The 1st of May marks the ancient Celtic fire festival of Beltane. Danu Forest talks about this time of the year, traditionally considered a time of lovers and the sensual, erotic lure of nature as new life bursts forth all around us and the promise of summer unfolding ahead of us raises both our spirits and our energy.
An ancient festivity to celebrate Beltane is leaping over the Beltane fire to mark the seasonal rise in vigour and receive the blessing of the sun god Bel. This is also a time traditionally related to the sacred marriage, the union of the god and the goddess of the land to bring us all fertility for the coming year – partaking in the ‘rites of May’. Heading off into the woods and the wild to spend the night with your lover was an established Beltane custom all across Europe for hundreds of years, and is mentioned in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as an explanation for the lovers disarray when they are discovered.
Beltane and May Day lore always involves some kind of dissolution into our primal selves, where every man and woman may temporarily embody the divine and celebrate the sacred marriage within our own souls, as well as with sexual partners. Traditions from adorning and worshipping at the phallic maypole, and crowning a May Queen to represent the old pagan fertility goddesses remain a fixed feature of many May Day celebrations in the modern era, but stranger ones such as the Padstow Obby Oss have also survived and seen a passionate revival in modern times, reminding us of the inherent chaos and wildness of the season.
Beneath all the May Day fairs and village cake competitions there is still a suggestion of something strange afoot – this is a spirit time, when forces beyond our everyday world may still make themselves felt. Faery rades, or ‘rides’, are when the spirits of the Celtic Otherworlds and the spirits of nature; trees and rivers and storms, and the ancient ancestors, are all said to be able to roam freely and this is common at this time of year.
Like its dark sister, Samhain (or Halloween) at the opposite point of the year, Beltane is a time when, according to our folktales and oral lore, fate seems to make itself known, and can divert us from our preconceived plans and ideas. This leaves a trace of the spirits across our consciousness and changes us forever, forcing us into new growth with the blossoms on the bough.
Here are some ways to embrace the season:
- Choose this time to honour the divinity within yourself – male or female, remember your primal infinite self and honour your own soul. What do you really want out of life? Who are you beyond your everyday obligations? This may be tricky to answer, but playing with your self-image and preconceived ideas about how you should behave in your life can open up new possibilities.
- Take some time out in nature to be silent, just breathing in the air. What can you see? What can you hear? Look for signs of new life all around you and get your bare feet on some earth to draw in the special life force present in nature at this time. Walking barefoot on grass is excellent for our health and psychic wellbeing, but a barefoot walk in the woods as a sacred act is even better. Earthing and rejuvenating nature also teaches us mindfulness and how to be fully present in the moment, as well as revealing how capable we are in our own bodies when we pay attention to our surroundings.
- You may wish to make a Beltane altar, with two candles to represent the goddess and the god/ the May Queen and Jack in the Green/ Robin Hood and Maid Marian – the names for this divine couple are endless so visualise them in a way that suits your tastes and inner promptings. Decorate your altar with fresh flowers, blossom and budding branches, and spend some time in meditation in front of it, asking in your own words for the blessings of the season to come to your home and your life.
- For a simple love spell, take a green or pink candle, anoint it with rose oil and inscribe a heart upon it. Light it at dusk on Beltane eve, and recite the following:
‘Lover I call you to me, whoever you may be. You who could know and honour my heart, you who I could love and honour in return, with it harming none, I call you to me, and blessed be.’
Leave the candle somewhere safe. As the candle burns and is transformed into light, so the magic will shine out into the world and draw your lover to you.
However you mark Beltane this year let it be a time to rediscover something natural and magical within your everyday life, and discover the beauty of the divine within you.
Danu Forest has been a practising druid witch and Celtic shaman for over twenty years, has been teaching Celtic shamanism and witchcraft for over a decade, and runs a shamanic consultation and healing practice. She is the author of Nature Spirits: wyrd lore and wild fey magic (Wooden Books), The Druid Shaman (Moon Books) and Celtic Tree Magic (Llewellyn), creates and teaches email correspondence courses, writes a "Danu's Cauldron" blog for witchesandpagans.com, and has been published in magazines such as Kindred Spirit, Soul and Spirit, and Pagan Dawn. She is also an Ard BanDrui in the Irish Druid Clan of Dana, an ordained priestess, a druid grade member of OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates (healers/seers) and Druids) and a member of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners.
The Magical Year
£9.99, available from Watkins Publishing
Sign up for our newsletter to get an exciting series of podcasts, keep updated with our events and read new articles from our authors.