“As full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer.”
― William Shakespeare
Beltane is one of the earliest celebrations that appeared in Irish mythology. This is the start of summer and a time for rituals of blessing and protection. Cattle came into the field and were walked through the smoke of sacred fires ensuring their health. Ashes gathered from the Beltane fire carried the magic of growth and safety.
Celebrants were quite active and enthusiastic. Some jumped a small fire for personal well-being. The gathering had lush foods and beverages, some of which acted as offerings. People adorned the May Day table with yellow flowers and ribbons. Some made a sojourn to Sacred Wells or gathered dew at dawn – a magical charm for beauty and youth. Similar customs appear throughout the European landscape.
Other Names for Beltane and May Day: Beltaine, La Bealltainn, La Buidhe Bealtaine, St. Walpurgis Night, Mid Summer
When is Beltane and May Day? 30 April – 1 May in the Northern Hemisphere and 31 October – 1 November in the Southern Hemisphere, beginning and ending at sunset
Note that Saint Walpurga’s Eve was considered the Witches Night, with Witches from far and near gathering in the German hills. So, Christians light their fires as a ward against evil and malevolent magic.
What is Beltane / May Day?
Throughout the Gaelic region, Beltane marks one of the four major seasonal festivals, the others being Imbolc, Samhain, and Lughnasadh. Livestock enjoyed wandering the pastures. Dairy products became abundant. Fairies are afoot, and Beltane rituals celebrated these playful entities along with the Pagan Gods focused on fertility, optimism and the power of the Sun for protection.
The way in which people celebrated this holiday of fertility and renewal varied from area to area. For example, in Wales the celebrated Calan Mai. The festivities begin the night before during which time one might encounter a spirit. This is also a time in which divination yields clearer answers. No matter where you look flowers adorned everything.
Since this the moment between Winter and Summer, there might be a ritual play between the two seasons (even as the Holly King and the Oak King). The person representing winter bore a blackthorn branch topped with wool symbolizing snow. Summer’s willow wand bore flowers. Eventually, the Summer King wins his crown and declares a Queen. After that, the party ensued all night including servings of Elderberry wine and some rather bawdy dancing and singing.
Three central symbols of Beltane are the bonfire, feasts, and flowers. It was not uncommon for everyone in a region to put out their hearth and any other light before the blessed bonfire took to flame. This fire had power, all the power of the sun. From the Isle of Mann to Callanish celebrants sought out the smoke and the remnants of the Balefire. Those remnants returned to the home, being spread around the boundary of the farm or the house itself. A bit would also go into the hearth before it was relit. All of these were a type of sympathetic magic for on-going safety, abundant fields and keeping away any `unwanted influences.
Moving on to the feast (what Pagan event is complete without one?). The star of this show is lamb. Other components include egg, buttery-rich loaves of bread, oatmeal dishes and of course wine. A little milk would be poured on the ground for a libation, again in petition for protection.
For decorations, they gathered marsh marigold, rowan blossoms, primrose, and gorse. Flower petals adorned windows, doors and even cows and important household equipment. Small rowans, hawthorn or sycamore trees also had blossoms along with ribbons and brightly colored shells. These are the summer equivalent of the Yule tree in festiveness. This custom probably has ancient ties to tree worship.
Taking a leap from the ancient forward, By the mid-1900 the Gaelic traditions had become spotty. Some still lit fires and decorated bushes continue until this day. Events past that date have more cultural overtones with one exception, Neo-Paganism.
Since the rise of Neo-Pagan traditions, everything old is new again. Many groups endeavor to recreate or minimally honor the ancient celebrations. Among them are Celtic Reconstructionists. This group researches historical materials, modifying them if necessary considering the realities of the modern world.
Wiccans also celebrate Beltane as part of their Wheel of the Year leading up to the Summer Solstice. The Wiccan customs seem influenced by Germanic ideas, focusing on the matter of fertility. Some may have a ritual play in which the Lord and Lady of May unite.
Beltane and May Day Symbolism, Evolution and Lore
If we look back at the ancient Romans, we find the Festival of Floralia, a Goddess of Flowers. This took place on April 27th. The prevalence of blossoms continues for May Day.
