The Beltane fire festival with its maypoles, Morris dancers, and sex ritual has a long history in pagan culture.
For the Celts, this is a time of the “bright fire,” the return of light and fertility to the world that has just passed through the winter season.The Beltane fire festival is the 3rd of the great four fire festivals and is celebrated beginning on the eve of April 30th and all day of May 1st.It marks the official beginning of summers half of the year and the pastoral growing season. Fields were consecrated and protected and blessed. Special rites were preformed to ensure the fertility and growth of the crops which had just begun to sprout and grow.One of the central rites of the the Beltane fire festival was the creation and burning of the great fire. The fire is either kindled using a wood plank and wood drill (wheel symbol to honor the Wheel God) or by striking two pieces of flint together (symbolic joining of energy of God and Goddess).This first fire of the land is known as the “need fire” as it is needed to cook with. This fire symbolizes the warmth of the sun and its power to return life and fruitfulness to the land.
What now followed was a time of feasting, dancing and singing for the people.In some areas a sacrifice was made to drive out the old and bring in the new. Spring wreaths or garlands that were made at Ostara were now symbolically burnt.As the bale fire died down it was often divided into two piles and the flocks were driven between the fires. This ensured that the animals would be protected and fertile for the rest of the year. (It was also believed that the fire had healing properties and could cure/prevent malignant disease and/or poisons in the herd animals.)The next task was to take part of the fire home to kindle the hearth fire. Finally the ashes of the fires were utilized. They were spread out over the fields to ensure the fertility of the crops. Some ash was taken and spread in the home to give protection. Some could be put into a charm bag to bring personal fertility. Finally, sometimes it was put into a shoe to guard the walker against misfortune.
The Maypole is a symbol of the spirit of vegetation returning and reuniting with the Earth at the beginning of summer. The phallic symbol of the God (the Maypole) is plunged into the yoni of the Goddess (the hole the pole is placed in). Often the pole has a wreath on top of it to symbolize the fertile power of nature.The ribbons which hang from the pole symbolize protection and ensure the safety of the newborn season. The dancing of alternating males and females intertwine the ribbons symbolizing mating and fertility and the weaving of human life with that of Nature’s. Fertile women, particularly those who were menstruating, would ride a broom around a field to ensure its fertility. May dolls (originally an image of the Roman Goddess Flora) were made and carried in a parade for luck.Another practice carried out at the Beltane fire festival was the blessing and cleansing of wells and/or the source of the water for the village. Wells and springs were viewed as a connection between the Otherworld and the world the people lived in. As such, they were especially sacred. Snakes (which appeared about now after their winter hibernation) were especially revered as a fertility symbol (shape crawling into hole in Mother Earth) and were seen as creatures that represented the inner knowledge of creation. They were also the guardians of the water of life. The shedding of their skin was conclusive proof of their link to rebirth and eternal life.The Green ManHe represents the primal consciousness of the plant kingdom and is an animation of Nature by the seasons’ powers. Here the forest is viewed as a dangerous place (for it has unknown, possibly malevolent spirits in it), but one that is necessary and that should be venerated (as it provides food and the materials for shelter). He represents the spirit energy that is found in seeds and this seed spirit energy must be captured to ensure the fertility of the crops for next year. Thus the last harvested plants and grains are kept for seed stock for next year. (If this is not done, the spirit energy will flee the field and will be lost.) Some believe that the spirit fled into the one who cut the last plant(s) and he became the receptacle till the next spring planting. Thus were born the Gods called Jack-of-the-Green or John Barleycorn.
He is viewed as the ”Hidden One” who guards the greenwoods and is the celebration of the life force of Nature. He is, in fact, a living May Tree. In some Beltane fire festivals he substitutes for the May King and dances around the May Queen during the procession. His presence became associated with chimney sweeps as they are the caretakers of the fire pit which renews the spirit of vegetation.John Barleycorn:He is the God of corn and/or barley, the spirit of life, and the God of the Woods, death and resurrection. He is the spirit of plant life which is always renewed.
Activities for the Beltane fire festival
Cleanse/Dedicate a well, spring or river – We often get water for religious purposes from some particular source. Do purification rites here. Clean it up a bit if possible. Decorate it with flowers or plant some greenery and/or flowers around/by it. it is a stream or river,make a small flower wreath and toss it in as an offering. You may even toss in wooden offerings or coins.Hold a Beltane fire festival– If you want to see how hard your ancestors worked at this, try lighting one using the drill method or with just two pieces of flint. Otherwise, build your fire, throw in any Ostara materials and after it has burnt way down (safety here!!!) Jump over the coals. You can also purify and cleanse yourself or your sacred tools in the smoke of this fire. You might want to save some of the ashes as a fertility or protection charm and/or spread them on your garden.
Hold a Feast– Feature traditional food like oat cakes, porridge, milk, honey, wine, mead, etc.Hold a Fertility Rite– As part of your celebration, this can be preformed either symbolically or in actuality (if you have a willing partner). You can do this for personal fertility, that of your garden or that of Mother Earth; have fun!!!
Thank the Faeries– They are the ones who are now doing all the work to ensure that Mother Earth wakes up, flowers and prospers. They are opening the flowers and helping the seeds to grow. Thank them and leave them some extra libations as they are working very hard and need the extra energy and support. They will reward you handsomely with beautiful flowers and/or a great garden.
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