A Time of Fertility & Abundance
It's a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth, and a day that has a long and sometimes scandalous history. Depending on your tradition, there are a number of ways you can celebrate this Sabbat.
Depending on your particular tradition, there are many different ways you can celebrate Beltane, but the focus is nearly always on fertility. It's the time when the earth mother opens up to the fertility god, and their union brings about healthy livestock, strong crops, and new life all around.
Here are a few rituals you may want to think about trying -- and remember, any of them can be adapted for either a solitary practitioner or a small group, with just a little planning ahead.
Wishing you a very Blessed Beltane,
Love & Light
Origins of Beltane
Celebrating May Day
The Fires of Tara
Beltane kicks off the merry month of May, and has a long history. This fire festival is celebrated on May 1 with bonfires, Maypoles, dancing, and lots of good old fashioned sexual energy. The Celts honored the fertility of the gods with gifts and offerings, sometimes including animal or human sacrifice. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the balefires, and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year. In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane, and all other fires were lit with a flame from Tara.
The Romans, always known for celebrating holidays in a big way, spent the first day of May paying tribute to their Lares, the gods of their household. They also celebrated the Floralia, or festival of flowers, which consisted of three days of unbridled sexual activity. Participants wore flowers in their hair (much like May Day celebrants later on), and there were plays, songs, and dances. At the end of the festivities, animals were set loose inside the Circus Maximus, and beans were scattered around to ensure fertility. The fire festival of Bona Dea was also celebrated on May 2nd.
A Pagan Martyr
May 6 is the day of Eyvind Kelve in Norse celebrations. Eyvind Kelve was a pagan martyr who was tortured and drowned on the orders of King Olaf Tryggvason for refusing to give up his pagan beliefs. A week later, Norwegians celebrate the Festival of the Midnight Sun, which pays tribute to the Norse sun goddess. This festival marks the beginning of ten straight weeks without darkness.
The Greeks and Plynteria
Also in May, the Greeks celebrated the Plynteria in honor of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and battle, and the patroness of the city of Athens (which was named after her). The Plynteria includes the ritual cleansing of Athena’s statue, along with feasting and prayers in the Parthenon. On the 24th, homage is paid to the Greek moon-goddess Artemis (goddess of the hunt and of wild animals). Artemis is a lunar goddess, equivalent to the Roman moon-goddess Diana – she is also identified with Luna, and Hecate.
The Green Man Emerges
A number of pre-Christian figures are associated with the month of May, and subsequently Beltane. The entity known as the Green Man, strongly related to Cernunnos, is often found in the legends and lore of the British Isles, and is a masculine face covered in leaves and shrubbery. In some parts of England, a Green Man is carried through town in a wicker cage as the townsfolk welcome the beginning of summer. Impressions of the Green Man’s face can be found in the ornamentation of many of Europe’s older cathedrals, despite edicts from local bishops forbidding stonemasons from including such pagan imagery.
A related character is Jack-in-the-Green, a spirit of the greenwood. References to Jack appear in British literature back as far as the late sixteenth century. Sir James Frazer associates the figure with mummers and the celebration of the life force of trees. Jack-in-the-Green was seen even in the Victorian era, when he was associated with soot-faced chimney sweeps. At this time, Jack was framed in a structure of wicker and covered with leaves, and surrounded byMorris dancers. Some scholars suggest that Jack may have been a ancestor to the legend of Robin Hood.
Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites
Today's Pagans and Wiccans celebrate Beltane much like their ancestors did. A Beltane ritual usually involves lots of fertility symbols, including the obviously-phallic Maypole dance. The Maypole is a tall pole decorated with flowers and hanging ribbons, which are woven into intricate pattern by a group of dancers. Weaving in and out, the ribbons are eventually knotted together by the time the dancers reach the end.
In some Wiccan traditions, Beltane is a day in which the May Queen and the Queen of Winterbattle one another for supremacy. In this rite, borrowed from practices on the Isle of Man, each queen has a band of supporters. On the morning of May 1, the two companies battle it out, ultimately trying to win victory for their queen. If the May Queen is captured by her enemies, she must be ransomed before her followers can get her back.
