Beltane Blessings – Summer is here!
Beltane, also known as May Day, is, for many Pagans one of the most important festivals on the wheel of the year. It is one of the four fire festivals – and is certainly one of the most fun!
Beltane traditionally falls around the 1st of May, about halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice (Litha, the longest day) around the 21st June. The word ‘Beltane‘ roughly translates as ‘bright fire’ in ancient Gaelic. This time represents the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer, but the weather can be extreme at this time of year…we can swing wildly between beautifully warm, even hot days, to a sharp frost and even the odd sleet or snow shower!!…remember the old saying, “ne’r cast a clout til may is out”. I used to think this was referring to the month of May, and remember as a child being most put out as we had to wear our vests and winter coats until the end of May, no matter how hot it was! However it actually means don’t shed the winter clothing just yet, until the May blossom on the Hawthorn is out and nearly finished! Which makes much more sense and is not fixed to a date, but the seasonal shift, which can vary.
Despite the fickle weather, the Earth energies are at their strongest – new life is bursting forth everywhere. Fertility and sexuality of all life and the earth (here in the Northern hemisphere) are at their peak now, it’s a juicy time of year!
The light is now strong enough and bright enough to begin to reach into all of the corners of our lives. As it is a fire festival, it is full of vibrant energy, movement and passion and is associated with new life, love, and sensuality! The inspiration we ignited at Imbolc, which grew in strength and formed our plans and ideas at Ostara, as the light came into balance with the dark, now explodes in a joyful rush of explosive energy and expansiveness. We feel ourselves unfurling and reaching towards the light as we become attuned to the lushness of nature that is bursting all around us with new growth. The weather is warmer, we joyfully stretch and turn our faces towards the sun. This is a time for fun and frivolity, for abandonment, for getting immersed into nature, always!…as you may have noticed, these festivals are all about connecting with nature.
It’s time to reconnect with our inner child, be open to the magic of the natural world! As a fire festival, it is also one of transformation – fire is cleansing, destroying the old to prepare the way for new growth. A perfect time to move forward with our plans and dreams for the coming weeks and months.
There are many traditions from this most ancient of festivals that we still participate in today, without even realising their pagan links!
All over the country May Day fairs are held with children dancing around the Maypole – this is one of our most ancient of customs, and was actually to encourage fertile harvests. The pole is a phallic symbol representing the potency of the God and the ring of flowers atop the pole representing the fertile Goddess! The many coloured ribbons and the weaving dance symbolising the spiral of life and the union of the God and Goddess, the Divine Feminine and the Sacred Masculine.
As a fertility festival, Beltane was (and still is) a traditional time for pagan weddings to happen – called Handfastings (my husband and I chose Beltane to have our Handfasting). Traditionally, the couple could commit themselves for “a year and a day”, after which they could walk away with no recriminations if they so choose. Today the length of commitment is personal choice, as is whether the couple “legalise” the marriage at the registry office. At the moment a pagan handfasting is not legal in England, however I do believe it is in Scotland.
The act of handfasting involves the binding of the couple’s hands with a handfasting ribbon – this is where the saying “tying the knot” comes from. It is often traditional for the bride to make the handfasting ribbon (I made mine!). This element of the Handfasting is still in evidence in the church weddings of today – when you see the vicar or priest lay the ribbon over the couples hands. At some point in the ceremony the hands are untied, which symbolises that the couple chose to come together and remain together of their own free will.
The Handfasting Ceremony is one of the core ceremonies that I can perform as an Elemental Celebrant, and I am just so excited and honoured that I am able to perform this most ancient of customs for people – mine was so special and magical.
Another important element of the Handfasting is the “jumping the broomstick.” Once again, an ancient custom, where the broomstick marks a threshold, symbolising moving from an old life to a new one. Our ancestors held equality in much higher esteem than we seem to these days, this custom was replaced in later years by the husband carrying the wife over the threshold… much more a symbol of ownership, rather than equality!
