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Celebrating Beltane: How to Celebrate May Day

The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of eight seasonal sabbats that are observed by many historical and contemporary pagans. On our blog we’ve previously covered two of the fire festivals, Samhain and Imbolc. May 1st will mark the third of the fire festivals: Beltane.

Beltane, also known as May Day, falls approximately midway between the spring equinox (Ostara) and the summer solstice (Litha) in the Northern Hemisphere. While the autumn festival Samhain begins of the dark half of the year, Beltane begins the light half. Because of this, Beltane is also sometimes called Cetsamhain, or “opposite Samhain,” and celebrates the transition of spring into summer. Spiritually Beltane embraces fertility, protection, life, nature, and ardor for the return of summer.

The History of Beltane

Beltane’s historical roots come from the Gaelic Celtic regions of the British Isles prior to the influence of the Roman Empire. The earliest historical record of Beltane comes from Cormac’s Glossary, written in the 10th century by Cormac mac Cuilennáin, Bishop of Cashel and King of Munster, Ireland. Cormac’s record details some of the druidic rituals that would be practiced during Beltane. For instance, bonfires were lit as offerings to the Celtic deity Belenus. Members of the community danced around or even leapt over the flames, while livestock were herded along paths between the fires to gain protection from diseases, natural disasters, and supernatural forces during the upcoming season.

There are still contemporary celebrations of Beltane in many pagan communities. Since 1988 the Beltane Fire Festival has been held on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland. People celebrate with a procession led by the Green Man, May Queen, and other characters, as well as dancing, music, fire performances, and, of course, the lighting of a community bonfire.


Ways to Celebrate Beltane