There are some who believe Beltane is a time for the faeries -- the appearance of flowers around this time of year heralds the beginning of summer and shows us that the fae are hard at work. In early folklore, to enter the realm of faeries is a dangerous step -- and yet the more helpful deeds of the fae should always be acknowledged and appreciated. If you believe in faeries, Beltane is a good time to leave out food and other treats for them in your garden or yard.
For many contemporary Pagans, Beltane is a time for planting and sowing of seeds -- again, the fertility theme appears. The buds and flowers of early May bring to mind the endless cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth that we see in the earth. Certain trees are associated with May Day, such as the Ash, Oak and Hawthorn. In Norse legend, the god Odin hung from an Ash tree for nine days, and it later became known as the World Tree, Yggdrasil.
If you've been wanting to bring abundance and fertility of any sort into your life -- whether you're looking to concieve a child, enjoy fruitfulness in your career or creative endeavors, or just see your garden bloom -- Beltane is the perfect time for magical workings related to any type of prosperity.
Preparing your Beltane Alter
Colors of the Season
This is a time when the earth is lush and green as new grass and trees return to life after a winter of dormancy. Use lots of greens, as well as bright spring colors -- the yellow of the daffodils, forsythia and dandelions; the purples of the lilac; the blue of a spring sky or a robin's egg. Decorate your altar with any or all of these colors in your altar cloths, candles, or colored ribbons.
The Beltane holiday is the time when, in some traditions, the male energy of the god is at its most potent. He is often portrayed with a large and erect phallus, and other symbols of his fertility include antlers, sticks, acorns, and seeds. You can include any of these on your altar. Consider adding a small Maypole centerpiece -- there are few things more phallic than a pole sticking up out of the ground!
In addition to the lusty attributes of the god, the fertile womb of the goddess is honored at Beltane as well. She is the earth, warm and inviting, waiting for seeds to grow within her. Add a goddess symbol, such as a statue, cauldron, cup, or other feminine items. Any circular item, such as a wreath or ring, can be used to represent the goddess as well.
Flowers and Faeries
Beltane is the time when the earth is greening once again -- as new life returns, flowers are abundant everywhere. Add a collection of early spring flowers to your altar -- daffodils, hyacinths, forsythia, daisies, tulips -- or consider making a floral crown to wear yourself. You may even want to pot some flowers or herbs as part of your Sabbat ritual.
In some cultures, Beltane is sacred to the Fae. If you follow a tradition that honors the Faerie realm, leave offerings on your altar for your household helpers.
Because Beltane is one of the four fire festivals in modern Pagan traditions, find a way to incorporate fire into your altar setup. Although one popular custom is to hold a bonfire outside, that may not be practical for everyone, so instead it can be in the form of candles (the more the better), or a table-top brazier of some sort. A small cast-iron cauldron placed on a heat-resistant tile makes a great place to build an indoor fire.
Other Symbols of Beltane
Honey, oats, milk
Antlers or horns
Fruit such as cherries, mangos, pomegranates, peaches
Swords, lances, arrows
Legends & Folklore of Beltane
In many cultures, there are different legends and lore surrounding Beltane.
Here are a few of the stories about this magical spring celebration.
- Like Samhain, the holiday of Beltane is a time when the veil between the worlds is thin. Some traditions believe that this is a good time to contact the spirits, or to interact with the Fae. Be careful, though -- if you visit the Faerie Realm, don't eat the food, our you'll be trapped there, much like Thomas the Rhymer was!
- Some Irish dairy farmers hang a garland of green boughs over their door at Beltane. This will bring them great milk production from their cows during the coming summer. Also, driving your cattle between two Beltane bonfires helps protect your livestock from disease.
- The pious Puritans were outraged by the debauchery of Beltane celebrations. In fact, they made Maypoles illegal the mid 1600's, and tried to put a halt to the "greenwood marriages" that frequently took place on May Eve. One pastor wrote that if "tenne maiden went to set (celebrate) May, nine of them came home gotten with childe."
- According to a legend in parts of Wales and England, women who are trying to conceive should go out on May Eve -- the last night of April -- and find a "birthing stone", which is a large rock formation with a hole in the center. Walk through the hole, and you will conceive a child that night. If there is nothing like this near you, find a small stone with a hole in the center, and drive a branch of oak or other wood through the hole -- place this charm under your bed to make you fertile.
