I’m celebrating Beltane this Friday, with a few Pagan friends from around the community.
If the rain stops, we’ll even be having a HUGE bonfire.
It’s rained for weeks on end now, with hardly a break, and our whole property has been flooded out. The wood that I was hoping to burn is saturated, and the place is a mudpit. I’ve warned people to bring their gumboots, as they will probably be needed, but at this point in time I’m just hoping that we don’t get hail, snow or sleet while we’re down in the paddock celebrating this fantastic cross-quarter Sabbat.
So – what’s Beltane about?
Beltane is one of the Pagan festivals that a lot of newbies relate to with gut instinct. It feels “right”. For me, it has always felt “right”. It was the first Sabbat I really connected with when I started working alone over two decades ago, and it is still a “home point” for me in the great Wheel of the Year – it’s a place that feels like noon on the clock face, a stopping point where I pause, take breath, and note that the Wheel really has turned.
Even more so because here in the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane’s timing coincides with the rest of the world (those northern hemisphere friends of ours *waves*) celebrating the overly commercial sleazeware festival of Halloween.
But you have to think that the Gods are on our side after all, Because Beltane in the southern hemisphere also coincides pretty neatly with Guy Fawkes Day (5th November). So we sneaky Southern Pagans never get a second glance with our bonfires – everyone just thinks we’re a bit weird for celebrating Guy Fawkes a bit early. And if some fireworks happen to go off – well, whoops!
Beltane is, as I said, a cross-quarter festival. What that means is that it fits in between a solstice (the date when the sun is highest in the sky (summer solstice) or lowest in the sky (winter solstice)) and an equinox (a date when the day and night are of equal length – there are two of these, the autumn equinox and the vernal (Spring) equinox).
Beltane is the cross-quarter festival that fits between the vernal (Spring) equinox and the winter solstice.
So Beltane is pretty much all about Spring. It’s about fertility, fecundity, horniness (if you want to call it that), and new life. All the good, fun, positive stuff that we Pagans (and other folk) love so much. We celebrate the differences between the genders, and their similarities. And we celebrate the ways in which we can connect and cherish one another, and create new life and connections between ourselves with our physical and emotional selves.
Sounds good, huh?
A lot of Pagan weddings happen around Beltane. A lot of Pagans also choose to renew their vows to one another around Beltane. There is also the flip side of the coin – some couples choose to open their relationships at Beltane, and take lovers for the season, after which they return to one another if they choose. This doesn’t mean it’s an all-out slutfest – respect and (in our society) discretion, as well as honesty and openness, are more important than anything. But it is a common thing, and it does happen.
So why the fires?
Fire is, and always has been, a symbol and very real connection to purity and renewal. The word “Beltane” literally means “bright fire”. Fires have been lit for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years in the hopes of appeasing the Gods for a good harvest.
Fire-related traditions followed in time, including jumping the fires, dancing around the fires, bedding down with lovers by the fires and, particularly in modern times, fire-eating and fire twirling.
In a more practical sense, burning before the dry of summer also makes sense, to clear the land for planting, removing last season’s debris and cuttings.
What we’ll be doing
We’ll be lighting a beltane fire, of course, and dancing the fire. The theme of our event is “Beltane 2012: Disco Inferno” so I’m expecting everyone to cut loose after the serious ritual stuff is out of the way with their funky 70s disco moves!
We’ll also be maying some of the local trees with the four colours of the elements – yellow (air), red (fire), blue (water) and green (earth). It’s fun to leave ribbons and wool around local trees, after having danced the maypole dance around trees in public places, knowing that locals will wonder what it is all about the following morning!
Naturally, we’ll also be doing some wishing for good stuff to happen to us in the coming year. So we’ll be cutting hawthorn branches (our whole road is lined with a beautiful hawthorn hedge in full bloom at the moment), putting our wishes on them (written), and throwing them on the fire.
Should people wish to cut new willow wands from our willow tree for themselves, now is a great time to do that as well. We’ll crown a Beltane Queen (bride). And of course there will be cakes and ale.
Regardless of the weather, it’ll be a good night. I’ll post our Beltane rituals up here as soon as they’re done. But I’m looking forward to it.
If only it will stop raining!