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Beltane, Beltaine, Beltany, or Boaldyn is an ancient Gaelic seasonal celebration that commemorates the arrival of summer and the great growth and richness of nature. While it is typically celebrated on the 1st of May its initial astronomical date is on the 12th. However, its association with May is not unusual because Beltaine translates as ‘the month of May’ and the festival glorifies the start of summer.
Initially, the word Bealtaine means ‘Bright Fire’ in Irish. The lighting of fires at sunset is a pre-Celtic and Celtic ritual.
The day itself commemorated the passage from spring to summer, with fire rites ushered to safeguard crops, cattle, and community members, as well as to promote fertility, growth, and abundance.
Beltane is associated with significant events in Irish mythology and is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish texts such as Lebor Gabála Érenn. Cétshamhain (beginning of summer) was another name for it, and it honored the arrival of summer by herding livestock to summer pastures.
Beltane was a springtime festival of optimism during which fertility rituals were revived, maybe in connection with the sun’s waxing power.
The centrality of springs, wells, and water to the Irish Beltaine festivities was emphasized by William Robert Wilde in Irish Popular Superstitions, 1852.
Since the Neolithic, ancient cultures, synchronized the major solar events, the Winter Solstice, the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice, and the Autumn Equinox. Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain are the cross-quarter days of the solar year, representing the cusp between the major solar festivals.
The festival of Beltane was marked by the lighting of large bonfires that symbolized a time of purification and transition, paving the way in the hope of a good harvest later in the year.
The event was preceded by rites intended to safeguard the human settlers from danger by otherworldly entities, as well as the moving of livestock to summer pastures.
More than that, Beltane was commemorated with grandiose feast days during which offerings were made to spirits, ancestors, gods, and goddesses. Besides, houses were adorned with May flowers, as well as bonfires, believed to yield protecting ashes.
Ancient Europeans were known to have a symbiotic relationship with nature. They saw themselves as a part of the natural world, not separate from it. Their lives were organized around the changing seasons and rhythms of nature. They marked the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days – the seasonal turning points when spring becomes summer, summer becomes fall, fall becomes winter, and winter returns to spring. Each season has its own moods and characteristics which affect us all according to the ancient wisdom of Herbal Lore.
When people worshipped their goddesses throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, and the Celtic kingdoms, they would decorate their altars with vibrant spring flowers to make their worship more memorable.
Flowers, in addition to springs, wells, and water, play a significant role in the Beltane celebrations. They were gathered into bouquets, worn as garlands in the hair, and used in seasonal rituals.
The Flowers, Herbs, & Plants of Beltane
The spring color palette of green, yellow, sky blue, and lavender, with violet overtones, all pay homage to the Beltane celebration and the colors of the plants that mark the shifts in the season. The freshness of this palette is well received in modern times after the long months of winter.
According to myth, the young sun god was born in the spring, when blossoms and flowers were everywhere. Beltane is also a time of romance, as the god and goddess fell in love and wed. The lusty energies of spring are still very much present at this time. The earth is fertile and full of life. Trees in our area burst into flower after the last frost. This is a great time for sowing field crops and for planting gardens. We celebrate with feasting, dancing, singing, drumming, and general merrymaking.
Flowers play an important role in our Beltane celebrations. Seasonal flowers such as lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), apple blossoms (Malus sylvestris), and dog roses (Rosa canina) are used to decorate our altars. For purification rituals, we like to use rue (Ruta graveolens), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), and other cleansing herbs in baths or sauna rituals. Other purifying practices included birching with birch twigs or branches of mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) and gathering insecticidal plants.
Beltane is an important time for new beginnings, which makes it an opportune time to plant flowers and herbs that will grow and flourish over the next few months. With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of my favorite plants associated with Beltane, along with some folklore explaining their significance.
The blooming of the hawthorn, or may bush, marks the beginning of Beltane. Believed to have connections to the spirit world and a gateway to the past, this magical tree was often used as a meeting place for celebrations. Before maypoles were created, people danced around hawthorns and decorated them with gifts for the fae. People would make flower crowns and decorate their homes with branches of blooms.
Hawthorn folklore has an old and surprisingly varied history. The tree is thought by many to be housing fairies, and people were traditionally forbidden to cut twigs or branches on certain days of the year. Hawthorn hedgerows were planted by farmers to protect their crops and livestock from witches that rode along the rows on their broomsticks, while others say witches used hawthorn branches to make brooms.
Hawthorn flowers promote emotional healing and spiritual renewal, while the berries offer physical healing of the heart. Many people describe the berries as a magical remedy that helps soften emotional ailments and rejuvenate spirituality. Hawthorn provides comfort when your heart hurts.
Wild Violet ( Viola odorata)
Wild Violet, a flower linked with fairies and forest spirits, is used in a spring incense blend to evoke a longing for magic and future growth. It exemplifies modesty, simplicity, and tranquillity, and it inspires and consecrates the ladies, and thus, it celebrates womanhood.
