In the musical Camelot Guinevere sings:
It’s May! It’s May! That gorgeous holiday
When ev’ry maiden prays that her lad
Will be a cad!
It’s mad! It’s gay!
A libelous display!
Those dreary vows that ev’ryone takes,
Ev’ryone makes divine mistakes
The lusty month of May!
This song hearkens back to the festival of Beltane, which is celebrated as one of the turning points on the Pagan Wheel of the Year. Dancing, singing, flowers, music, maypoles, love, lust, and celebrating the fertility of the earth are the themes of this Sabbat.
Traditionally Beltane began at sundown on April 30th where all of the fires in the village were extinguished. A series of huge bonfires, called Needfires were then lit, danced around, jumped over, and used as the focal point of celebrations all over the Celtic countryside. The fires of individual homes were lit from the community needfires, bringing those blessings into the household for the coming year.
The word Beltane translates from two words, Bel or Beli, a solar God in Celtic tradition, and Teine, meaning “fire” in old Gaelic. So Beltane translates to Bel-Fire or God-Fire. Bel was also known as Bile in Ireland, meaning Tree, so Beltane may also mean Tree Fire following that traditionally a Beltane fire was composed of the nine sacred woods* of the Celts:
Rowan – the wizard’s tree
Briar – burn him that is so keen and green
Oak – fiercest heat giver of all timber
Alder – very battle-witch of all woods
Holly – burn it green, burn it dry
Elder – him that furnishes horses to the armies of the Sidhe burn
Birch – burn up most sure the stalks that bear the constant pads
Aspen – burn, be it late or early
The Yew is singled out as being sacred to the feast.
*From a 13th century Irish poem called, “Song of the Forest Trees”.
Beltane is recognized as the beginning of summer and in Wiccan religious belief, it is seen as the day that the Goddess and God join together in union to ensure the fertility of the earth. It is a traditional time for Handfasting and was in ancient times a day for couples to make love in the fields as a form of sympathetic magic to bless the crops. Also in times past, the livestock penned at Samhain were driven between two fires to purify and strengthen them and returned to summer pastures at Beltane.
In various areas, different groups are gathering to celebrate Beltane. However, since this is one of the Sabbat observances, if a member of the public wishes to attend and you are not part of these groups, it is polite to contact them and ask if they will permit outside visitors to their celebration.
Here are some questions to ask ahead of time if you wish to attend a Sabbat or Pagan group event:
- Are visitors are expected to bring anything?
- Is the event is child-friendly?
- Should any specific form of clothing should be worn?
- How long is the event planned for?
You will likely be asked if you are familiar with the purpose and background of the Sabbat to ensure that you will not feel out of place. Be honest if you have not attended a public gathering before, participated in a Pagan/Wiccan circle before, or if you are just learning. If you have questions as to what the event will involve, please ask the event coordinator. You should be comfortable with any event you plan to attend so ask questions beforehand.