Mead and cakes are shared with the guests at a Handfasting. Mead is known as the brew of the Gods and seen as Divine, and is the oldest alcoholic drink known to man! It is made from honey, which was seen as a gift from the gods. There is much myth and legend around bees, the energies of bees are almost synonymous with Beltane, and felt enormously around this time, think of the expression “the birds and the bees”!
Whether they were getting handfasted or not, our ancestors were a lusty lot at this time of year! The days were warming, the scarcity of food from over the Winter was beginning to lesson as fields were planted and lambs had been born. Both the young and the old went “A-Maying.” Couples spent the night in the woods and fields, getting up to all sorts of frisky shenanigans! They brought back armfuls of the May (Hawthorn) blossoms to decorate their homes and barns with. The blossoms were to ensure luck and fertility for their crops, animals and the coming year. This is the only time of the year that you can bring Hawthorn into the house as it is considered a fairy tree, and unlucky to bring it into the home at any other time of the year. Everyone was free to enact the Sacred Marriage of the Goddess and the God, and there was an accepted tradition of Beltane babies arriving the following February – to coincide with Imbolc!
Morris Men and Dancing Up the Sun On May Day Morning
Photo: Our lovely Morris Side The Hemlock Morris at our handfasting.
All over the country at the crack of dawn, come rain or shine, Morris Men, those iconic traditional British folk dancers, get up and “Dance up the Sun.” They danced in a bid to ensure we have good weather for the coming May Day celebrations and the harvests!
The May Tree
The May tree, or Hawthorn, is a sacred tree to many pagans and has an affinity with the Fae (the Fairies) and magic. It is one of the most beautiful sights of the British countryside to see the hedgerows brimming with the May blossom. There is much ancient lore and mythology surrounding the May tree. To cut one down is said to incur the wrath of the Fairies.
One of the old traditions that young maidens used to do was to awake at dawn on the 1st of May and bathe their faces in the dew gathered on the Hawthorn flowers to ensure their beauty for the rest of the year! For more info on the Magical May Tree check out my Hawthorn Herbal Healer blog and my YouTube video!
Blodeuwedd is a Welsh Goddess associated with May Day, and I feel a deep connection with her, and resonate with the more modern day interpretation that she was not the “fickle female” who betrayed her husband, as the old tales tell, but was standing up for herself, claiming her power as a woman in her own right, not some plaything to be picked up and used when wanted.
Blodeuwedd (pronunciation: bluh DIE weth [“th” as in “weather”]) is the Welsh Goddess of spring created from flowers, and the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, son of Arianrhod and is a central figure in Welsh mythology. In the late Christianized myth, She was created by the great magicians Math and Gwydion, Lleu’s uncles, to be Lleu’s mate, in response to a curse pronounced by his Mother that he would never have a wife from any race then on the Earth. They fashioned Blodeuwedd from nine types of blossom–oak, meadowsweet, broom, cockle, bean, nettle, chestnut, primrose, and hawthorn–and breathed life into Her. Lleu however was not a good husband, and left her alone for many a day, and so she fell in love with a passing huntsman. She and Her lover, Gronw Pebyr, plotted against her husband, killing the invulnerable Lleu by tricking him into the only pose in which he could be harmed. Blodeuwedd was punished for this by being transformed by the Uncles into the night-bird, the owl, though She kept Her name–in Welsh, blodeuwedd, meaning “Flower-face”, is a name for the owl.
She is the white Goddess of Death and Life in Her May-aspect, and part of a triad consisting of Arianrhod (virgin), Blodeuwedd (lover), and Cerridwen (crone).
