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April 30 Beltane or May Eve celebration

by Pat Hacker | April 28, 2000

You can think of the phrase “May Day” in four ways:

  1. An international signal of distress mainly used by troubled ships and aircraft. The French expression “m’aidez” means “help me”;
  2. The day the second. Socialist International, in 1889, claimed as a holiday for labour. Each May 1 you find labour marches and demos all over the world;
  3. Ancient fertility festivals of India and Egypt, which, in Canada, are celebrated in part by dancing around the Maypole;
  4. “Beltane” is a celebration for the “Eve of May” April 30. Dance and enjoy!

This is the night that the faeries dance, the eve of May. They won’t dance again until mid-summer’s eve. They dance and dance all night long, and, if you are very, very lucky, you may see them. You mustn't frighten them nor move quickly, and never attempt to capture a faery; they can turn mean on you. Leave a lovely faery gift near the trunk of a tree or by a stream in the woods. The gift could be a pretty nut shell, a small polished stone, or, best of all, something glittery. Faeries love glitter – but please, nothing metal. An iron nail or a hairpin can take away their powers of magic.

If you know a place where faeries can be found, leave frequent gifts. It is said that a faery can take the essence of a gift without actually taking it away. Then again, they may grab the gift and run, knowing that it was meant for them.

If you see or talk with any faeries, don’t act surprised; however, let us know when and where, and all the details.

The May eve celebration of the ancient pagan Beltane festival gave early Christian church fathers some concern as they saw it as essentially a festival of sex.

By May 1, the earth, in her maiden stage, has moved to her time of fertility and reproduction of new life. Whether it be human, animal or plant life, the spring has always been a time that reminds us that life continues, after a winter pause or a fallow period. It renews itself with many spring births, and with much encouragement to reproduce, to become fertile once again; all the basic urges of creation are at work.

Have you ever had “spring fever” when you just wanted to cut loose and follow your urges? That is the Beltane principle, the Beltane lust that hits us all from adolescence onward. It may take the form of skipping school or work, but it is always about feeling young, free and wanting to run with the wind.

The Maypole dance is re-enacted on May Day throughout Europe, Britain and North America. The Maypole is erected and symbolizes the phallus, the male representative of fertility. The Maypole, or a tree with bare branches, may be danced around celebrating the rootedness of life rising from inside the earth, the belly of the Great Mother, reaching skyward.

The female representative of fertility is symbolized by the May basket, of which the Easter basket is an adaptation. The symbolic womb.

The following is a ritual you may wish to do alone or with friends. Change or adapt the ritual form according to your own ideas and feelings.

ritual
  1. If at all possible, have your Beltane Festival ritual out of doors, in the back yard, in a park area approved and permitted for fire, on the roof or, if necessary, in your living room using a candle in place of a stone-circled fire pit. Celebrate the ritual barefooted with your feet feeling the earth. If you are indoors, your feet will symbolically feel the earth in your ritual.
  2. As with all ritual activity, a cleansing at the beginning of the ritual is important to include by a symbolic act. Smudging the area you use for your sacred Beltane circle with smoke or incense, or a sprinkling of salt and water as you “will” the area free of all negativity.
  3. The Beltane fire is very much a traditional part of the festival. Fire is the element of the south, of passion, of heat, and of destruction and transformation if it gets out of hand. Fire heats us; it kept our ancestors, The old ones, warm and safe from prowling animals. We can cook over the red flames. As in all powerful places, the element of fire, of the south, can work for good or it can be a problem if we aren’t careful in our use of it. Use neither fire nor passion carelessly, but with responsibility. This is a major lesson of paganism: responsibility, to the earth, to our history, to the future and to ourselves. This is a ritual that could include both men and women if you choose to celebrate it that way. It is also a ritual and time of year that celebrates the free spirit of the goddess Diana, the huntress, the feminine principle.
  4. Lay a fire in advance of your ritual, or arrange a candle in a container for the centre of your circle if you are indoors.
  5. Bring flowers to exchange with each other, to wear in your hair or to gift to yourself. The weather will likely be warm enough to wear light, soft, romantic flowing clothes. Bring bells or wear ankle bells, which can be bought in East Indian clothing shops, so that the sound you make will help the earth wake up to her fertility. If you can find vines or flowering branches soft enough to work into garlands, make one for each person's head, both women and men. Remember, when you remove a vine, a branch or a flower, to thank the plant and do it carefully, with respect.
  6. Bring fruits and juices, vegetables and cheese, honey and cakes for feasting after the ritual. Make a goddess bread out of pizza dough using a picture of a goddess figure you like as a model. When she is baked and cooled, fill her belly with pesto or flavored cream cheese, and everyone eat the goddess.
  7. If you decide to have both women and men in your ritual, choose a May queen and a May king to be your ritual leaders.
  8. Call in the elements or the four directions:
    • Standing, face the north, invite into the circle the energy of the north, the earth, the deep sleeping reservoir of knowledge and secrets, of wisdom and soul and slumbering stone once molten, now solid, ever transforming. Be with us now. Blessed be.
    • Standing, face the east, call in the spirits of the east, of air, of breath of life, of intellect and imagination. Be with us now. Blessed be.
    • Standing, face the south, invite the spirits of the south, of fire, of heat and passion, of energy and creativity. Be with us now. Blessed be.
    • Standing, face the west, invite the spirits of the west, of water, emotion and remembrance, the place of the gate to otherworld. Be with us now. Blessed be.
  9. Light the Beltane fire and dance in a circle clockwise around the fire ringing bells and singing or chanting:
    Merry maiden Goddess May,
    Welcome here this night and day,
    Bring the Goddess fertile May,
    Welcome here this night and day.

