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May 1st is Beltane, also known as May Day. Wondering how to celebrate? Or what Beltane even is? Read on to learn more and for five simple and beautiful Beltane rituals to try this year.
What is Beltane?
Beltane is a Gaelic pagan festival held on the first of May. You may have seen this date, special to many European cultures, marked as May Day on the calendar.
In Irish mythology, Beltane used to mark the beginning of summer, which meant the cattle had to be taken out to pasture for the season. The Beltane rituals performed by the Irish and other Gaelic peoples were intended to protect the cattle and, more generally, to protect the community and encourage the growth of crops.
By today’s calendar, Beltane is more like the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice, but it still holds significance and is a great way to check in with nature and connect to the seasons.
Why celebrate Beltane?
You might be thinking to yourself, “Okay, I’m not Gaelic and I don’t own cattle. Why would I celebrate Beltane?”
Essentially, Beltane is a festival of protection and fertility. It is a time to connect with the growing power of the sun as summer approaches. The increased warmth and light of the waxing sun symbolizes increased growth and fertility as well as creativity, activity, and productivity.
In more practical terms, Beltane can be a powerful time to focus on personal development and growth in general. Or, focus on making significant progress on a specific creative project that is important to you. The idea is that in the summer months, the weather is nicer and the days are longer, which means we are feeling better and have longer, more pleasant days working in our favor to be inspired, stay motivated, and get shit done.
Of course, connecting to warmth and light is also about enjoying the beauty and vitality of our planet. Like I said, Beltane is a time of inspiration and motivation. So it isn’t a time of hunkering down and working; it’s about letting nature and the beauty of everyday life touch and move us.
As such, Beltane is a sensual, passionate, and joyful festival as well.
5 Simple and Fun Ways to Celebrate Beltane
I mentioned earlier that Beltane coincides with May Day, another European festival with pagan roots. Both celebrate fertility and the coming of summer. May Day is probably the more popular term. It’s most famously celebrated with a Maypole, a pole planted in the ground with colorful strands of ribbon hanging down from the top. People form a circle around the pole, each with a ribbon in their hand, and dance around the Maypole, wrapping up the pole in a beautifully woven pattern of ribbons.
While a Maypole is certainly a fun option for Beltane, here are five other super simple and beautiful ways to celebrate Beltane this year.
1. Build a Beltane bonfire.
A celebration of the waxing sun, Beltane is essentially a fire festival. In fact, the word “Beltane” comes from the name of the Celtic fire god, Bel. For that reason, Beltane imagery usually involves a festive bonfire. (Bonfires are actually a traditional Mabon – or Fall Equinox – ritual too.)
A magical Beltane bonfire symbolizes the protective power of fire. The light of the flames bathes us in the protective power of fire. Some even believe that the smoke and ash of a Beltane bonfire are protective. Elemental Fire also has a purifying and revitalizing quality, so gathering around a bonfire can really help us unburden ourselves spiritually and emotionally. We can do this literally by talking things out with trusted friends and healing through laughter and support, or symbolically by imagining our burdens, heavy emotions, and limiting beliefs burning up into ash in the glow of the bonfire.
A backyard or beach bonfire with friends sounds like a lovely (and pandemic-friendly) way to celebrate Beltane. Now that the CDC has issued their encouraging statement about the safety of small outdoor gatherings, a Beltane bonfire is super high on my list of Beltane festivities this year!
2. Adorn your home with yellow and orange flowers.
The Beltane tradition of decorating with yellow and orange flowers seems to be another form of fire symbolism. If you can’t manage an actual bonfire, adorning your home with a beautifully bright bouquet of yellow flowers to honor the element of fire is a great alternative.
Yellow flowers such as primrose and marigold are a Beltane tradition, but I think filling your home with any yellow and even orange flowers would do just beautifully. Yellow tulips are a particular favorite of mine, but sunflowers, dahlias, and daffodils would be gorgeous too. And some orange marigolds, begonias, or chrysanthemums could really add some depth and drama to your Beltane flower arrangement.
I think I might swing over to my local Whole Foods in the morning and just select a nice bunch of fire-evoking blooms for a festive Beltane centerpiece for my dining table. I wouldn’t say no to a daisy chain or flower crown either. Seems like the perfect thing to wear to your Beltane bonfire to really get in the Beltane spirit.
(Related: How to Celebrate the Winter Solstice)
3. Make sun water.
Sun water is basically water that has been charged under the sun. Since Beltane is a fire-festival honoring the growing sun, making sun water seems particularly appropriate as a Beltane ritual. Here’s how to do it.
First, find a suitable vessel for your sun water. This can be a bowl, glass, vase or, my personal recommendation, a mason jar with a tight lid. This way, dust, pet dander, dirt, or pollen will stay out of your water as it sits out.
As is the case with all rituals and magical workings, our intention and focus is the main ingredient. So I like to hold my jar and set an intention or even just say a prayer over the water. Since we are making Beltane sun water, I’d focus on what I’m trying to grow or accomplish this season: it could be something general like increased mindfulness or embracing your sensuality and sexuality, or it could be super specific, like finishing your book or nailing an upcoming job interview and getting an offer. Hold your water in your hands and focus on your intention. Speak it out loud if that helps, and visualize success. Really feel into it.
Now you are ready to charge your water with the energy of the Beltane sun! Place it in direct sunlight for at least fifteen minutes and up to a full day (from sunrise to sunset). Some say placing it outside is best, but if you’re an apartment dweller like me, a window sill that gets some direct sunlight will work fine too.
And that’s it!
What can you do with your sun water? Well, you can drink it (thus my insistence on a secure lid), use it in a bath, sprinkle or spray it around your altar or any other space you want to cleanse, or water your house plants with it.
4. Have a dance party!
Beltane is a time of fertility, play, and friskiness! Now, sure, this could be overtly sexual for some – and that’s totally fine. What an easy and natural way for humans to celebrate this holiday, after all!
But fertility and playfulness can also mean letting loose and being silly – wild even. In that vein, maybe you want to get some friends or neighbors together for an outdoor dance party. Dancing is such a great way to celebrate our bodies and our vitality (and get cardio). Or, have a solo dance party in the privacy of your own home. You can literally dance like nobody’s watching and try out all those crazy sexy moves you’ve been holding back on the dance floor.
5. Ask your tarot cards for guidance with this special Beltane tarot spread.
In fact, after I created my Beltane-inspired playlist, I also created a special Beltane tarot spread that captures the vitality and impassioned action of Beltane.
Take a few deep breaths to relax and center yourself. Then, shuffle your cards until you are ready to draw five cards. Lay them out from bottom to top as you see in the diagram above. Here are the positions, or corresponding questions, for each card:
- In what area of my life do I need more clarity?
- How can I invite more laughter and joy into my life?
- What blessings are coming my way this season?
- How am I being empowered this season?
- What action or great leap am I being called to take?
I’ll be sharing this tarot spread on Instagram too, so make sure to follow me and save the post on Instagram for easy access when you’re ready to sit down and do your spread. And if you want to share your Beltane tarot spread on Instagram, make sure to tag me! I’d love to see it.
Let me know how you plan to celebrate Beltane by leaving a comment below.
Beltane blessings to you!