BELTANE | CHRONICLE, CELEBRATION & ALTAR
Historically, Beltane marked the time of year when cattle were released from winter quarters and herded out to pasture for the summer. The medieval Ireland text, Cormac’s Glossary, records one of the first written references to the practice of building two large Beltane fires, between which cattle were herded. Some forced herds to leap over the flames. This was a protection ritual which served a practical purpose, as the heat and smoke helped rid the animals of fleas and other pests.
Likewise, villagers carried torches from the bonfires throughout and around their homes in protective ritual, smoking out pests and stagnant air. They placed yellow flowers in the home and draped garlands of yellow flowers over livestock. A May Bush, or May Bough was of Hawthorn or Rowan, decorated with spring flowers and ribbons and paraded through the village. Later this evolved into the practice of dancing around a Maypole weaving ribbons under a high bouquet while wearing crowns of braided flowers.
After your fire the last evening of April, Beltane’s daytime celebrations on May 1st (May Day) are all about the Earth’s burgeoning life. It’s no coincidence that many unions occur at this time of year. In the past, those with little means for having a huge wedding simply jumped over a broomstick while holding hands. Handfasting, the symbolic tying of a couple’s hands together with ribbon and flower garlands, is a beautifully simple ritual of commitment often held at Beltane too.
Now’s the time for renewal of unifying commitments in love, life, and work. The gathering together of community around a Maypole to dance and ring bells while weaving colorful ribbons, symbolizes the continuity of supporting one another through the year with the elation of summer on its way.
Flowers have been the exuberant heart of Beltane celebrations for centuries. Crowns made of linked blossoms, salads with fresh blooms, flower chains to wear or use in decoration, fairy homes constructed in the garden and decorated with buds and blooms, May baskets left at doors, sugared flowers to top sweet baked goods—these are all beautiful places to start!
THE BELTANE ALTAR
An altar is a collection of items which create a hum in your being whenever you are near. It’s a reminder of where we are in the turning of the year, and a soulful expression of who you are in its turning. There are no rules, only suggestions based on those who have come before us.
COLORS — lush green, fiery yellow, gold, vibrant orange
NATURE — dandelions, antlers, hawthorn, rowan, bird nests
SYMBOLS — bees & honey, fairies, robins, stags, Green Man, Athena, circles, rings, goblets, wands, maypole, sexual energy
BOTANICALS — primrose, honeysuckle, lilacs, marigolds, ferns, budding branches
STONES — carnelian, citrine, emerald, agate, jasper, olivine/peridot
SPIRITUAL — deities, amulets, talismans, images, all personal to you
ELEMENTAL — earth/soil, air/feather, fire/candle, water, feminine & masculine symbolic items
ATMOSPHERE — delight, sensuality, fertility, union, dance, cleansing, passion, heat, freshness