Beltane

Beltane

Beltane is the fire festival celebrated for centuries on May 1st. There are different opinions as to the origin of the name. One is that Beltane means “fire of Bel”. Belenus is one of the Celtic Sun Gods and his name means “The Shining One”. In Ireland, he is known as Bile or Beli, the “Father of Gods and Men”. He is a fire deity and associated with cattle. Around May 1st, cattle are moved from being indoors during the winter to the high pastures for the summer. Another, more current meaning is “bright fire”. Whatever the origin of the name, the festivities are dedicated to rites for fertility; bonfires, Maypoles, dancing, merry making and sexual energy.

The Celts gave offerings to the Gods/Goddesses to ask for fertility for their crops, animals and themselves; an abundant harvest and new life. The celebrations usually began the night before with the lighting of the bale fires. On May Eve, the God of the Forest or Hunt and the Goddess of Fertility and Earth joined together in sacred sex. A young maiden and man were chosen from the village and anointed as personifications of the God and Goddess to perform the sacred act. In imitation of this Great Rite, many couples wandered away into the forest or other secluded spots for a time of sexual passion and unbridled sex.

In parts of Wales and England, women trying to conceive, go out on May Eve… the last night of April…and find a “birthing stone”, which is a large rock formation with a hole in the center. According to legend, if she walks through the hole she will conceive a child that night. If there is no large rock like that nearby, a small stone with a hole in the center would do. A branch of oak or other wood was driven through the hole and placed under the bed for fertility. Babies conceived at Beltane were considered a gift from the gods. They were sometimes referred to as “merry-begots”, because the mothers were impregnated during Beltane’s merrymaking.

Young couples who wished to be “exclusive”, but not “married” could join together in handfasting. They would “tie the knot” using a ribbon woven around their joint hands as they pledged themselves to each other for a year and a day. If the romance didn’t survive, they were free to love someone else once the 366 days had passed.

The bale fire is more than a big pile of logs and some flame. It was a place where the entire community gathered. A place of music, magic and dancing and lovemaking. It was also used as a blessing for the cattle. In Scotland, two fires were lit. Cattle were driven between the fires to bring good fortune to the herders and farmers. After the animals had been kept in close confinement over winter, it was also a chance to drive out the lice and parasites that had flourished.

The fire was often used as a signal beacon. According to legend, each year at Beltane, the tribal leaders would send a representative to the hill of Uisneach, where a great bonfire was lit. These representatives would each light a torch, and carry it back to their home villages. Once the fire reached the village, everyone would light a torch to take into their houses and use to light their hearths. This way, the fire of Ireland was spread from one central source throughout the entire country.

The Maypole is a giant symbol of the sexuality of the celebration. The pole is usually 12 to 15 feet in height. Before being erected, long strands of ribbon in many of the bright colours of spring and summer were attached to the top of the pole. It was then raised in the centre of the village green, or any field where a large crowd could gather. Men and women would take hold of one of the ribbons, men facing one way and women the other. Holding the ribbons, they danced around the pole enveloping it in a sheath of colour.

In Wicca, in a rite that was started on the Isle of Man, the battle for supremacy between the supporters of the May Queen and the Winter King commences. If the May Queen is captured, she has to be ransomed before her supporters can get her back. On Calton Hill, when the May Queen and the Winter King arrive at the Acropolis surrounded by handmaidens (guardians of the May Queen, who can be portrayed by either sex), and drummers they are led around and down the hill. As they travel, they are interrupted by the red men – spirits of chaos and disorder – who try to distract the May Queen. Halfway down the hill, the Winter King is killed and reborn as the Green Man, and the May Queen lights the bonfire, symbolizing the light and heat of summer. Around the stage, roaming performers with torches entertain the public, and fire sculptures light up the sky.

Another rite still followed today is to go out at sunrise on Beltane and gather morning dew using a bowl or jar. Wash your face in the dew, and you’re guaranteed a perfect complexion. The dew can also be used in ritual as consecrated water, particularly those related to the moon or the goddess Diana or her counterpart, Artemis.

Some of the deities that are included in Spring celebration are:

The Green Man (Celtic): He is also known as The God of the Forest or Hunt and is considered the god of vegetation and plant life. He symbolizes the life that is found in the natural plant world, and in the earth itself. He is typically portrayed as a human face surrounded by dense foliage. In some parts of England, a Green Man is carried through town in a wicker cage as the townsfolk welcome the beginning of summer.

Artemis (Greek): The moon goddess Artemis was associated with the hunt, and was seen as a goddess of forests and hillsides. This pastoral connection made her a part of spring celebrations in later periods.

Bes (Egyptian): Worshipped in later dynasties, Bes was a household protection god, and watched over mothers and young children. He and his wife, Beset, were paired up in rituals to cure problems with infertility.

Bacchus (Roman): Considered the equivalent of Greek god Dionysus, Bacchus was the party god — grapes, wine, and general debauchery were his domain. In March each year, Roman women could attend secret ceremonies called the bacchanalia, and he is associated with sexual free-for-alls and fertility.

Flora (Roman): This goddess of spring and flowers had her own festival, Floralia which was celebrated every year between April 28 to May 3. Romans dressed in bright robes and floral wreaths, and attended theater performances and outdoor shows. Offerings of milk and honey were made to the goddess.

Hera (Greek): This goddess of marriage was the equivalent of the Roman Juno, and took it upon herself to bestow good tidings to new brides. A maiden about to marry could make offerings to Hera, in the hopes that she would bless the marriage with fertility. In her earliest forms, she appears to have been a nature goddess, who presides over wildlife and nurses the young animals which she holds in her arms.

Kokopelli (Hopi): This flute-playing, dancing spring god carries unborn children upon his own back, and then passes them out to fertile women. In the Hopi culture, he is part of rites that relate to marriage and childbearing, as well as the reproductive abilities of animals. Often portrayed with rams and stags, symbolic of his fertility, Kokopelli occasionally is seen with his consort, Kokopelmana.

Pan (Greek): This agricultural god watched over shepherds and their flocks. He was a rustic sort of god, spending lots of time roaming the woods and pastures, hunting and playing music on his flute. Pan is typically portrayed as having the hindquarters and horns of a goat, similar to a faun. Because of his connection to fields and the forest, he is often honored as a spring fertility god.

Wherever you are in the northern hemisphere, I hope you enjoy a beautiful spring and summer. With the seeds you are sowing in your life right now, I wish you much joy and abundance when it is time to reap.

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