It was common for children to gather spring’s abundance into little baskets and leave them on doorsteps for unassuming homeowners. This was a bit of whimsy that brightened an already joyful day. This is a lovely activity for Wiccan and Pagan families to consider.
Maypoles are a common part of Beltane. The pole stands tall with ribbons. Men and women dance around it lifting and lowering their ribbons to make a weave of the Sacred Male and Female energies. Sometimes people without a current partner may walk off with whoever is next to them when the dance ends. What happens after that is up to nature.
For a time the celebration of Mid Summer was banned. In 1707 the Act of Union proclaimed that England, Scotland, Great Britain would not observe Beltane. The ban wouldn’t last forever, and historians suspect many people still observed Beltane in secret.
Some Scottish towns host a parade on Beltane. They rode throughout their borders with song and dance. A Beltane Queen is welcomed in song, sometimes of blessing. Some revelry in modern times has taken to a bit of mischief. Students gather at the Scottish North Sea late on April 30th then run into the water at sunrise, often naked.
Other Magical Beltane Traditions from Around the World
The Estonia Mayday is pretty much a celebration of spring. In France, after King Charles IX declared lily of the valley a lucky charm. Ladies then would receive Lily of the valley on May first and, in fact, this flower is sold tax-free for this celebration. Germans like to dance into may and leap the traditional fires, with May Day being a public holiday after 1933.
The Tuscany traditions are a little different. There is a magical ritual performed this day. People exchange gifts of wine, sweets, and eggs. A group called the maggerini sing songs of good luck to each house they visit, many also of love and romance. Alder and violet appear regularly in these verses being symbols of not only spring but fertility.
The Greeks have a bit of a leg-up on Beltane in that the entire month of May is named after the ancient Greek Goddess Maia, the daughter of Atlas and the mother to Hermes. She is seen as a nurturing entity who presides overgrowth. Theatrical rituals include these figures as well as Dionysus (the life of every party). When the ritual ended, children would go up to the person representing any of these Divine Beings crowning them with a floral wreath. Floral wreaths serve another purpose in Greece. It was common to make them and place them on the doorway of the home, staying there until the night of the first. Then the wreath is burned in sacred fires as in times before.
Romanians had a bit of humor in the naming of this date. It was called Drunkards’ Day because of the abundant wine flowing. Parties with fiddlers, roasts, mutton cheese, and mugwort flavored alcohol were common. Putting a mugwort flower in your cap assures good luck. Romanians made wreaths too, but they stayed in place until the wheat harvest. Then the adornment went into the hearth fire for making bread.
Serbians kept May Day simple. They left out on the night before and built a campfire. There they would barbecue their food, sleeping there until morning. Many towns have specific spots to which sojourners head. Meanwhile, in Spain, they walked around decorated sculptures to the beat of sticks. Now people have competitive sculpting challenges (with song).
Beltane / May Day Superstitions
Due to the nature of humans, Beltane like many other holidays has numerous superstitions associated with it including:
- Couples in the Czech Republic couples kiss under a blooming tree for enduring love.
- Garlands of Marsh Marigold placed on your doorposts keep away fairies. You can also scatter yellow flower petals outside your home for similar results.
- Beware of Hares seen on May morning, they may be Witches in disguise.
- If your hearth fire goes out on Mayday it’s an omen of misfortune.
- One should not give away milk, salt or fire on Mayday as it leads to poverty. Should someone in need ask for milk or salt, they must consume it in the house with a pinch of salt as a protective amulet.
- Go to a Holy Well on May Day and walk around it clockwise while speaking your wish or prayer. Draw some water for the well to bless your animals. Then leave a personal possession in a nearby tree in thanks.
- Decorating your cow with a yellow flower on May Day protects it from thievery. However, watch out for your neighbor who may try to milk your cow first thing in the morning, so their own herd produces profusely.
Beltane Astrology – Northern Hemisphere
Gemini the Twins are high in the sky celebrating May Day. Gemini has a great sense of humor and love of fun, which suits Beltane to a T. Gemini brings a lot of other positive energy to Midsummer as well. The twins encourage us to think more globally and remain ready to adjust to changes. Versatility is a powerful thing. Meet transitions with enthusiasm and success finds you. Along the way, you inspire other people too.