She represents temporary beauty and the bright blooming that must come full circle through death: She is the promise of autumn visible in spring. As a free thinking and empowered woman, she came into her own power and refused to be the meek subservient wife that she was “created” to be. Blodeuwedd is independant, feisty and rebellious – she was not going to be told who she should be wed to, she followed her heart to be with the man she loved! I feel she is a Goddess to connect with in these times. She represents fully the Maiden, Mother and Crone aspects of the Goddess, the Maiden, as she was created in the spring from the flowers, the Mother as she chose her own lover at Beltane, associated with the Spring and Summer, and then the Crone, as she became transformed into the night owl, signifying the transformation into our wise woman form, and associated with the dark half of the year, the Autumn and Winter.
Artwork by: Selina Fenech
A Simple Solitary Beltane Goddess Ritual
As the flowers begin to bloom and the birds begin to sing their melodic mating calls, this is a sacred time of manifesting new beginnings, especially related to love, marriage, children and abundance.
Naturally, there are many beautiful goddesses associated with this sacred day. Just a few include: Wild huntress Artemis, mother, queen and magician Isis, sensual Aphrodite, magical Rhiannon, primal creatress Shakti, patron goddess of marriage Hera, flower queen Flora, lover and warrior Freya, and Mayan fertility goddess Xochiquetzal, (cho–kee–ketz–al) and feisty rebellious Welsh goddess Blodeuwedd.
Beltane is a time of honouring and celebrating our inner beauty, fertility (at any age as fertility is not just the physical act, but also is our creativity), sexuality, sensuality, connection to nature and ability to be a sacred vessel for the divine. This is a time of healing and releasing any shame and guilt around our bodies and sexuality, a time for revering ourselves and all of life’s natural pleasures.
It is a time to reclaim and rejoice in being sensual, being alive.
Here are two Goddess rituals and a special prayer to embrace all the gifts of this day:
Immerse Yourself in Flowers:
Buy fresh cut flowers, plant seeds for new ones in pots or your garden, drink a flower petal tea, take a flower petal bath, place flower petals all over your home, make a garland, wear a floral perfume or oil blend. In any way you wish and can, let flowers fill your day. On May 1st, get up at dawn, bathe your face in the morning dew (this will bring beauty to you for the whole year!), bring in the May blossom (with the fairies permission) to place on your altar.
Burn Your Old Story:
Write a letter of all the negative, old struggles you are ready to release. Reflect on any patterns, habits or challenges that came up during the winter months. At the end of your letter, write a releasing intention like this one:
“Dear God-Goddess and my Higher Self, I now release all these patterns to you for healing, purification and transmutation. I am free. I am blessed. So it is.”
Safely burn the letter in a fireproof pot/cauldron and surrender its ashes to the earth.
Invoke the Goddesses:
This is a beautiful time to honour the Goddesses within and around you. Start by creating a Goddess alter. Place an offering of flowers, fruits, and anything that represents fertility, sexuality, creativity and the Goddess to you on this alter.
Then, say this or any other prayer that comes from your heart to honour the sacred feminine gifts of Beltane:
Dear Artemis, make my aim clear and true, let me run free and wild like you.
Dear Isis, help me heal my deepest wounds and create my life anew.
Dear Aphrodite, let me embrace my body as my temple, and enjoy life’s sweetest pleasures.
Dear Rhiannon, let me awaken my magic and wisdom, that I may be the queen of my kingdom.
Dear Shakti, awaken your primal power within me, and rise in bliss within and through me.
Dear Hera, bless me in sacred union with my beloved, on earth as we dwell already in the spiritual realm.
Dear Flora, crown me with a garland of flowers, and bless me with beauty in all hours.
Dear Freya, help me know that it is safe and right for me to be lavished and ravished.
Dear Xochiquetza, (cho-kee–ketz–al) help me conceive, nurture and birth every dream within my heart.
And Dear Blodeuwedd, grant me the gift of independence, the right to have my own free will, and the wisdom to know that all faces and ages of the Goddess are beautiful and Divine.
Enjoy the rest of your day with time in nature, dancing with friends, eating delicious fresh food and giving thanks for all the blessings you have, and all those to come.
Give thanks for being alive, being able to experience Nature and connection to our Mother Earth, Gaia.