- If you go out at sunrise on Beltane, take a bowl or jar to gather morning dew. Use the dew to wash your face, and you're guaranteed a perfect complexion. You can also use the dew in ritual as consecrated water, particularly in rituals related to the moon or the goddess Diana or her counterpart, Artemis.
- In the Irish Book of Invasions, it was on Beltane that Patholan, the first settler, arrived on Ireland's shores. May Day was also the date of the defeat of the Tuatha de Danaan by Amergin and the Milesians.
- Babies conceived at Beltane are considered a gift from the gods. They were sometimes referred to as "merry-begots", because the mothers were impregnated during Beltane's merrymaking.
- In Cornwall, it's traditional to decorate your door on May Day with boughs of hawthorn and sycamore.
- Eating a special oatcake called a bannock or a Beltane cake ensured Scottish farmers abundance of their crops for the year. The cakes were baked the night before, and roasted in embers on a stone.
The Green Man, The Spirit of The Forest
Strongly connected to Jack in the Green and the May King, as well as John Barleycorn during the fall harvest, the figure known as the Green Man is a god of vegetation and plant life. He symbolizes the life that is found in the natural plant world, and in the earth itself. Consider, for a moment, the forest. In the British Isles, the forests a thousand years ago were vast, spreading for miles and miles, farther than the eye could see. Because of the sheer size, the forest could be a dark and scary place.
However, it was also a place you had to enter, whether you wanted to or not, because it provided meat for hunting, plants for eating, and wood for burning and building. In the winter, the forest must have seemed quite dead and desolate... but in the spring, it returned to life. It would be logical for early peoples to have applied some sort of spiritual aspect to the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Folklorist James Frazer associates the Green Man with May Day celebrations, and with the character of Jack in the Green, who is a more modern adaptation of the Green Man. Jack is a more specifically defined version of the nature spirit than the earlier Green Man archetype. Frazer speculates that while some form of the Green Man was probably present in a variety of separate early cultures, he developed independently into a variety of newer, more modern characters. This would explain why in some areas he is Jack, while in others he is Robin of the Hood, or Herne the Hunter in different parts of England. Likewise, other, non-British cultures seem to have similar nature deities.
The Green Man is typically portrayed as a human face surrounded by dense foliage. Such images appear as far back as the eleventh century, in church carvings. As Christianity spread, the Green Man went into hiding, with stonemasons leaving secret images of his face around cathedrals and churches. He enjoyed a revival during the Victorian era, when he became popular with architects, who used his visage as a decorative aspect in buildings.
Legends connected to the archetype of the Green Man are everywhere. In the Arthurian legend, the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a prime example. The Green Knight represents the pre-Christian nature religion of the British Isles. Although he originally confronts Gawain as an enemy, the two later are able to work together - perhaps a metaphor for the assimilation of British Paganism with the new Christian theology. Many scholars also suggest that the tales of Robin Hood evolved from Green Man mythology. Allusions to the Green Man can even be found in J.M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan - an eternally youthful boy, dressed in green and living in the forest with the wild animals. Today, some traditions of Wicca interpret the Green Man as an aspect of the Horned God, Cernunnos.
The Legend of The May Queen
The Queen of Winter
As the summer rolls on, the May Queen will give forth her bounty, moving into the Mother phase. The earth will blossom and bloom with crops and flowers and trees. When fall approaches, and Samhain comes, the May Queen and Mother are gone, young no more. Instead, the earth becomes the domain of the Crone. She is Cailleach, the hag who brings dark skies and winter storms. She is the Dark Mother, bearing not a basket of bright flowers but instead a sickle and scythe.
When Beltane arrives each spring, the May Queen arises from her winter's sleep, and does battle with the Crone. She fights off the Queen of Winter, sending her away for another six months, so that the earth can be abundant once more.
Fairy Lore: The Fae at Beltane
Early Myths and LegendsIn Ireland, one of the early races of conquerors was known as the Tuatha de Danaan, and they were considered mighty and powerful. It was believed that once the next wave of invaders arrived, the Tuatha went underground. In hiding from the Milesians, the Tuatha evolved into Ireland's faerie race. Typically, in Celtic legend and lore, the Fae are associated with magical underground caverns and springs -- it was believed that a traveler who went too far into one of these places would find himself in the Faerie realm.