Gemini also brings the gift of “soft gab” to the forefront, which is not surprising in a sign ruled by Mercury. The Twins may not speak loudly, but they do speak A LOT. This communication is concise and clear and well worth pondering. These words are nestled with charm and obvious intelligence, so being engaged isn’t hard.
Some of the negative energies Gemini might bring into your holiday celebrations is superficiality – in yourself, in someone else – but Beltane has our Heart Chakra wide open, so this could really hurt someone. Also whatever you have promised to handle for your May Day gathering – stick to it like glue. Now is not the time to give into Gemini inconsistency and aimlessness.
There is no question that the Gemini imprint brings a lot of energy into the festivities. Just don’t go overboard. Pace yourself, there’s a long day of merriment ahead.
Beltane Astrology – Southern Hemisphere
In the Southern Hemisphere Beltane belongs to Scorpio. There is nobility in this sign but tempered with compassion. Most Scorpions can blend in or bounce out on a whim as the situation requires.
Initially, you might feel the Scorpio energy as passive. That’s not really the case. Secretive is more like it. Scorpio brings balance into May Day’s social vivaciousness by reining things in a bit. This sign also recognizes that the things we say in sacred space as private should remain there, no matter how festive the occasion.
Scorpio is ruled by Pluto which is interesting in terms of Midsummer. Beltane brings out those subconscious dreams and fantasies that might otherwise remain hidden. This can be very intense, but also immensely revealing.
Scorpio also comes under the Element of Water, which is our emotional nature. Some people may find themselves overwhelmed by feelings during Beltane. When this happens, it is perfectly ok to scuttle away for a while and recoup Don’t second-guess yourself as a lover or a person. Know your limit and stay within it.
Beltane and May Day Element
As you might expect Beltane is aligned with the Fire Element, a powerful force for the protective vibrations common to this season. Fire offers us not only safety but the enthusiasm that can be put toward positivity.
The Fire Element challenges us to hone our will and our spirit into the best it can be. It illuminates the truth behind those things that we might otherwise try to ignore. With this in mind, the Balefire might not be a bad way to burn away some of those things you no longer need too.
Ken, a Germanic Rune, symbolizes fire, fertility, and sexual prowess. You can draw this with your wand in the air, into the soil under your feet, etc. It definitely works cooperatively with Beltane.
As an interesting aside, people in the Far East saw Fire as very primal, and Beltane is perhaps the most primal of the Wiccan holidays. It touches our desires, instincts and ignites all our senses to the matter at hand.
Beltane and May Day Crystals, Minerals and Sacred Stones
The traditional colors for Beltane are Blue, Brown, Green, Pink, Red, White and Yellow. Let’s look at a variety of stones, some with those colors, for your use at Beltane.
- Amber: Amber is a Fire stone that looks like the shining sun. It brings safety, confidence, wisdom and joy.
- Agate (Moss): Moss Agate resonates with the Sacral Chakra, which is our pleasure center. It promotes fertility, releases doubts, offers romance while balancing all that with making good choices.
- Apatite (Green): Apatite is all about those moments when you want your true self shining brightly. It heals some emotional wounds that restrict you and promotes lively social engagements.
- Beryl: Beryl is a teaching stone that guides us in what we need to do and WHEN we need to do it. This is good on high-energy days like Beltane when you might simply leap before looking. Beryl also helps reawaken deep feelings toward your partner.
- Carnelian: You will probably grow tired of hearing the words sexuality, passion, lust and protection in this list of crystals, but those are the core of May Day. Carnelian adds peace of mind and happiness too.
- Emerald: Before you panic, you can find rough emeralds at reasonable prices. These are love and friendship stones along with a little romance for good measure.
- Garnet: Garnet seems to hum with Beltane goodness – all types of cheer, success, love, kinship, inspiration and of course fertility.
- Jasper (Red): Mid Summer Celebrations may prove difficult for those trying to overcome the wounds from abuse and violence. Jasper offers strength for that and helps keep you on the road toward healing.
- Malachite: With nice weather comes travel. If you are heading out for a ritual or just visiting friends, Malachite keeps that journey safe.
- Moonstone: You can couple Moonstone with that Malachite as you head out. Moonstone also opens your heart to love.
