Beltane : First Day of Summer : Growth
Beltane, the festival of love and fertility that marks the end of spring and the start of the heat and energy of summer, falls in early November in the southern hemisphere, and early May in the northern hemisphere. It’s the third fertility festival of the year, and celebrates the fact that the days are continuing to lengthen and the temperature is increasing.
Mythologically, this was when the god and the goddess were balanced in power and age, when they were lovers and equals. It was a time of sexual union – in some magical traditions it was the day the goddess conceived; in others it was when she married the god.
Astronomically, this cross-quarter day occurs midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In the southern hemisphere, the sun is halfway between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn on its journey towards the southernmost latitudes, and rises in the same position as it does three months later at Lughnasadh, when it’s heading back north to the Equator.
Beltane, also known as Bealtaine (bright fire), May Day, Walpurgis Night, the Festival of Flowers and Floralia, marks the first day of summer. The evidence of new life is everywhere, in abundant blossoms, the hatching of birds, and bees pollinating flowers. The seeds planted in spring have germinated and sprouted, and the land is warm, buzzing and green. Brightly coloured flowers were traditionally brought inside to symbolise fresh beginnings and the power of nature, and pretty white blossoms were gathered from the sacred hawthorn tree, which was associated with Beltane and used for love spells, in marriage rituals, to make wands, as well as for protection and healing. Women would bathe their faces in the dew gathered from their garden on Beltane morning to harness the energy of youth.
At the four cross-quarter days the veil between the worlds is considered to be thinner, and at this one people connected with the energy of the fae, who were believed to emerge into the human world on this night to dance, find a lover, impart their wisdom and teach the odd lesson before withdrawing back into the mists.
Beltane was the major fertility festival of the Celtic year, and lovers would leap over bonfires hand in hand to renew their vows of love, then come together in sacred union in the fields to bless the crops with fertility. Maypole dancing, representing the union of the god (the pole) and the goddess (the ribbons), was performed to join the two forces of masculine and feminine, and May Day was, and still is, one of the most popular days for marriages in the northern hemisphere.
But in the southern hemisphere the Beltane festivities fall in early November, which coincides with Samhain/Halloween. While some pagans don witch, vampire or ghost costumes for trick or treat parties at this time, they’re just as likely to dress as faeries and wood nymphs to represent the gentle, bright and light fae energy and the vitality and heat of the season, and perform rituals to boost love and fertility.
The festival of Beltane, no matter when it is celebrated, is a time of sunshine and abundant growth, of lovers and spells to attract love, and of celebrating the fertility of life, not just physically, but also of our dreams and ambitions and creativity.
Ways to celebrate
Beltane is a celebration of summer and of life, fertility and joy. In Ancient Rome it was called the Floralia, and was a flower festival in honour of Flora, their goddess of plants and nature. It was believed that she caused the trees, flowers and crops to grow, and also brought to fruition the blossoming of the human heart.
Hers was a sensuous festival, with rituals, games, erotic dancing, theatre performances, flower-clad altars and people swathed in colourful robes and ribbons. Golden torches lit up the night so the revelry could continue until dawn, and people abandoned themselves joyously to the rites. Legend recalls that Flora had a magic flower that would make any woman who touched it fall pregnant, which ties in with the energies of the Celtic festival, which was all about the fertility of the earth, the animals and humanity.
As the land thrummed and surged with energy and growth, and flowers bloomed and sap rose within the trees, people also felt the wildness of nature. The Green Man, the spirit of nature, was honoured at this time, along with Cernunnos, the horned god and deity of Beltane and the summer. Many children were conceived at this time, and the Great Rite, also called the Sacred Marriage, was performed, which symbolised the joining of god and goddess. Re-enacting this ceremony, which people believed created the universe, reassured them that life would go on. It also united the two forces of masculine and feminine and the elements of yin and yang that were so central to nature-based religions.
The Great Rite was consummated literally, with a priestess playing the goddess and representing mother earth, and a priest embodying the god. At other times it was the king, who had to wed the land to retain his royal power, who channelled the god and joined with the goddess. This rite ensured the fertility of the land, and is still performed today in many magical traditions, although for most it is done symbolically, not literally, with a ritual involving a chalice and athame.
Huge bonfires were lit on Beltane Eve, which represented fertility, purification and healing, and burned through the night. Cattle were driven between them to be cleansed on their way out to the summer fields, and the fires were also the focus of Beltane celebrations, with dancing and revelry continuing around them all night. Couples leaped over them together as a vow of commitment, to bring luck to their union and to publicly pledge their love to each other, and the ceremony represented a contract of marriage for a year and a day.
