Beltane is one of four festivals celebrated in ancient Ireland, along with Samhaine, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh. Traditionally held on April 30th-May 1st, it is also known as Cetshamain or “first summer.” the Beltane festival marked the beginning of the summer season, when cattle were driven to summer pastures. As such, the rituals performed during this time centered around the protection of livestock and themes of growth, fertility, and prosperity.
17th-century historian Geoffrey Keating claims there was a great gathering at the hill of Uisneach each Beltane in medieval Ireland, where a sacrifice was made to a god named Beil. Keating wrote that two bonfires would be lit in every district of Ireland, and cattle would be driven between them to protect them from disease.
Families walked around these protective pyres with their cows, sometimes jumping over embers or small flames. All household fires were to be doused and then relit by the same community fire so as to unite under a single life force.These rituals would usually be accompanied by a feast, with some food and drink offered to the fare folk, as they were thought to be particularly active during the summer months.
Doors, windows, byres, and livestock would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire. The May Bush was another popular ritual in early Ireland that involved decorating a thorn bush or branch with flowers, ribbons, bright shells, and rushlights. It was also popualr to visit Holy Wells, as Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness.
Many of these rituals were recorded in the early medieval texts Sanas Cormaic and Tochmarc Emire, with Beltane notes as being held on May 1st and marking the beginning of summer. The texts say that during this time druids would make two fires "with great incantations" to protect cattle from disease.
From the late 18th century to the mid 20th century, many accounts of Beltane customs were recorded by folklorists and other writers. In the 19th century, Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912), collected the Gaelic song Am Beannachadh Bealltain (The Beltane Blessing) in his Carmina Gadelica, which he heard from a crofter in South Uist. The first two verses were sung as follows:
Bless, O Threefold true and bountiful,
Myself, my spouse and my children,
My tender children and their beloved mother at their head,
On the fragrant plain, at the gay mountain sheiling,
On the fragrant plain, at the gay mountain sheiling.
Everything within my dwelling or in my possession,
All kine and crops, all flocks and corn,
From Hallow Eve to Beltane Eve,
With goodly progress and gentle blessing,
From sea to sea, and every river mouth,
From wave to wave, and base of the waterfall.
While the Irish celebrations of Beltane largely died out by the 20th century, many of its customs and traditions survive to this day in the form of May Day. Modern Neopagans and Wiccans have also played a role in reviving the holiday, combining inspiration from other Pagan stories and practices around similar Mid Summer festivals.
For example, the ancient Romans celebrated the Floralia, or festival of flowers, which consisted of three days of unbridled sexual activity. Participants wore flowers in their hair (much like May Day participants later on), and there were plays, songs, and dances. At the end of the festivities, animals were set loose inside the Circus Maximus, and beans were scattered around to ensure fertility.
the Greeks celebrated the Plynteria in honor of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and battle, and the patroness of the city of Athens (which was named after her). The Plynteria includes the ritual cleansing of Athena’s statue, along with feasting and prayers in the Parthenon. Although this was a fairly minor festival, it was significant to the people of Athens.
The Plynteria, like many other Greek festivals, lasted two to three days, beginning around May 25, and temples were closed to the general public. In the temple of Athena, only women performed the task of cleaning the statue, which was hidden behind a large cloth so that no one could see it during this sacred time. On the 24th, homage is paid to the Greek moon-goddess Artemis (goddess of the hunt and of wild animals).
May 6 is the day of Eyvind Kelda, a festival celebrating a Norwegian martyr who was tortured and drowned on the orders of King Olaf Tryggvason for refusing to give up his Pagan beliefs. According to legend, when King Olaf announced his conversion to Christianity it was Eyvind, a powerful sorcerer, who managed to escape Olaf's troops and make his way to an island, along with other men who continued to believe in the old gods.
Unfortunately, Olaf and his army eventually caught up with the sorcerer. While Eyvind tried to protect his men with magic, once the mists and fog cleared, they were exposed and captured by Olaf’s soldiers. A week later, Norwegians celebrate the Festival of the Midnight Sun, which pays tribute to the Norse sun goddess. This festival marks the beginning of ten straight weeks without darkness. Today, this celebration of music, art, and nature is a popular spring celebration in Norway.
There are a plethora of pre-Christian figures associated with the month of May, and by extension, with the festival of Beltane. The Green Man, strongly related to Cernunnos, is perhaps one of the most well-known. Originating from the lore of the British Isles, The Green Man is represented by a masculine face covered in leaves and shrubbery.
In some parts of England, a Green Man is carried through town in a wicker cage as the townsfolk welcome the beginning of summer. Carvings of his face can be found in the ornamentation of many of Europe’s older cathedrals, despite edicts from local bishops forbidding stonemasons from including such pagan imagery.
