25.4.13

Beltane (May 1)

Since Beltane is getting closer, I thought it would be best if I wrote something about it as to give you some ideas for celebrating :) The festival itself falls on the transition from April 30 to May 1 (although people normally think of May 1 as the festival of Beltane). In the Celtic tradition, you may see it written as Beltaine (Beltane is the anglicized version). The Irish Gaelic form of the word is pronounced /b'yol-tinnuh/ (or try /bjoltinə/, this is my simplified version of transcribing but it sounds basically the same), though most people nowadays simply pronounce it /beltein/. The Gaelic word, when translated, simply means "May" (the month). The Scottish Gaelic word Bealtuinn (pronounced /b'yal-ten/ or simplified /bjaltən/) is another name for May 1, also called May Day.

The first association to this day is the fire god Bel (also called Beli, Balar, Balor, latin Belenus but also Baal). Some will claim that Beltane was named after this god and that it means Belfire (the fire of Bel). He was the god of light and fire, but also a sun god in a certain way (but not in the traditional way that Apollo is in Greek mythology). As you may know, the Celts weren't people that primarily praised the Sun...just remember what it was like where they lived and how little sunshine there was. Also, the Celtic words for sun (grian and the personified Mór) are female nouns (though noun genders is not a very familiar concept when it comes to English grammar) and therefore cannot so easily be connected to a male deity such as Bel. 

Some will make a connection between Bel and the Great Father...like Cernunnos was for the Celts. This is why the two are often compared in the sense that both are a part of the myth of the impregnation of the Mother Goddess, which is celebrated, among other things, on this day.

This holiday is one of the Celtic fire festivals. The thing all of these festivals have in common is the lighting of fire in visible places like hills, in this case on night of April 30/May 1. This fire was supposed to symbolize the return of the sun, a time of fertility and life. A popular tradition concerning these fires was jumping over them. This was usually done by young women and men that wanted to find a husband/wife, travelers that wanted to ensure themselves a safe trip, pregnant women in hope of having an easy labor and so on. Cattle was often driven between two of these fires or through the ashes of a fire in order to guarantee a good milk-yield. Also connected to cattle, it's important to say that May 1 was also marked by taking the animals to the summer pastures. This was the true symbol of the beginning of spring (or rather summer because the Celts separated the year into only two seasons: summer which began on May 1 and Winter which began on October 31/November 1). 

Hawthorn
The God is usually symbolized by the oak tree in this time of year and the Goddess by hawthorn. There is a tradition that says that cutting anything of a hawthorn tree brings bad luck. Though blackthorn can be used as a replacement in rituals and similar situations that call for a plant which will represent the Goddess.

Undoubtedly, this day was a day of sexuality for everyone. You will come across many phallic symbols included in the festival preparations, for example the Maypole (a symbol of the penis), nuts (a symbol of male testes) and the "gown of green" (the symbol of a man covering a woman). Customs on this day include dancing around the maypole, searching for nuts in the woods, greenwood marriages and staying up to watch the May-Day sunrise.

Blackthorn
On the morning of May 1, people would return to their homes with arms full of flowers ready to decorate their doors and windows, while the younger members of families would engage in making garlands and carry them in many merry processions. Even today, a similar custom exists in Ireland which includes making a garland from rowan and marsh marigold inside which there would be two balls attached, one silver and the other golden representing the moon and the sun (ultimately the Goddess and God) but they could also allude to testes, which wouldn't be uncommon taking into consideration the festival we're talking about.

You may even hear about the old tradition dancing (often skyclad) in fields in order to ensure their fertility. This may seem absurd to the modern man, though to me, this is a very interesting theory. If nothing else, it gave moral support to the people of that time :)

The most superstitious idea is thought to be the one when people clean their faces with the morning dew (on the morning of May 1) believing that this will make them more beautiful. This custom was present both in England and Ireland and was seen as something quite ordinary.

Regarding the ritual itself for this day, it's recommended that you achieve the "springiest" atmosphere you can; make garlands of spring flowers, flower jewelry, decorate everything with flowers and, if you have the opportunity, have a small fire nearby (if you can't do that, then light more candles or put a candle in your cauldron if you have one...or improvise with some other kind of bowls). As for food, nuts of all kind are welcome or anything made using them. Don't forget that this festival celebrates fertility after all (and sexuality with it), but also love, so keep this in mind when writing your ritual and take care to include some symbolical elements of this. We mustn't forget the maypole dancing and entwining ribbons around it. A few years back, I was celebrating Beltane with a friend and since it was only the two of us, we took a longer branch and stuck it in the ground and then entwined two ribbons around it. This was supposed to be a miniature version of our maypole and I have to say that it looked nice :) 

I hope that you will have an equally nice time as I know I will this year since I will be celebrating with a group of wonderful people in Zagreb. You can expect pictures and a report as soon as I get back :D

Sabbat: Beltane
Pronunciation: /b'yol-tinnuh/, /beltein/
Date: April 30 / May 1
Other names: Beltaine, May Day
God phase: Sung God, Oak King, the Green Man
Goddess phase: Mother (makes love with the God and
gets pregnant)
Symbolizes:
Celebrating the return of fertility and the 
sun (Celtic beginning of spring/summer),
the unity of the Goddess and God
Traditions:
The Maypole, jumping of the belfire,
blowing through horns, making garlands
and flower jewelry, searching for nuts
in woods, awaiting sunrise on May 1,
making a fire (preferably a bonfire)
Symbols &
colors:
Dark green, white, the colors of the
rainbow, fresh flowers, cauldrons with
flowers/a candle, fire, mirrors, nuts, 
phallic symbols
Food: Until I write up everything in my blog
cookbook, here are a few sites to keep you
busy:
Confessions of a Kitchen Witch
My Moonlit Path
Wycksted
But I managed to try a few of my own:
Herbal cookies
Oatcake
May serpent cake
...and if you're not that good in the kitchen,
you can always use something with honey
ore nuts or make a traditional cake that
combines the two. Use your imagination! :D
Incense: Rose, flowery smells


I wish you the best of luck with your preparations and the celebrating itself :D
Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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