Violets, on the other hand, have additional connotations. They can represent integrity, protection, dreams, healing, recollection, and even the notion of planning goals.
As a result, violets can also be connected with expansion, growth, and tranquillity. They are frequently seen as emblems of mental clarity due to their colors.
To make a homeopathic medicine, the entire fresh plant is used. It is believed to be effective in the treatment of spasmodic coughs and rheumatoid arthritis of the wrist.
Mugwort ( Artemisia vulgaris )
Beltane and Midsummer’s Eve are the two times of the year when the “veil between realms” is the thinnest. Mugwort can aid communication with the other side by allowing you to “crack the veil.”
This plant is classified as a Visionary herb since it is used in dream pillows, crystal balls, prisms, and other divinatory devices. Because of its reputation for heightening psychic or unconscious awareness, mugwort is employed in this manner.
Birch tree ( Betula pendula )
Aside from its involvement in Samhain celebrations, marking the commencement of Celtic festivals of new beginnings, the birch tree has strong fertility associations with Beltane rituals as well.
Accordingly, the Beltane Festival revolved around the Birch Tree having strong fertility connections with this celebration. The Celtic year’s second half — the summer half — began on this day, celebrated as May Day. Birch and oak were used to build Beltane fires in Scotland, and a birch tree was frequently utilized as a maypole.
The birch tree is a symbol of divine beauty, elegance, and brightness. In druidic tradition, the birch tree is associated with rebirth and new beginnings, and it’s a perfect tree for sacred manifestations.
Beltane fires were made with birch and oak in Scotland, and a birch tree was frequently utilized as a maypole. Birch is an obvious choice as a symbol of spring because it is one of the first trees to emerge from dormancy.
Birch has been used for medicinal, decorative, and commercial uses throughout history. Historically, physicians regarded birch sap highly, using it as a pain reliever and to treat skin conditions. Additionally, it was used to treat inflammation of the bladder, gout, rheumatism, migraines, nerve pain, and dizziness.
Ground Ivy ( Glechoma hederacea )
Considered a deterrent against magic, it was worn by milkmaids when they first milked cows in pastures. In several locations, the earliest cows were milked through a wreath of ground ivy.
Ground ivy has a strong association with magical and divinatory abilities. Additionally, Ground ivy was used magically to promote sleep, meditation, healing, love, friendship, and fidelity.
Ivy is a plant with an abundance of symbolic and spiritual significance. It lasts an extremely long time, as seen by the durability of old constructions.
In terms of being timeless, we cannot ignore the significance of color in the symbolism of all things. Ivy is no exception; while the color of ivy varies according to species and strains, in general, ivy has a dark, rich, and powerful shade of green. After all, ivy is evergreen and, as such, represents immortality.
Additionally, ivy’s devotional meaning is not limited to passionate or romantic devotion. Ivy is the epitome of steadfast loyalty.
Lily of the valley ( Convallaria majalis )
Beltane’s celebrations also include Lily of the valley also known as May’s bells.
Because Convallaria magalis means “that which belongs to May,” the lily of the valley is the most well-known flower associated with the month of May, and consequently with May birthdays.
Due to the way the petals fall off their stalks, resembling little stairs, Lily of the Valley has acquired the title ladder to heaven. In Ireland, it is occasionally referred to as fairy ladders. Other common names for lilies of the valley include May lilies and May bells.
Lily of the valley is a flower used in religious ceremonies, frequently associated with rebirth and humility, archaic celebrations, and used in perfumes and gardens. It can also be used to represent virginity, purity, tenderness, and motherhood.
Considered the fairies’ flower, its tiny bells are used as cups for drinking.
Lily of the valley is said to ward off evil spirits and has been used as a charm against witches’ spells.
In lore and folklore, on May Day, and Beltane day this flower honors weddings and birthdays, and various celebrations throughout the world.
This is a propitious time that invites us to relish the resources it has to provide in terms of purifying and the fertility peak, with trees opening their blossoms and flowers that shed their petals on the land, for new ones to come, inviting our senses into the land of a magical exposition and explosion of life and beauty.
Early May, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate the beauty of our world, gathering around spring’s first bonfires and observing the sunset as evenings lengthen and become warmer.
We celebrate the beauty of our world, and besides other rituals, we honor this period of Beltane with the use of medicinal and edible flowers and trees.
Beltane is a festival of fire and fertility, bringing to the fore its harmonious forces.
Beltane, on the other hand, is not only about the sun god, but also about the goddess of the moon. Flowers utilized in such celebrations are also considered messengers that appertain to day and night rituals and harmonious complementarity.
The cyclical rhythm of the waxing and the declining moon is seen in May, and it’s not without reason that Beltane was traditionally celebrated on the full moon closest to the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.
Finally, because Beltane means “bright fire,” is appropriately marked with a large bonfire and staying up all night on Beltane Eve to witness the sunrise on the Beltane day.
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