A related character is Jack-in-the-Green, a spirit of the greenwood. References to Jack appear in British literature as far back as the sixteenth century. Sir James Frazer associates the figure with mummers and the celebration of the life force of trees.
Jack-in-the-Green was seen even in the Victorian era when he was associated with soot-faced chimney sweeps. At this time, Jack was framed in a structure of wicker and covered with leaves and surrounded by Morris dancers. Some scholars suggest that Jack may have been an ancestor to the legend of Robin Hood.
Though the celebration had died out for much of the twentieth century, like many Pagan festivals it has been given new life with the modern Neo-pagan revival. Modern-day Beltane rituals usually involve lots of fertility symbols, including the phallic Maypole dance. In some Wiccan traditions, Beltane is a day in which the May Queen and the Queen of Winter battle one another for supremacy, similar to the Oak King and the Holly King during Yule.
In this rite, inspired by ancient practices on the Isle of Man, each queen has a band of supporters. On the morning of May 1, the two companies battle it out, ultimately trying to win victory for their queen. If the May Queen is captured by her enemies, she must be ransomed before her followers can get her back.
There are some who believe Beltane is a time for the faeries. In early folklore, to enter the realm of faeries is a dangerous step–and yet the more helpful deeds of the fae should always be acknowledged and appreciated. If you believe in faeries, Beltane is a good time to leave out food and other treats for them in your garden or yard.
For many contemporary Pagans, Beltane is a time for planting and sowing seeds. The buds and flowers of early May bring to mind the endless cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth that we see in the earth. Certain trees are associated with May Day, such as the Ash, Oak, and Hawthorn. In Norse legend, the god Odin hung from an Ash tree for nine days, and it later became known as the World Tree, Yggdrasil.
Overall, Beltane is a time to connect with cycles of birth and rebirth and welcome the warmer days of summer. It is a great time for fertility and love magick, working in the garden, and welcoming growth and prosperity into your life.
- Emerald: Emerald brings balance to all aspects of life, most of all the emotions. It repels negativity and encourages positive life changes. It is a stone of wealth, growth, abundance, as well as health and longevity. Mentally, emerald encourages us to connect to our inner sense of strength and cope with life's misfortunes by seeing the best in every situation.
- Malachite: Malachite is a protective stone that deflects negative energy and empowers us to move beyond past traumas and lean into new, healthier beginnings. A reflective stone, it reflects back what is shown to it, giving us the perspective to identify our more toxic traits and behaviors so we may work to change them, or at the very least become more aware of our default settings so we may be more intentional.
- Blood Stone: Similar to Ostara, themes of sacrifice and rebirth are also present during Beltane, making Bloodstone a great choice for crystal magic during this time. Known as "the martyrs stone," bloodstone reminds us that with change, growth, and birth also comes death and sacrifice. In order to blossom into our full selves we must also be willing to prune away that which no longer serves us. Bloodstone can offer protection, strength, and resilience during this period of transformation.
- Rose Quartz: A classic spring stone, rose quartz promotes love of all kinds and helps us connect with our networks of emotional support so that we may heal and move on from the past. It supports new connections, be they romantic or platonic and aids fertility.
- Rhodonite: Is a grounding stone that helps us balance our emotions and heal our relationships. In Russian folklore it is believed to protect children, travelers, and nobles. Rhodonite is said to balance your emotional and physical energy, making you more resilient and clear-headed, especially during turbulent times.
- Mint: money, wealth, travel, protection, transformation
- Mugwort: protection, creativity, clairvoyance, dream divination
- Daffodil: Fertility, new beginnings, prosperity
- Lemon Balm: love, success, healing, confidence, renewal
- Dandelion: protection, love, manifestation, growth, transformation
- Ivy: strength, abundance, wealth, protection
- Vanilla: love, fertility, passion, friendship, beauty, vitality
- Jasmine: Spiritual love, divination, sensuality, beauty, fairy magic,
- Hawthorn: love, protection, fertility, new beginnings, fairy magic
- Birch: renewal, love, protection, new beginnings
- Willow: creativity, fertility, inspiration, protection, healing
- Violet: protection, wisdom, love, good luck
- Rose: love, passion, sexuality, beauty
- Lilac: protection, new relationships, new love, friendships
- The Sun
- The Chariot
- The Empress
- The Emperor
- The Queen of Coins
- Ten of Coins
- The Queen of Wands
- The King of Wands
- The Page of Wands
- The Ace of Wands
- Three of Wands
- Four of Wands
- Flower Goddesses
- Goddesses of the Hunt
- Gods and Goddesses of fertility