spend the entire night in the woods “A-Maying,” and then dance around the phallic Maypole the next morning. Older married couples were allowed to remove their wedding rings (and the restrictions they imply) for this one night. May morning is a magical time for wild water (dew, flowing streams, and springs) which is collected and used to bathe in for beauty, or to drink for health.
The Christian religion had only a poor substitute for the life-affirming Maypole—namely, the death-affirming cross. Hence, in the Christian calendar, this was celebrated as ‘Roodmas’. In Germany, it was the feast of Saint Walpurga, or ‘Walpurgisnacht’. An alternative date around May 5 (Old Beltane), when the sun reaches 15 degrees Taurus, is sometimes employed by Covens. (Both ‘Lady Day’ and ‘Ostara’ are names incorrectly assigned to this holiday by some modern traditions of Wicca.)
May Day celebrations were banned during the reign of the Puritans in England.
They were revived when the Puritans lost power, but in a different way. It became a day of Joy and making merry for children. Today, many elementary schools still have May Day celebrations, some featuring dancing around the maypole and becoming the queen of the town.
Beltane marks the return of vitality, of passion. Ancient Pagan traditions say that Beltane marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, he desires the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms, and unite. The Goddess becomes pregnant of the God. To celebrate, a wedding feast, for the God and Goddess must be prepared. Let Them guide you! Breads and cereals are popular. Try oatmeal cakes or cookies sweetened with a dab of honey. Dairy foods are again appropriate…just make a lovely wedding feast and you are sure to enjoy yourself! An early morning walk through a local park or forest could be fun for everyone. Gather up some plants or flowers to display in your home. Mom and daughter could braid their hair, and weave in a few tender blossoms.
The Hawthorn tree has long been associated fertility, and still today in Mayday (Beltane) rituals, its blossoms are used to symbolise love and the union of couples in marriage. Of old young women would eagerly await the first blossoms to appear on the Hawthorn tree, and when found after appropriate regard to the trees guardian spirit, a sprig of the blossom would be taken and kept as a charm to encourage the interest of a suitable husband.
Care should be taken to give due regard to the tree before removing any of its branches. It is important not to damage the tree in case the guardian spirit becomes angered. Any Hawthorn tree standing alone should be avoided, and only parts from trees forming hedges should be taken. The Hawthorn tree is particularly sacred to the fairies, and in Ireland and Britain is part of the fairy-tree triad known as the: “Oak, Ash and Thorn”, and where all three trees grow together it is said that one may see the fairies.
Early on the dawn of Mayday, men and women would bathe in the dew of the Hawthorn blossom to increase health, luck and beauty. Woman who washed their faces in it would become beautiful, while men who washed their hands in it would become skilled craftsmen. Today in pagan Ireland, newly wed couple still adhere to the old practice of dancing around a Hawthorn tree to bless and ensure a long and fruitful marriage.
Off old, the tree was regarded as a powerful symbol of protection, and was often planted near a house to protect it against lightning and damage from storms. In the past most Witch’s gardens contained at least one Hawthorn tree, which as a guardian and protector of the entrances to the “Other world”, protected the house against evil spirits. In Ireland it is believed that food left over from the May Eve dinner should not be thrown away or wasted, but left near the Hawthorn tree as an offering to the spirits that inhabit the tree.
Also on May Eve it was an old custom to and make a wish by tie ribbons or shreds of personal clothing onto a Hawthorn tree, especially where they grew near wells. The strips of cloth needed to be symbolically appropriate to the nature of the wish (i.e. blue for health, pink or red for love, green or gold for prosperity). These were said to be gifts for the fairies who dwelt in the tree, and if pleased they would make your wish come true.
© Wendy Binks aka Lady Snake 2010