April 30 – May 1 marks Beltane on our Wheel of the Year. Beltane honors Life. It represents the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Magick surrounds us. Life and love are bountiful. Earth energies are at their highest. All of life is bursting and blooming with fertility and your intentions potential becomes conception.
On May Eve the sexuality of life and the earth is at its strongest. 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 (Whoo Hoo!) 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 joyfully been re-enacted by humans throughout the centuries.
For this is the night of the Greenwood Marriage. It is about sexuality and sensuality, passion, desire, vitality, light, and love. And about, of course, conception.
This is the absolute perfect moment in the Wheel of the Year to bring ideas, hopes, and dreams into action.
Traditions of Beltane
Beltane is a Fire Festival. The word ‘Beltane’ originates from the Celtic God ‘Bel’, meaning ‘the bright one’ and the Gaelic word ‘teine’ meaning fire. Together they make ‘Bright Fire’, or ‘Goodly Fire’ and traditionally bonfires were lit to honor the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the Sun’s light to nurture the emerging future harvest and protect the community. Bel had to be won over through human effort. Traditionally all fires in the community were put out and a special fire was kindled for Beltane. “This was the Tein-eigen, the need of fire. People jumped the fire to purify, cleanse and to bring fertility. Couples jumped the fire together to pledge themselves to each other. Cattle and other animals were driven through the smoke as protection from disease and to bring fertility. At the end of the evening, the villagers would take some of the Teineigen to start their fires anew.” (From Sacred Celebrations by Glennie Kindred) Green Man – Beltane
As Beltane is the Great Wedding of the Goddess and the God, it is a popular time for pagan weddings or Handfastings, a traditional betrothal for ‘a year and a day’ after which the couple would either choose to stay together or part without malice. Handfasting ceremonies are often special and unique to the couple, however, they usually include common elements, most importantly the exchange of vows and rings (or a token of their choice). The act of handfasting always involves tying the hands Handfasting(‘tying the knot’) of the two people involved, in a figure of eight, at some point in the ceremony and later unbinding. This is done with a red cord or ribbon. Tying the hands together symbolizes that the two people have come together and the untying means that they remain together of their own free will.
Another common element is ‘jumping the broomstick’ – this goes back to a time when two people who could not afford a church ceremony or want one, would be accepted in the community as a married couple if they literally jumped over a broom laid on the floor. The broom marked a ‘threshold’, moving from an old life to a new one.
Mead and cakes are often shared in communion as part of the ceremony.
Handfasting or not, both young and old went A-Maying… Couples spent the night in the woods and fields, made love and brought back armfuls of hawthorn blossoms to decorate their homes and barns. Hawthorn was never brought into the home except at Beltane – at other times it was considered unlucky. Young women gathered the dew to wash their faces, made Flower Crowns and May Baskets to give as gifts. Everyone was free to enact the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God, and there was an accepted tradition of Beltane babies arriving nine months lat