- Opal (Fire): Fire Opal promotes healthy relationships and sexual expressions.
- Sunstone: If you plan to work with Kundalini energy this holiday keep a Sunstone handy. It increases your arousal levels and sustains your natural rhythm.
- Tourmaline (Watermelon): This is a happy stone especially for Virgos and Geminis. Don’t carry resentment into your Beltane celebrations. Carry Tourmaline instead. It helps to put that drama aside.
Citrine: On holidays like Beltane you may need a personal pick-me-up. Carnelian boosts self-esteem, optimism and blows away those lingering dark clouds so you can enjoy yourself.
Beltane and May Day Herbs and Plants
So what wonders from Mother Earth’s storehouse can help us with this festive date?
- Almond: Almond has associations with Beltane as a “nut” (the Sacred Male) and one that promotes fruitfulness.
- Angelica: May Day has strong connections to protection and Angelica is by far the go-to herb for creating barriers against negative vibrations. You can use a bit in a pre-ritual bath, so it saturates your aura. This herb’s folk name is Garden Angel.
- Bluebell: Bluebell offers you luck and kinship when you are not interested in deeper relationships. It can also ease any sorrows that this date may carry.
- Daisy: Some Witches choose to have Blessingway rituals on Beltane as a child is the result of fruitfulness. Daisy represents innocence and gentle love. The flower specifically watches over young children.
- Dogwood: Ok, so Beltane festivities can get a little risque and erotic. It is the nature of the proverbial beast. But even those acts of love and passion are sacred and deserve respect. Dogwood maintains a confidence between two or more people who wish to maintain their privacy.
- Dragon’s Blood: Put a bit of Dragon’s blood under your mattress to prevent impotency.
- Elder: Known as the Old Lady of the Woods, Elder protects us. It also assists in keeping unhealthy temptations in control.
- Foxglove: Foxglove goes by the name of Fairy Thimble. It has ties to nature spirits that are prevalent on this holiday. Leave some on the altar as an appeasement to deter mischief.
- Hawthorn: Hawthorn is also sacred to the Fey and may appear as decorations on the Maypole. At a Handfasting a bit of hawthorn grants fertility to those wishing it.
- Ivy: Among the customary gifts to a newly wedded couple to safeguard their relationship.
- Marigold: If your current relationship has been a bit bumpy lately, carry Marigold with you into your Beltane celebration. It encourages accord.
- Nettle: Nettle has impressive warding capabilities. If you think there is any lingering negativity around the area you plan on using for your observance, sprinkle nettle all around.
- Yarrow: A frequent ingredient in love potions and marriage charms that keep love spicy.
Beltane and May Day Foods, Beverages, & Recipes
Now onto the feast! Before launching into specific edibles, let’s tackle the matter of Aphrodisiacs. There are several foods that people regard as a helpmate to passion, and there is even some science that backs up that idea. Some of the foods in this category include Asparagus, Avocado, Banana, Fig, Olive oil, Oysters, Peaches, Pineapple and Strawberries. The term Aphrodisiac is a derivative of the name Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love.
- Bannock: A traditional Scottish bread made with wheat flour at the hearth. It was simple, traveled well, and ties into the Beltane theme in its use of grain.
- Berries: These give us vigor. Strawberries, in particular, are sacred to Freyr, the Scandinavian fertility God. Dip them in chocolate and feed them to each other.
- Cherries: Cherries represent the feminine energies. People around the world use them for attracting suitable mates.
- Dairy: Dairy products are another Goddess component that represents new life.
- Grain Food (Bread, cereal, oatmeal): Grains nurture us and open our Heart Chakra.
- Honey: An ancient food sacred to Demeter in Greece and Ra in Egypt. Honey brings fulfilment and overall satisfaction.
- Hot flavors (Curry, hot sauce, garlic, etc.): Hot spices increase our metabolism and are said to induce lust or promote growth.
- Paprica (Smoked): Smoky Paprika tastes a bit of the Fire Element. It boosts energy and inspires love.
- Radish: Ramps up energy through the Sacral Chakra for sexual prowess.
- Rhubarb: Giving your lover Rhubarb places him or her under a captivating spell.