This energy makes it a wonderful time to repledge your love to your partner. You don’t have to build a bonfire and leap over it, although you can! Simply lighting a red or gold candle as you stare into each other’s eyes and speak your love and commitment is enough to invoke the power and passion of the element of fire. If you’re single, make a commitment of some kind to yourself, nurture a friendship or sing your intention and your wanting of a romantic partner to the universe.
Love spells are also performed at this time, to take advantage of the universal energies swirling around. It can be as simple as lighting a pink candle and making a wish, holding a rose quartz as you list the qualities you long for in a partner or soaking in a bath filled with pink rose petals, or it can be as involved as you want to make it, with moon phases and invocations and a lengthy list of ingredients. Just don’t cast it on anyone specific, as this contradicts the witchy principle of never interfering with someone’s free will – and you could end up binding a psycho to you and having trouble getting free!
Instead add a little magic to your life by empowering yourself, increasing your confidence and your attitude. If you want to draw a partner to you, don’t go for a specific person, just focus on manifesting someone with the qualities you desire, as there may be someone you don’t know yet who is perfectly suited. This is why spells often end with: “This or something better…” because you don’t want to limit yourself only to the possibilities you can imagine. So, put your desire out to the universe, and trust that the perfect person will respond.
Beltane is also considered the festival of the faeries, and during the long, bright evenings of early summer you can almost see them dancing in your garden, flitting from vivid coloured flower to gently waving leaf. You can connect to the energy of the day by opening up to the faery realm. Paint, draw, write about or hang pictures of these magical winged beings, or perform a divination reading with a faery oracle deck, drawing on their wisdom to gain insight into your future and any issues you’re facing. Dress up in long, swirling clothes with flowers in your hair and dance barefoot on the grass, soaking up the vibration of the earth and of this powerful, potent time. The magic and beauty of the fae’s archetypal energy stirs something deep within and touches the heart, bringing joy and inspiration, while their vibration can alter ours and bring lightness to the soul.
In your journal
Beltane is all about fertility, both literally and metaphorically. Symbolically this day marks the igniting of the fires of creativity and passion, and the fertility of your dreams being made manifest. Embrace this energy and do all that you can to nurture and further your goals, because any form of action will be supported at this time. Check in on the projects you started at the spring equinox, and write about their progress and the ways in which they’ve sprouted into reality. If you need to fine tune anything, learn a new skill or simply let go of an aspect so it can germinate further on its own, now is a good time.
At Beltane, when the god and the goddess are equals, neither mother and child nor maiden and wise old sage, aim to rebalance the masculine and feminine energies within yourself. Make sure you give equal power to your gentle, intuitive, feminine side as you do to your more outgoing, active, masculine side. This has nothing to do with gender, but simply the myriad aspects of your deeper self. Most people overlook, bury or neglect one side of themselves at times, but both are crucial to feeling loved, loveable and loving.
This is a festival of passion – passion for life, for love, for your dreams – so revel in whatever you feel most passionate about. Celebrate the fertility of life by conceiving new ideas, or do some word association in your journal until you stumble upon a plan or a goal that fills you with joy. Begin a new project, sign up for a course or start a new hobby, knowing that the universe is bursting with raw energy and power that you can tap in to simply by breathing it in.
It’s also a day of love, so it’s a good time to focus on self-love. Start writing a list of all the qualities and attributes you love about yourself, and all the reasons you are so loveable and so worthy of love. If it gets hard, take a deep breath and keep going, as it means this is an important exercise for you. (I still find this one hard, and have lots of pauses and struggles and fears and tears when I do it, but it’s worth persevering with.) Sit within a sacred space and light a white candle for innocent love, a pink candle for pure love and a red candle for passionate love. Focusing on each in turn, write something positive about yourself that fits with that energy. Let the fire of the flame take you deeper inside yourself so you can connect to your essence and see yourself as you truly are, with all your kindness, your compassion, your strength, your beauty, your caring and your light brought to the surface.
The Beltane fires aren’t only for couples – they can be jumped over alone or with friends as part of a personal ritual of purification and preparation, leaping out of your past, burning away the relationship issues that have kept your heart closed, and towards a future where love is possible. You can do this symbolically, stepping over a candle flame rather than a fire, as you let go of all the old, false thoughts you have held on to and the mistaken beliefs that have made you think you are unworthy or unready for love. Or simply visualise yourself leaping into a future free of doubt. Focus on yourself as a being of love, and manifest this into reality by holding on to this deeper truth and reminding yourself often.
And here is a sweet Beltane recipe…