The following is an excerpt from my Free Guide to The Wheel of the Year.
Love, pleasure, warmth, abundance, blooms, fruits, juice, sex, dance, party. Bare feet, skirts, skin in the sun, rolling down hillsides, music, laughter.
Beltane (May 1st) is the party to rule all parties. Whether you’re in the company of others or celebrating on your own, the exuberance that marks the peak of Spring is with you.
Some mark Beltane as the time the Hawthorns bloom. Hawthorn is a tree in the Rose family, which bears small round red fruits, and offers medicine for the physical as well as the emotional heart. This time of year was once very popular for getting married, and many a wedding was decked out in blooming Hawthorn boughs. The blossoms have a musky, spunky, sexy smell, and thus are associated with fertility. Hawthorns can grow together thickly, and they wield long, menacing thorns, making them a popular hedgerow plant in the UK. While marking these literal borders, some say they also form a gateway between this world and the Otherworld. There are stories of young folk falling asleep beneath Hawthorn trees, only to wake up in the realm of faerie. Contemporary farmers consider it bad luck to fell a Hawthorn, and will leave a tree in the middle of a field, growing crops and mowing hay around it to prevent the ire and retribution of the faeries.
Just as the veil between this world and the Otherworld is thin at Samhain, it’s just as thin now, at Beltane. It’s customary to leave offerings for faerie folk at this time of year. Biscuits, milk, wine, and mead are their preferred gifts. Be sure to thank them for blessing the land and going easy on the mischief.
If one was ever to find oneself suddenly in the realm of faerie, now would be a likely time. If this happens to you, heed my one piece of advice: don’t eat the food in fairyland. Many a wayward traveler has been overly tempted by the sumptuous smells and decadent feasts of a faerie table, only to have their freedom stolen with the first bite, nevermore to return to the world of Women. No matter how good it smells, or how growly your belly, just don’t do it.
Yes, this is the festival when people made love in the furrows to bless the crops. The ordinary trappings and trimmings of polite society were sloughed this night. Unmarried young people might slip into the woods together, married people might disappear with someone other than their spouse. Babies born 9 months from now (at Imbolc) were considered lucky.
The traditional festivities of this day are those many of us think of when we think of paganism. The Maypole, a tree tall and true, is felled by the men and provides a fine phallic centerpiece. The women dig the hole the Maypole rests in. The pole is bedecked in colorful ribbons twice its length, and each reveler holds the end of one ribbon while standing in a circle around the pole. Half the celebrants face one direction, the other half face the other, and they all run round the pole while weaving in and out of each other, making mistakes and enjoying general mayhem.
Rituals For Celebrating
Leave an Offering for the Faeries
As I mentioned before, biscuits, milk, wine, and mead are faerie favorites, but any non-toxic-to-animals food or beverage will do. Place your offerings in a bowl or on a plate, and say a few words in greeting and thanks to the intended recipients as you leave them. Be sure to place them an appropriate distance from your home, and never ever in your home. These offerings are not invitations. Faeries aren’t the cute innocent beings of light that Disney makes them out to be; they’re capable of real mischief and even harm. I tend to treat them much the way I treat the ocean, with love, affection, vigilance, some healthy fear, and a lot of respect. I never turn my back on them, and I don’t want them in my living room. Leaving offerings is a very effective way to stay on their good side.
Have a Bonfire
No Beltane was complete without some major bonfires. Livestock were marched between two conflagrations for “cleansing" and blessings. Pairs of lovers held hands and leapt together over fires, a practice which would be totally taboo any other night of the year. Build a fire if you’re able. If you’re outside, be sure that your surroundings are wet enough and appropriate for burning. Please be responsible and don’t start any devastating wildfires. Should you choose to leap over the flames, it wasn’t me who told you to do it.
Beltane is for celebrating sex, making art of sex, expressing ourselves via sex, and it’s also time to honor all types of pleasure. Whether you’re in worship alone, with another, or with others, expressing your love and experiencing pleasure is the pure spirit of this holiday.
In Starhawk’s “The Charge of the Star Goddess,” The Great Mother Goddess says All acts of pleasure are My rituals. See what acts you can turn into devotions to Her. Mundane activities like washing the dishes can be made into acts of love and pleasure. Play music that pleases you. Anoint your hands with an oil or lotion when you’re finished. When you sit down to enjoy some food, ask yourself How might this be best enjoyed? Should it go on your favorite plate? Does your brownie need a glass of milk to go with it? Might you eat it on the front stoop, or at the window? Your body was put on this Earth with the capacity for enjoyment and gratification, honor that truth.
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