How to Celebrate Beltane
If you’re curious about the ancient fire festival and how to celebrate Beltane, keep reading to learn more. We’ll explore what exactly Beltane is, how it was celebrated in the past, and most importantly, how to celebrate Beltane today.
What is Beltane?
Traditionally celebrated by Celtic neo-pagans to acknowledge during the midpoint between spring and summer (May 1st), this period marks the planting time and is recognized as a time of peak fertility. We are now halfway between the Spring Equinox & the Summer Solstice.
During Beltane, we honor the God and Goddess of spring represented by a handfasting, or marriage ceremony. The story goes that the lovers were separated all winter and are reunited in Springtime. Today, we celebrate their reunion during Beltane with food, drink, and multi-colored maypoles, which symbolize female energies wrapping themselves around the male form.
We are clearly in the middle of Spring and there is a noticeable difference in the Earth’s energy compared to the beginning of the season. We can see evidence all around us that the Wheel of the Year has shifted. The days are noticeably longer with the sun setting much later than it did at the Spring Equinox. It’s grown considerably warmer outside. At the Spring Equinox new life was just beginning to emerge, but here, at the beginning of May, there is no denying that the Earth has been pushed from its tentative new beginning into full awakening.
Where Does the Word Beltane Come From?
Beltane comes from the Gaelic word that translates into “bright fire”. In fact, Beltane celebrations are often marked with bonfires as a symbol of protection. These fire rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers.
However, the Celts weren’t the only cultures that knew how to celebrate Beltane. There were many other earth-based cultures that had Spring festivals and celebrations to mark this time of great fertility for Mother Earth. So no matter which earth-based culture was celebrating this period, they all had one thing in common… they saw this fertile time as an incredibly joyful, festive time. It is a time for coming together, to celebrate life.
Celebrating Beltane to Honor Nature's Energy
Today, I encourage you to celebrate Beltane as a way of honoring nature’s incredible fertile energy at this time of year, and as a way to connect with our natural world on a deeper, more meaningful level. I truly believe that by recognizing and celebrating the little shifts in Earth’s natural rhythms, we can become more attuned to nature and feel more grounded in our everyday lives because of it.
Nature has an amazing ability to reproduce itself, and in such a stunning & beautiful way. It’s important to honor this power that nature holds – a power that we, as humans, also hold. Right now, when the Earth is bursting with fertile energy, is a powerful time to acknowledge & celebrate the fertility inherent in all life. Beltane is a time to celebrate all the pleasures in being alive.
Historic Rituals and Symbols of Beltane:
Our ancestors had rituals and ways for how to celebrate Beltane that seemed to be tied to nature in nearly every way. Here are a few of the rituals and symbols of this seasonal celebration.
- Special bonfires were lit, and their flames, smoke, and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. It is said that the fire festival participants would lead their cattle around the bonfire and would even sometimes leap over the fire’s embers.
- People would put out all of their household fires and would then re-light them from the Beltane bonfire.
- Beltane festivals and celebrations would be accompanied by feasts of food and drink.
- Food offerings from the feasts would be made to the fairies or elves in Celtic cultures.
- Doors, windows, barns and livestock would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they were reminiscent of fire.
- In parts of Ireland, people would make a May Bush: typically a thorn bush or branch decorated with flowers, ribbons, bright shells and rushlights.
- Holy wells were also visited, while Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness.
- Adorn yourself with a hair wreath or garland made from flowers and plants that bring you joy. This symbolizes your connection with the earth and your own inner power, sexuality and abundance.
How to Celebrate Beltane Today:
Some may wonder how to celebrate Beltane in today’s modern world? If you’re feeling called to celebrate Beltane but aren’t sure where to start, look no further. It’s a time for new beginnings, and a time for rebirth—and you can celebrate it too! Here are just some of the ways:
1. Set Up an Altar
Set up a Beltane altar and fill it with the symbols of this special season. Think springtime (with lots of greenery) and things that represent fertility, rebirth, and awakening.
Flowers — Flowers are a symbol of Beltane as they represent growth, fertility, and renewal. If you can’t get your hands on any fresh flowers, incorporate flowers into your altar design with silk flowers or pictures.
Candles — Honor the tradition of fire and light some candles on your altar. For Beltane, try to find candles in spring colors (pink, yellow) or floral scents (like rose or lavender).
Colors — Red, green, yellow/gold are all good colors to use for your altar. Green is especially perfect for this time as it represents growth and renewal. Red is good symbolizing fire and passion. Gold is symbolic of the sun—a central theme for this Sabbat.
Symbols — The Maypole is another common symbol for Beltane and can be represented by drawing it on your altar cloth or creating your own mini replica.
2. Have a Bonfire
For centuries, people have gathered together to celebrate the festival of fire. What better way to celebrate than with a beautiful nighttime flame? You can also create a fun and festive atmosphere with your own bonfire.
The first step is to find a safe place to build your fire. Be sure to check local laws regarding open fires before you start. It is also important to check if there is a fire ban in effect in your area.
Next, gather wood and kindling to create your fire. If you do not have access to wood, you can use newspaper or cardboard boxes as well. The next step is to set up a ring of stones around your fire pit so that sparks will not fly out of control and cause damage. The final step is lighting the fire!
You can also use this as an opportunity to roast marshmallows or cook hot dogs over the flames.
3. Gather Flowers
For Beltane, the blossoms of spring have begun to fill the world with their scent. Decorate your home with fresh flowers and greenery, especially hawthorn, roses or rowan. Fill your ritual space with fragrant blossoms, and use them as crowns or garlands for yourself and others who are part of your celebration. Give thanks to Mother Nature for her blessings.
4. Wear a Flower Crown or Garland
Wear your favorite flowers and plants in a garland or wreath in your hair. This symbolizes your connection with nature and your own inner power, sexuality and abundance.
5. Dress in Green
It is a time to celebrate the renewal of life and the coming fertility of summer. The color green symbolizes growth and birth. Therefore, we wear green with the intention of bringing growth and fertility into our lives.
6. Perform a Goddess Ritual
One way to celebrate Beltane is to perform a goddess ritual. As you may have guessed, this ritual is focused on drawing in the powers of female energy. You can begin by performing a quick meditation. Light a candle and sit quietly with your eyes closed. Imagine your body filling up with light, then imagine that light spreading out until it encompasses your entire home or apartment.
While you’re meditating, think about the things in your life that bring you joy and about the people who are important to you. When finished, write down affirmations for your life in the coming season and then burn it as an offering.
7. Make Your Own Maypole
Craft your own small maypole using found wood, colorful ribbons, and topped with a quartz point or other beautiful gem from your collection. Place this on your altar.
8. Prepare a May Basket
In days past, as April rolled to an end, people would gather flowers and small goodies to put in May baskets to hang on the doors of friends, neighbors, and loved ones on May 1.
9. Prepare a Beltane Feast
When people wonder how to celebrate Beltane, one of the easiest things is to cook a meal. Celebrating Beltane with a feast for family and/or friends is a wonderful way to honor this special time of year.
Since fire is so symbolic of this holiday, now is the perfect time to clean off your grill and cook over a live flame. You can cook your whole feast this way, or just roast marshmallows over your bonfire. It’s all delicious.
Below are three Beltane recipes that deserve a spot on your feast day menu:
Energetic and full of life, it’s easy to see why Beltane has endured for so long. Fire dancing, communal bonfires, fertility rituals, and spring in full bloom—what’s not to love?
So don’t be shy! Now that you have a few ideas of how to celebrate Beltane, go out and thank the land and everything that it provides. Enjoy the beauty of flowers and greenery and feel the energy of the earth.