So what’s Beltaine?
Also celebrated as May Day, this festival begins at sundown on April 30. Traditionally, couples stay out overnight “bringing in the May”, or gathering spring flowers and greenery with which to create garlands, crowns and bouquets. It is a time of joyous celebration of the fertility displayed by the land as it further opens to the touch of the sun: trees have put forth new leaves and are now flowering, the new grass is lush and thick; the days grow ever longer and the rains nourish the new crops in the fields.
By extension, Beltaine is also a sexually licentious time. It is the beginning of the season favoured for marriages and handfastings, as well as for re-enactment of the Great Rite, the union between the God and the Goddess. Much poetry and folklore exists describing the abandonment with which dancing, singing and playing leads to lovemaking. Children conceived on this might are called “children of the Gods”, and are said to be blessed.
The Maypole is perhaps the most recognisable accessory to Mayday celebration. A dancing game in which men and women interweave ribbons attached to a high pole (passing one another with plenty of kisses!), this action is another form of the Great Rite, the pole representing the God and the ribbons which slowly enfold it representing the Goddess. Other familiar concepts at Beltaine include a bonfire through which people jump and/or drive livestock for purification and luck, and the Jack-of-the-Green, a man disguised in leaves who represents the Vegetation God or the Lord of the Forest. His elected consort is the May Queen, who will be presented with garlands and floral crowns.
This festival is opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year, and like that Sabbat is a night of divination as the veils grow thin. The Ancient Celts recognised only two seasons, summer and winter; as Samhain was the beginning of Winter, the dark half of the year, so Beltaine recognises the beginning of Summer, or the light half of the year.
Yeah. It’s all about life, the way Samhain is all about death. Two sides of the same coin, after all. It’s an essential part of the never-ending cycle: life, death; light, dark; summer, winter. Neither side carries more weight; both are equally important. We honour fertility and creation, and we honour the time of fallowness and destruction as well. It’s like an Oreo: it just isn’t an Oreo unless it has chocolate biscuits and a white cream filling. (Okay, and a glass of milk, too, but that’s beside the point.)
I can’t believe I just compared basic Pagan the(a)ology to a Mr Christie cookie product. Even worse, I can’t believe it made sense to me.
Oreos are very Beltaine, though, don’t you think? You know – gently pull apart the layers, to get to the… never mind.