- Wine (May Bowl): Typically a mead infused with berries or sweet woodruff specifically for Beltane.
For more delicious holiday feast ideas visit our Pagan & Wiccan recipes section!
Creating a Wiccan / Pagan Beltane or May Day Ritual
The Festival of May Eve is an ancient rite, marking winter’s official ending. It is an unbridled celebration of fertility of the Earth and in humans. The center point of most May Day celebrations, the Maypole, represents the phallus; the ribbons are the feminine aspect and the weaving of fate. When you consider the life spans of our ancestors, it’s easy to see why this would be such an important celebration.
Beltane marks a point on the Wiccan Wheel when the boundary between this world and other dimensions is thin. Fairies take advantage of this condition by joining us in the May Day observances. The themes of this holiday are fertility, ecology, illumination, and passion.
Find a tape or CD of Celtic music to play in the background. According to Scottish tradition, this keeps all evil at bay. Decorate the sacred space with plentiful flowers, ribbons, and bright colors.
The night before, extinguish your hearth fire (or stove pilot light). Leave this out until during or after the ritual. If possible, gather rainwater or dew at this time. Use this in the altar bowl; it brings inner beauty.
For the ritual itself, you will need: a symbol of winter (perhaps a white sachet stuffed with winter spices); three ribbons bound together at one end (choose the color according to things you want to weave into your life); a slice of buttered oat bread; a brazier of fire; a covered fire source (or small lamp); and a long match.
Cover the altar with a green cloth to honor the Earth Mother. Sprinkle marigold flowers on top. Have ready a bowl filled with thyme, oak leaves, ash leaves, and straw pieces; with this, you will mark the circle. Secure the ribbons to the middle of the altar’s surface so you can braid them during the ritual. The effigy of winter goes on one side of the altar. On the other are a bowl of water and another receptacle into which you can pour it.
Magical Invocation for Beltane
This invocation begins in the south to honor Fire. As you begin, pick up the bowl of leaves from the altar and scatter them around. These herbs are sacred to the fairy-folk and will help draw their energy into the circle.
Children of the Fire, fairies all, hearken to this Beltane call! Bring sparks of passion, embers of energy, and flames of magic with your presence to this sacred space.
Children of the Water, fairies all, hearken to this Beltane call! Bring mists of insight, drops of fertility, and waves of magic with your presence to this sacred space.
Children of the Earth, fairies all, hearken to this Beltane call! Bring loam of growth, soils of enrichment, and roots of magic with your presence to this sacred space.
Children of the Air, fairies all, hearken to this Beltane call! Bring winds of freshness, breezes of beauty, and the breath of magic with your presence to this sacred space.
Devas of Spirit, fairies all, hearken to this Beltane call! Bring the glimmer of wishes, the light of hope, and the luminescence of magic with your presence to this sacred space.
Magical Beltane Meditation and Visualization
Take the piece of buttered oat bread. Eat one small piece and break the rest in half. Put one half in the brazier to burn, the other on the altar, saying: “I offer this staff of life to the devic spirits. Come to me and teach of your ways, of herblore, of divination, and of Nature’s lessons.” Sit down in the center of the sacred space.
Close your eyes and visualize a natural setting with which you’re familiar (and preferably one you can get to after the ritual). In this visualization, sit down beneath a tree with your back against it, feeling its strength and resilience. Relax in this mythical setting, letting all your tensions and worries pour into the tree, down through its roots, and out into the soil.
When you feel totally calm, look around the scenery in your mind. Be alert for flickers of light, the sound of tiny wings, or the tinkling of bells. These things signal the presence of a fairy.
If one seems present, mentally welcome it and ask it politely to show itself in your visualization. If it appears, pay close attention to everything the fairy does—it’s about to show you something. A flower fairy might reveal a blossom’s usefulness, a stone fairy might show you how to meditate with a specific crystal like Amethyst, and other fairies still might give you a peek into the future.
Linger in your visualization until the fairy disappears back into Nature’s greenery. Then open your eyes and make notes of your experience in your journal. Afterward, stand and begin the main portion of the ritual.
