Beltane gets its name from the Celtic God Belenus, a Sun God, and marks the half-way point between Ostara (the Spring equinox) and Litha (the Summer solstice). It is also one of two liminal times of the year when the veil between worlds is thinnest (the other being Samhain). Ritual fires play a big role in Beltane celebrations and would be lit on the evening on April 31 with feasts and festivities taking place on May 1. Beltane is the perfect time to conduct fertility, purification, protection and handfasting rituals.
On Beltane Eve, April 31, all fires would be extinguished, particularly in the hearth of the home. Two large bonfires would be lit and livestock would be herded between them for protection, purification and to ensure an abundance of offspring. Townsfolk would cleanse themselves in the smoke and leap over the flames for luck. Torches would be lit from the bonfires and the home fires would be relit, ensuring fortune and favour for the year to come. The ashes from Beltane bonfires were also considered sacred and magickal and were believed to have protective properties.
The next day, May 1, townsfolk would engage in games and festivities, including the infamous dance around the maypole. In this ceremony, a large pole would be placed in the ground and young men and women would dance around it holding ribbons attached at the top of the pole weaving in and out, wrapping the coloured ribbons around the pole.
Trees, which were always sacred to the Celts, would also be decorated with ribbons, shells, bows and other colourful ornaments. This was also a time to visit sacred sites, such as holy wells, springs and lakes. The first water drawn on Beltane, along with Beltane morning dew, was believed to increase youth and beauty.
Beltane marks the time of the wedding of the God and Goddess and would be a time for handfasting rituals. A handfasting ceremony would be conducted in which a couple’s hands would be tied together with ribbon in a figure of eight fashion, indicating their fidelity to each other.
Beltane and the Fae
Beltane is believed to be a liminal time in which the faery world is most accessible. This is a good time to attract faeries into your yard or garden by putting out milk, cream, butter, honey, fruit, barley, candy, ribbons and shiny buttons or bells. You might want to consider growing plants such as lavender, thyme, violets, mugwort, roses and vervain as these are favoured by the fae. You can also create a spot in your garden with a circle of rocks or by decorating a tree stump with shiny metal, glass or crystal objects. The best time to try to communicate with the fae is at dawn, dusk and midday, or noon. Avoid using anything made of iron, as faeries and other folk such as brownies, pixies and gnomes have a distinct dislike for iron.
How you can celebrate Beltane
Decorate a Beltane Altar. You can decorate your altar with hawthorn, rowan, birch, ash or oak twigs or leaves. Yellow flowers such as daffodils would be appropriate, along with symbols of the Horned God such as antlers, pine cones, acorns, seeds and nuts. A flower wreath could be used to represent the Goddess or you could try your hand at making a daisy chain. You can include a faery star to attract and honour the fae and adorn your altar with yellow, red and orange candles to represent the fires of Beltane. Herbs associated with Beltane include cinquefoil, vervain, clover, lilac, lily of the valley, marigolds, meadowsweet, rose, rowan, hawthorn, thyme, woodruff and yarrow.
You could also decorate a tree, make a flower wreath, plan out your garden and connect with the fae.
Beltane magick, spells and rituals
If you have the space, you can have a Beltane fire and keep the ashes for ritual use, such as in a black salt mixture, or you can sprinkle the ashes around your home for purification and protection. This is also a good time to conduct spells associated with unity, fidelity, fertility, protection, purification, luck, lust, abundance and youth.
A Prayer to Cernunnos
God of the Green, Lord of the forest, I offer you my sacrifice; I ask you for your blessing.
You are the man in the trees, the Green Man of the woods, who brings life to the dawning Spring.
You are the deer in the rut, mighty Horned One, who runs the Autumn woods, the hunter circling around the oak, the antlers of the wild stag, and the lifeblood that spills upon the ground each season.
God of the Green, word of the Forest, I offer you my sacrifice; I ask for your blessing.
½ C butter
¼ C honey
½ t vanilla
¼ t cinnamon
Leave butter out at room temperature overnight to soften. Beat with a hand mixer for 30 seconds or until smooth. Add the honey, vanilla and cinnamon and beat at high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Cover and keep refrigerated. The butter will be easy to spread even when cold.
1 C oats
1-1/2 C boiling water
1C brown sugar
1C white sugar
½ C butter or margarine
1t baking soda
½ t salt
1t baking powder
For the frosting
6T butter or margarine
1/4C evaporated milk
1C brown sugar
1/2C shredded coconut
1/2C chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add boiling water to oats and stir, set aside for 20 minutes. Beat together the brown and white sugar, butter or margarine and eggs. Add the oats and combine well. Stir in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on wire rack.
For frosting, in a saucepan over medium heat melt the butter or margarine along with the sugar and evaporated milk. Cook until it bubbles then remove from heat and stir in the coconut, walnuts or pecans and vanilla. Pour over cooled cake.