Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beltane - The Witch's May Day

Beltane (AKA May Day) is one of the most important of the witch's sabbats, second only to Samhain (Halloween!) in both status and merriment. It is still celebrated as a spring festival in many places around the world but its ancient roots are Celtic, hailing from Co. Meath in Ireland. It is traditionally a fire festival due to the act of burning 9 different types of wood and then bringing the cattle out from the barns to pasture for the first time of the year, passing them through the pyres as they went. This ritual was to cleanse, heal and protect them which, it was believed, would improve their milk yield for that year. Beltane's meaning is actually fires of Bel (who was the Celtic deity worshipped.)
From these origins, the customs and rituals extended and widened, shifting the emphasis more to fertility. One of these traditions is probably the most iconic symbols of the day worldwide - the may pole. Ribbons of red and white are tied to a pole in the ground and weaved in and out to make particular patterns, usually by the young women of the community. This is a celebration of love and pleasure, helping (and hoping!) to increase fertility along the way.
The Wicca/Witch Sabbat of Beltane
To Wiccans and witches, this has become a very important time to honour the gifts we receive from the natural world around us. It is  the beginning of the light half of the year and astronomically a cross quarter day between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The spark and energy around us at this time of year, one which tends to dampen during the bleak, colder months, comes back to us. It is perfect for being harnessed for spell work and giving them new vigour .
How to Celebrate Beltane
One the first things you must do on Beltane morn is to wake up early and wash your face in the early dew. This was originally thought to give you beauty all year round. But it is an opportunity to really get close to nature and experience the simple joy and calm of being at one with it. Feel the coolness of the gentle breeze or absorb the warmth with the morning sun as it rises. Really experience the earth beneath your feet and breath in the vital air. Engross yourself in the moment!
To mark this fire festival, you can build a bonfire or have a fire of some kind going throughout the day. Many Wiccans, covens or worshippers carry out a fire vigil, starting on Beltane eve but if this is not possible you can always burn a candle to honour the day. In particular, silver candles represent fertility. However, some dedicated followers have even been know to build a small fire in their cauldron! Please, of course, don't leave it unattended if you do this and don't overdo the burning materials inside it. But nevertheless it is a heart warming sight.
But as well as a festival of fire, Beltane is seen as a festival of flowers. Baskets of flowers were made, either for decoration or even as part of a ritual or ceremony. Hawthorn is the flower of the day and legend has it that this is the only time of year that it is ok to bring it indoors without risking bringing bad luck upon yourself. It was usually worn by the May Queen, a young girl chosen to represent the day.
You can also use incense and herbs, either as part of your ritual or in your home (incense for if the bonfire is not practical). Associated with Beltane are - angelica, frankincense, hawthorn, lilac and rose.
However, your chief priority should not necessarily be how you celebrate but instead the feelings, awareness and connectivity with your surroundings that you experience. The meaning of this time of year may be less relevant to our daily lives than when the festival first began but the sense of harmony and even excitement can be cherished all the same.
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Fran x

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