- We learn something every day, and lots of times it’s that what we learned the day before was wrong. Bill Vaughan
Attend the Beltane festival
Beltane was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Beltane (~1 May) and Lughnasadh (~1 August). Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season, when livestock were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were held at that time to protect them from harm, both natural and supernatural, and this mainly involved the "symbolic use of fire". There were also rituals to protect crops, dairy products and people, and to encourage growth. The aos sí (often referred to as spirits or fairies) were thought to be especially active at Beltane (as at Samhain) and the goal of many Beltane rituals was to appease them. Most scholars see the aos sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits. Beltaine was a "spring time festival of optimism" during which "fertility ritual again was important, perhaps connecting with the waxing power of the sun". The holiday, better known as May Day, is one of eight annual “sabbats” or festivals on the pagan calendar. For those unfamiliar with Beltane, here are important facts about the pagan festival’s history and traditions.
Here are important facts about the pagan festival’s history and traditions.
Beltane comes from the Celtic word meaning “fires of Bel.” It’s a reference to the Celtic sun deity, Belenus. Beltane, also spelled Beltine or Beltaine, gets its name as well from the Gaelic word "teine," meaning fire. The ancient Celts marked the coming summer with feasts and rituals that honored fertility and the beginning of open pasturing, such as driving cattle between two bonfires — a custom that was believed to magically shield the animals from disease before they were led into summer pastures. This particular ritual was practiced in Ireland until the 19th century.
The holiday is still prominently celebrated in Ireland and Scotland. Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Festival on the night of April 30 is one of the world’s most famous Beltane celebrations and draws people from around the world for festivities which, while not explicitly religious, are meant to evoke the ancient traditions of Scotland.
Beltane is observed at different times in different places. Modern pagans, aka neopagans, usually celebrate on April 30 to May 1 in the Northern Hemisphere and on Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 in the Southern Hemisphere, beginning and ending at sunset.
Fire is one of the most significant motifs in Beltane. The celebration was traditionally associated with purification and revitalization, so rituals have historically incorporated bonfires. People typically jumped over the blaze at Beltane festivals in the belief that it would bring fertility and good fortune. Modern pagans continue this tradition of building bonfires today.
Modern-day rituals typically involve dancing around a maypole. The ceremonial folk dance performed around a pole hung with ribbons is not exclusive to Beltane. It’s a common practice in many folk traditions across Europe on May 1. Some pagans use the holiday as an opportunity for small, thoughtful gestures toward those in need of healing or care, like preparing a basket of fresh flowers for elderly or shut-in neighbors.
Beltane is also a time for planting and cultivating. Certain trees have distinct associations with the pagan festival, including ash, oak and hawthorn.