This weekend is Beltane, also known as Beltain or May Day, the Pagan holiday that celebrates the beginning of summer. Occurring April 30-May 1, people in warmer parts of the world will celebrate the changing seasons with flowers, dancing, flower baskets, bonfires, flower crowns, Maypoles, and more flowers.
As I write this, it’s a dreary day in Maine. The clouds from the most recent April shower remain dark and heavy in the sky, and I’m struggling to find summer. The trees have buds but no leaves, reminding me more of Imbolc, the last cross-quarter day.
I’m pretty sure 2021-2022 has been the longest, coldest, and darkest winter of my life.
But I’m not giving up hope.
What is Beltane?
Beltane is the Pagan sabbat that falls between the spring equinox (Ostara) and the summer solstice (Lithia).
In Paganism for Beginners*, Althaea Sebastiani writes:
…at Beltain, the vibrancy of the Earth bids us to focus on the joy of being alive, the gift of being physically incarnate, and the unique experiences that we are able to have and grow from as a rersult.Althaea Sebastiani
Beltane is special to me because it’s the first holiday I learned about before I started embracing Paganism. I think I’ve always known I was a witch but learning about a whole community of people like me who celebrated the natural world in unique, but overlapping ways was a total world-rocking experience.
When is Beltane?
Most commonly, Beltane falls on May 1 in the northern hemisphere. However, people from different regions celebrate anytime from the last week of April to the first week of May. At the Goddess Temple of Ashland, they’re celebrating for five days.
Beltane falls opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year, and, accordingly, involves reversed rituals and correspondences with Mother Earth. While Samhain is all about the harvest, darkening of days, and moving inward, Beltane is time for spring cleaning, warmth and vitality, planting, and, of course, mating season.
How do you celebrate Beltane?
One of the most prominent Beltane symbols is the maypole. A traditional celebration often involves dancing around the pole while weaving colorful ribbons and strips of fabric.
In some celebrations, men will harvest and carve the maypole, while the women tear strips of fabric from ::ahem:: well-used bedsheets to serve as pole wrappings. The underlying theme of mating season runs strong.
Other common Beltane activities include:
- Spring cleaning (I’m convinced every witchy holiday involves cleaning!)
- Bonfires (same as above)
- Feasts (yep)
I’ll probably do all of the above, weather-permitting. While researching things to do at Beltane, I was tickled to learn about a Maine Pagan celebration called Beltane on the Beach. The thought of celebrating at an outdoor gathering with other weirdos in capes, kilts, and witches’ hats sparked my interest. Sadly, the event is nearly 3 hours from my home, and we’re farmers, which means weekends usually involve more work than Mon-Fri.
So, I’ll likely be honoring Beltane solo again this year. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do, but here are some ways I’ve celebrated Beltane as a solitary witch:
- Planting flower seeds
- Dancing around a fire
- Crafting a flower crown from whatever I can find
- Embracing mating season with my husband
- Casting fertility spells for an abundant growing season (in the garden)
- Leaving offerings for the faeries (bread, milk and honey, flowers, etc.)
I should note that I recently found an owl pellet in a neglected faerie dish. Nobody’s perfect!
Thanks for reading!
Cover photo is by Nicole Cherie of me on my wedding day, in which I think I look quite Beltane-y.
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