    Widen your circle sufficiently to allow space for those who want to jump the fire, either individually or couples hand-in-hand.

    Jump the fire:
    – to the north for prosperity
    – to the west to take negativity or illness away
    – to the east for new beginnings, ideas or inspiration
    – to the south for energy and passion.

    As you jump over the fire, call out loudly what you want. Do this until everyone who wants to jump the fire has done so as many times as needed, and until you are all exhausted; and be extra careful of long flowing garments flying over fire.

  10. Close the circle releasing the elements and thanking them for guarding and witnessing your ritual.
  11. Set to feasting and partying and, if you are able, tend the May Eve Beltane fire through the night until dawn. Blessed be!

Although Beltane is now usually celebrated from sundown April 30 to sundown on the first of May, it should be noted that in earlier times, before the calendar changes of 1752, all dates year-round would have come some days later – precious extra days, in spring-tide especially, during which time the hawthorn (“mayflower”) and many more trees and flowers would have begun blooming.

Also known as May Eve, May Day, and Walpurgis Night, happens at the beginning of May. It celebrates the height of spring and the flowering of life. The goddess manifests as the May queen and Flora. The god emerges as the May king and Jack in the Green. The danced Maypole represents their unity, with the pole itself being the god and the ribbons that encompass it, the goddess. Colours are the rainbow spectrum. Beltane is a festival of flowers, fertility, sensuality, and delight. Dance the Maypole and feel yourself balancing the divine female and male within. On May Eve, bless your garden in the old way by making love with your lover in it. Make a wish as you jump a bonfire or candle flame for good luck. Welcome in the May at dawn with singing and dancing.

resources for this story

National Film Board of Canada films directed by Donna Reed

  • Goddess Remembered
  • The Burning Times
  • Full Circle

books

  • Book of Greek Myths, by INGRI and EDGAR PARIN D’AVLAIRE, includes details about Persephone and Demeter, Doubleday | 1962
  • Drawing Down the Moon, by MARGOT ADLER, Beacon Press, Boston | 1992
  • A Woman’s Book Of Rituals and Celebrations, by BARBARA ARDINGER, New World Library, second edition, San Rafael, CA | 1995
  • The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, by ZSUZSANNA BUDAPEST, Winghbow Press, Berkeley, CA
  • Rites of Passage, The Pagan Wheel of Life, by PAULINE CAMPANELLI, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN | 1994
  • Wheel of the Year, Living the Magical Life, by PAULINE CAMPANELLI, Lleewellyn Publications, fifth printing | 1995
  • Ancient Ways, Reclaiming Pagan Traditions, by PAULINE CAMPANELLI, Llewellyn Publications, fourth printing | 1993
  • Wicca, A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner, by SCOTT CUNNINGHAM, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN | 1993
  • The Goddess Workbook, by JILL FAIRCHILD and REGINA SCHAARE, The Great Goddess Press, Portland, Maine | 1993
  • The Great Cosmic Mother, by BARBARA MOR and MONICA SJOO, Harper Row | 1989
  • Arladne’s Thread A Workbook of Goddess Magic, by SHEKHINAH MOUNTAINWATER, The Crossing Press, Freedom CA | 1991
  • Women-Church, by ROSEMARY RADFORD RUETHER, Harper and Row, San Francisco, CA | 1990
  • Encyclopedia of White Magic, by PADDY SLADE, Hamlyn Press, London | 1990
  • The Spiral Dance, by STARHAWK, Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA | 1991
  • The Women’s Spirituality Book, by DIANE STEIN, Llewellyn Publications
  • Jambalaya, by LULSAH TELSH, Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA | 1990
  • Women’s Rituals, by BARBARA WALKER, Harper and Row, New York, NY | 1990
  • The Women’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, by BARBARA WALKER, Harper and Row, San Francisco | 1990
  • Earth Magic: A Dianic Book of Shadows, by MARION WEINSTEIN, Phoenix Publishing Inc., Custer, WA | 1980

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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