Out of all the Fire festivals and the Wheel of the Year, answering what Beltane is, isn’t simple.
Beltaine, like Lughnasa (Lughnasadh), doesn’t have many historical recordings as to what exactly happened during this time. But, what is known from archaeological finds, is that Beltane is based off the Irish festival Beltaine (modern Irish) / Bealtaine (old Irish) and it was predominantly a festival of Fire, animal sacrifice, purifying, blessing and protecting. Bealtaine celebrated the end of the dark half of the year and the coming of the light half of the year, as well as the start of the harvesting season. And that when you think of Fire festivals, this one is all about Fire. Even the name Bel Taine translates into ‘bright fire’!
First up, What is Beltane?
Beltane come about from the neopagan movement, and was kinda stolen from Scotland, the name anyway. It’s comprised of festivals from around the world of a similar theme of Love. You have the May Bush but more commonly, the Maypole. There’s weddings and Handfastings and a bonfire to jump over for courage, strength and to increase fertility. May Babies, boys and girls, and so many other little actives from around all cultures to do with love! Beltane is more for all things to do with love and less to do with the land, protection and purification.
Think of “Beltane” as a big cauldron full of love from all cultures and paths from around the world!
Going to be honest, it’s not my favourite term as I’m not a fan of the cultural erasure and origins of this festival. The modern “Beltane” is very much buried under a bunch of New Age crap saying that it’s all one of the same.
What is Bealtaine?
Bealtaine is the original Fire festival of Ireland. It echoed Samhain and like Samhain, the veil is thin and the fires are lit and relit over three days. On May Eve (the night before the 1st of May), two bonfires are made from hard woods and the bones of animals from farms. Both people and cattle would walk around the bonfire or between two bonfires, sometimes even jumping over flames, to gain protection, health and wealth. Springs of Rowan and Hawthorn, as well as cloth and bits of yellow were placed around the home and on the horns of cows to protect them from enchantments and to keep the cows producing milk. Yellow is and was a symbol of the Sun, the Fire and the Lights return from the horrible winter.
Another important custom, was to avoid strangers and refuse requests or offers to share anything. These strangers were deem as Fair Folk (Faeries) or Otherworld Folk that would know what fortunes you had and would ruin any chance of prosperity for the year. To not share wasn’t a normal thing as as a community you thrived on helping others but during both Samhain and Bealtaine, you never knew what walked beyond the threshold into our world.
Whatever happened on Bealtaine was taken as an indication of people’s fortunes for the rest of the year.
So When is Beltaine?
Traditionally, Bealtaine is from the 30th of April to the 3nd of May in the Northern Hemisphere, with the actual “day” being the 1st of May. However, down here in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s from the 31st of October to the 2nd of November, with the actual “day” being the 1st of November.
Technically, all forms of this festival are on, or around, the same date. It just depends on the path you’re walking and what fits best for you!
So What is Beltaine Then?
Beltaine is modern Irish. It is a little more non traditional and seems to mix in Scottish and Isle of Man traditions into festival. Like the rest, there are bonfires, dancing, feasting, weddings and more. But my favourite part about the non traditional way is that the May Bush still keeps away the Otherworldly and Fae Folk. Some even have a May Bush and dance a around a Maypole.
Then What Do I Call This Festival?
It’s really up to you! Modern Wicca and the Neopagan movement say Beltane which is an amalgamation of Love festivals, that are simular to the original (Bealtaine), from all over the world. It’s accepted and a really great way to put your own little touches onto a festival without appropriating the Irish culture. After all, being in Australia, there are a lot of things that can’t be done during this time due to the weather and fire restrictions.
I personally say Beltaine and try to celebrate this festival as close to my roots as possible and whatever teachings my nan left me. And, for the rest of this blog, I will be referring to the Beltane as Beltaine.
What to Do on Beltaine
Since I’m an Australian and most of the readers here are Australian too, some activities are going to be a bit of a hit and miss due to fire restrictions.
- Create a bonfire from scared and special woods for Blessing and Purifying
- Thread together flower chains
- Divination spells and reads of your true love
- If you have a May Bush, decorate it with ripped yellow and red cloth to keep away the mischievous Fae Folk
- Create a May Pole
- Brew up some refreshing bubbly drinks
- All forms of sex and fertility magic
Feel the Warmth and the Love
As I said before, a lot of the traditional activities are a bit of a hit and miss with fire restrictions. Before looking into throwing a party, I also check out if fire restrictions are in place and if there’re not, I create a bonfire in the backyard! Before creating a bonfire in your yard, please also check with your local council with bonfire restrictions. Some inner suburbs can only have a bonfire going if they’re cooking food or using it for personal warmth in a 1sqm radius.
Since I personally do not celebrate with jumping over the fire, I use the fire for it’s old purpose, purification and blessings. My family and I write down all the negative things that we accumulated over the last 3 months (from Imbolc) and burn them in the fire along with some enchanting herbs. If you can’t have a bonfire, a little fire in a cauldron is just as magical! Surround it with flowers, loving fresh foods and herbal cold teas!
This festival is a celebration of happiness, love and joy! Perfect for all weddings, finding new love, fertility and bringing the family together!
By all means, this isn’t everything on Beltane/Bealtaine/Beltaine. I try to keep the information neutral and fun for everyone to make their own decisions. Please keep in mind that when you read information on the “Celts”, that it is not just one people. This Fire festival was and still is apart of Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Britton and other European countries, it may just be under a different cultural name.