This Celtic festival of summer is also called Bel-fire, the festival of Belenus, Celtic god of light.
Time: Sunset 30 April-sunset 2 May (31 October-2 November in the southern hemisphere)
Focus: The fertility of the Earth, creatures, crops, people and animals; the instinctive energies that can
be manifest as passion whether in sexual terms or for any cause; the interconnectedness of all existence
and the mutual dependency of one life form on another.
Beltain, which has survived as our modern May Day festival, marked the beginning of the Celtic
summer when cattle were released from barns and driven between twin fires to cleanse them and to
invoke fertility as they were released into the fields.
Sundown on May Eve heralded the signal for Druids to kindle the great Beltain fires from nine
different kinds of wood by turning an oaken spindle in an oaken sockets. This was carried out on top of
the nearest beacon hill, for example Tara Hill, County Meath, in Ireland, home of the Tuatha de
Danaan, the hero gods of old Ireland. Every village would have its Beltain fire, which was attributed
with both fertility and healing powers.
Winter was finally dead at midnight on May Eve, when Cailleac Bhuer, the old hag of winter, cast her
staff under a holly bush and was turned to stone. She would be restored six months later on
Young men and girls made love in the woods and fields on May Eve to bring fertility to the land as
well as themselves; they gathered flowers and blossoms from the magical hawthorn tree to decorate
houses and to make into may baskets which were left as gifts on doorsteps. This custom lasted well
into Victorian times and is recalled in Rudyard Kilping’s poem Oak, Ash and Thorn, which begins:
Do not tell the priest our plight,
For he would think it a sin,
For we have been in the woods all night,
Bringing summer in.
This echoes the woodland wedding of the Goddess, the first May Queen, whose name came from
Maia, the Greek goddess of flowers, whose festival occurred at this time and who also gave her name
to the month of May. She married Jack o’ Green, the god of vegetation -another form of the Green Man
– and the deity of the green crops as yet unripened. He became Robin Hood to her Maid Marian. Once
again, there is also a Christian connection here: the name Marian is a form of the name Mary, and St
Bridget was called Mary of the Gaels.
The maypole, which we still recognise today, once symbolised the ancient cosmic tree and was the
focus of fertility dances whose origins are unknown. Red, blue, green, yellow and white ribbons,
representing the union of Earth and Sky, winter and summer, Water and Fire, were entwined and the
spiralling dance stirred up the life force and fertility of the Earth. The maypole formed a central phallic
symbol that could be 40 foot high and echoed the rising potency of the Sun, or Corn, God and the
growing corn. Fires were lit and it was believed that the height the young men could leap over the fires
would indicate the height the corn would grow and, since for safety reasons this deed was performed
without clothes, the festival was one of joyous, unbridled sexuality.
In modern times, this festival has a global significance and survival issues are to the fore. These may
concern endangered species or the fight for the rights of indigenous peoples, for freedom of speech,
action and belief everywhere. Also involved are the struggle to discover more natural forms of
medicine and Earth-friendly products with fewer side effects, and all matters of the countryside.
On a personal level, Beltane is a festival potent for fertility magick of all kinds, whether to conceive a
child or aid financial or business ventures to bear fruit. It is good for an improvement in health and an
increase in energy as the Sun’s light and warmth also gain intensity, and for enthusiasm and creative
ventures of all kinds. It will assist the consummation of love matches, travel and job moves and all
matters concerning young adults, especially those making commitments.
Candle colours: Dark green, silver and red
Symbols: Fresh greenery, especially hawthorn; any flowers that are native to your region, placed in
baskets; dew gathered on May morning (girls should bathe their faces in it), coloured ribbons, twigs
from the three trees sacred to the festival (oak, ash and thorn) or any other woods from your own area
Crystals: Clear crystal quartz, golden tiger’s eye, rutilated quartz and topaz
Flowers, herbs, oils and incenses: Almond, angelica, ash, cowslip, frankincense, hawthorn, lilac,
marigold and roses for love.
A Beltain Ritual For Fertility And Earth Energies
Such a ritual can be used to encourage creativity and growth of all kinds. It may be performed either
alone or in a group, with everyone present joining in the chants.
Use as many kinds of wood as possible in the kindling for your fire. Traditionally the magical trees
were oak, ash, thorn, willow, birch, rowan, alder, holly and yew, but you can use wood indigenous to
your region. An arboretum will offer a variety of fallen twigs.
* Light a small fire. (This may be either a small bonfire out of doors, or a fire in a hearth indoors.
Barbecue pits are easily adapted.) If you are working in a group, each person can ignite the fire at a
different place. If you cannot light a fire, choose a really large, fat, dark green candle as your focus.
Place it on a wide, deep fireproof tray, secured in sand.
* If you are in a group, stand in a circle around it, with each person holding a taper. The first person
lights their taper, then the flame is passed from one taper to the next until the person holding the final
taper lights the central candle. Each person can say the chant, with one voice after another joining in.
* As you build and light your fire or candle, say:
fire of Bel, fire of the summer Sun and the ascending light, flame in my heart, my soul, my loins, that
my life and light maybe kindled and flare upwards to greet the summer Sun.
* Take a twig, if possible oak, ash or thorn, and circle the fire or candle deosil, saying:
fires of healing, fertile fires, bring what is needed, not desired. Heal the planet, bless the corn. Lord of
Light, we greet your dawn.
* Carefully light the twig and allow it to smoulder and then hold it momentarily upwards, saying:
fire of Bel, join with my fire and with all fires in all places on this day at this hour, rise in a web of
glorious flame to empower the Sun, to be empowered and to flame within my heart forever.
* Cast the twig into the flames, then leap high in the air, crying: Ascend and bring fertility, power and
I do not suggest you try to emulate our ancestors and leap across the flames, as presumably the
casualty rate was horrendously high.
* If you are using a candle, each person can in turn hold the end of the twig in the flame until it
smoulders, then rest it on the tray and allow it to burn slowly down or go out.
* End the ritual by taking scarlet ribbons and spiraling round the fire or candle, waving them like
flames, as you chant. Finally throw them into the air, away from the flame.
* Allow the fire or candle to burn down. Afterwards, make up small posies of flowers to leave on the
doorsteps of people who you know would appreciate them – perhaps the ill or lonely.
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