The Green Man
The Green Man is the masculine element very much in evidence at Beltane. He is Lord of the Forest, of Nature. He protects the Goddess, the land, the animals. Beltane is all about their Sacred Divine Union. He heralds the Spring after the long winter, and symbolises the cycle of life, death and rebirth, which is the key theme to all of our pagan customs and rituals.
Seen as the consort of the Maiden Goddess at spring, he is a primal force and energy of Nature. Depicted in many forms in churches, and around our villages, he is another ancient symbol with many connections reaching far back into our dim and ancient past. He can be connected with the Oak King and the Holly King, who each hold sway over the light and dark half of the year. He is depicted adorned with acorns and hawthorn leaves, symbols of fertility.
Artwork by: Emily Balivet
As we raise our vibrations here on earth and move into the Golden Age, the Age of Aquarius, the energies are very much focused now on the union and balance of the Divine Feminine and Sacred Masculine. For too long the patriarchal dark energies (which are not masculine, but very much entrenched in power and domination over people, but particularly women and minorities) have had control, and so to balance this, the Goddess energy has had to come into play – and we still have much to do – but we need to honour the Sacred Masculine as well as the Goddess, for one cannot exist without the other – we need balance, and so you may feel drawn to honour the Green Man, as well as the Goddess, personified at Beltane as the May Queen, which would be perfect at this time. Focusing on this Sacred Union – for one cannot exist without the other – the perfect balance of masculine and feminine. And when I talk about this, I am not labelling “Men” and “Women” – there is gender fluidity in all of nature, what I am alluding to is energy, the Yin and Yang, two parts coming together to form balance.
Green Man Ritual
Create an outside altar if you don’t already have one, to honour the Green Man, the Elementals and land spirits. The Green Man image is found easily all over the place now, and so is easy to incorporate into an outside altar space. Just having a garden plaque to honour his energy is enough to acknowledge this most ancient and powerful being. I went out into my garden to photograph my Green Man plaques, not realising how many I had! He is another one of our archetypes that has entrenched himself into our collective psyche without us barely noticing anymore. Maybe if we start paying attention, we can shift the balance.
Beltane Rituals & Ideas for Your Altar
Beltane is a time of new life, nature is blooming and is at her most spectacular, so bring some of the flowers that are in the garden inside. Create a Beltane altar, with flowers, and colours that represent the season, vibrant greens, yellows, and orange, use crystals and images that represent fun, love, whatever you feel you want to place there that represents the joy, passion and abundance of the season, maybe visual representations of the May Queen Goddess, or The Green Man. Light a candle to represent the fire that transforms, that clears away the old to bring in the new, think about the things you wish to manifest into your life, to grow and nurture over the coming summer months. Write a list of all the things that no longer serve you, that you wish to leave behind you, and burn them (safely in a fire proof dish), returning the ashes into Mother Earth to be absorbed and transformed. Have a dance to celebrate, to ground, bang a drum and make music to drive out the last of the darkness, to send a blessing to Mother Earth, The Green Man and all living things! Be kind to one another, and be kind to this beautiful Earth home..plant a garden, grow food, grow grow grow!!!
Light a fire! – get the fire pit out and sit around the fire with friends and family! What better way to honour the vital, passionate loving energies of the season than with our loved ones! allow the Goddess and the Green Man to hold those energies and connect with one another and the land.
There’s no getting away from it, Beltane is about fertility, passion and sex! If you are at home with a partner, take an intimate bath, light candles and fill it with flower petals, give each other a massage – take time to appreciate each other, the simple pleasures of being together and connect with the energies of the Goddess and The Green Man. If you are on your own, you can still honour your body, have a beautiful sensual bath, spend time massaging your favourite body cream on, have a pampering session and give thanks that you are well, vibrant and healthy, a perfect living embodiment of the Goddess or the God. (see the solitary Goddess ritual above) …Summer is here!!!!!