The Body of the Beltane Ritual
Stand before your altar. Pour the bowl of water slowly out into another container with your power hand, saying: “The snows have melted and given way to new life. I welcome the Water, the nourishing rains, and the Fire of the sun.” Put down the empty bowl and pick up winter’s effigy so it lays across both hands, palm up, saying, “Winter is over; its power is broken.” Put the effigy into the brazier and allow it to burn completely away.
Raise your hands with the ribbons in them up to the sky: “Hail, Fertile Fire; hail the Sun God! Burn away the old within me and banish the darkness with your illuminating rays. Look upon these ribbons three and bless them. As my hands braid them together, let the magic of _____, _____, and_____ [fill in three attributes you wish to integrate into your life] be woven into my heart.” Focus purposefully on the three things you named, repeating each aloud as you pick up the strand that represents it. Each crossing of the ribbons increases the magic and binds it securely there.
In the future, when you have great need of any of these attributes, lose one section of the braid to release the magic within.
When the ribbon is completed, tie it off, so it doesn’t unravel, then leave it on the altar. Next, begin dancing clockwise around the fire. There are no special movements to this waltz; simply dance the dance of life. Let it pour out from deep within you. Begin slowly, while chanting: “The Fire in me, the magic is free!” Let the dance grow naturally faster, then quiet again.
Move to the front of the altar. Place the covered fire source in the center of the floor with plenty of space on the side facing away from the altar. Light the long wooden match from the brazier, then leap over the fire source to bring fertility to any endeavor. Alternatively, shout out any bad habit you have as you cross; this purges those things that hold you back.
Once across the flame, go directly to your hearth with the match. While this is probably located outside your normal ritual space, know that the protective energy travels with you. Reignite the stove or fireplace, saying, “Fires of the Sun, to my home… to my heart.”
Return to the altar area for any other activities and your closing.
Other Magical Activities on Beltane
Make flower garlands, go on a picnic, and take long walks outdoors. If you have any rowan trees nearby, bring one of the branches into the sacred space and walk with it around the altar counterclockwise. Afterward, this branch, when kept in the home, gives off protective magic.
Traditionally, farmers often blessed their cattle on this day; you may wish to likewise bless your pets. Use a feather or fan to disperse the smoke from protective herbs such as oak, sage, or mint around their fur. Also, consider making them a special charm to wear on their collars—perhaps a small empowered silver bell.
Beltane is a good date to consider for Menopause, Menarche, Initiation, and Conception Rituals. Because it also represents the sacred marriage between the God and Goddess, weddings might be planned around this day.
Closing the Circle
As the ritual began, so it will end, with the final dismissal (other than Center) in the South:
Spirits of Water, of dew drops, ye Fey,
thank you for your presence today.
Return safely now to your home in the sea
but leave firm your lesson, the magic is me!
Spirits of Earth, of stones and the sand,
thank you for your helping hands.
Return safely now to your home in ground,
For ‘tis true in Nature, magic abounds.
Spirits of Air, of whimsy and play,
thank you for this Beltane day.
Return safely now to your home in the winds,
so the magic can begin.
Spirits of Flame, of passion and Fire,
thank you for empowering my heart’s desire.
Return safely now to your home in the hearth.
Merry meet, and merry part.
Devas of Spirit, of unity and power,
thank you for your presence this hour.
Return safely now to your home in the light
and guide my magic on its flight!
After the ritual, take the ashes from the burned effigy and your bread and mix them with the water. Distribute this evenly in any garden or planter for abundance. Also, pick up the half piece of bread left on the altar and take it to the natural location upon which you meditated, as a gift of thanks to the fairies. If you can’t do this, just leave it outside for the birds. As they eat, they will take your appreciation on their wings.
Postritual Foods & Personal Celebrations
Try red foods for love and the Fire element. The traditional May bowl consists of wine in which strawberries and woodruff float. In Celtic tradition, oatcakes were made with charms inside, each symbol foretelling the recipient’s future. Oatmeal cookies are a good alternative.
So, how might you personalize your Beltane celebrations? You can weave love spells or ones aimed at improving self-confidence. Make energized garlands for your home or altar. Collect morning May Dew to bring beauty and confidence to whatever magic you choose. Think back to your childhood or any stories that your family may have told you about this day. See how you might integrate them (and honor them) now.