Another way to access the world of the Fae was to find a secret entrance. These were typically guarded, but every once in a while an enterprising adventurer would find his way in. Often, he found upon leaving that more time had passed than he expected. In several tales, mortals who spend a day in the fairy realm find that seven years have passed in their own world.
Mischevious FaeriesIn parts of England and Britain, it was believed that if a baby was ill, chances were good that it was not a human infant at all, but a changeling left by the Fae. If left exposed on a hillside, the Fae could come reclaim it. William Butler Yeats relates a Welsh version of this story in his tale The Stolen Child. Parents of a new baby could keep their child safe from abduction by the Fae by using one of several simple charms: a wreath of oak and ivy kept faeries out of the house, as did iron or salt placed across the door step. Also, the father's shirt draped over the cradle keeps the Fae from stealing a child.
In some stories, examples are given of how one can see a faerie. It is believed that a wash of marigold water rubbed around the eyes can give mortals the ability to spot the Fae. It is also believed that if you sit under a full moon in a grove that has trees of Ash, Oak and Thorn, the Fae will appear.
Are the Fae Just a Fairy Tale?There are a few books that cite early cave paintings and even Etruscan carvings as evidence that people have believed in the Fae for thousands of years. However, faeries as we know them today didn’t really appear in literature until about the late 1300s. In the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer relates that people used to believe in faeries a long time ago, but don't by the time the Wife of Bath tells her tale. Interestingly, Chaucer and many of his peers discuss this phenomena, but there is no clear evidence that describes faeries in any writings prior to this time. It appears instead that earlier cultures had encounters with a variety of spiritual beings, who fit into what 14th century writers considered the archetype of the Fae.
So, do the Fae really exist? It's hard to tell, and it's an issue that comes up for frequent and enthusiastic debate at any Pagan gathering. Regardless, if you believe in faeries, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Leave them a few offerings in your garden as part of your Beltane celebration -- and maybe they'll leave you something in return!
Welcoming The Birds at Beltane
Make a Birdhouse
Make a bird house to provide a safe shelter for the birds in your neighborhood. You can buy one pre-finished out of wood and then paint it, or you can make your own. Simple birdhouses can be made out of milk cartons or jugs, bent license plates, or even twigs and sticks glued together. When you hang your birdhouse, make sure it's in a place that's safe from neighborhood cats and other predators.
There are several resources online for building your own birdhouses, so grab those basic construction tools and let's make a birdhouse!
Invest in Birth Baths
Provide a safe supply of drinking water for your feathered neighbors. A birdbath can be made out of just about anything. Although you can buy commercially produced birdbaths, it's not hard to make one of your own. You can make one from concrete, rocks, a clay saucer or metal - even an old cake pan or garbage can lid will do. Birds prefer their water supply to be in a partly shaded area. Make sure the vegetation beneath it is fairly low, but place it near a tree or shrub so they can hop from the birdbath to the plant if they sense danger approaching. Use a shallow pan or tray to attract smaller birds, and a larger one for bigger species.
Birdfeeders, Not just for The Birds!
Place a bird feeder in your yard to attract birds. Although you can use anything you like as a feeder, you should make sure it's in a place that squirrels and other predators can't get to. The simplest type of birdfeeder is a simple platform, or you can use a hopper feeder, which has a central container to hold the bird food and dispense it into a feeding tray. You can also use a tube-style feeder, which is designed for smaller birds. The feed sits in a tube, and there are small holes along the tube for birds to eat through.
Birds are fairly finicky, so the type of food you use will determine which birds you attract. Be sure to check the Types of Bird Seed to figure out what sort to use.
A Garden for The Birds
Plant a garden to attract even more birds to your yard. There are a number of different plants that attract birds, because they provide shelter, food, and hiding places. Consider some of these for your garden:
- For protection and nesting: dogwood trees, firs, spruce, pines, mulberry trees, juniper
- For seed and fruit: bee balm, sunflowers, snapdragons, coneflower, goldenrod
- For hiding to observe the yard: shrubs and vines like hollyhock, crabapples, chokecherry, Virginia creeper, sumac, yew
Legends & Lore of Bees
In addition to providing us with honey and wax, bees are known to have magical properties, and they feature extensively in folklore from many different cultures. These are just a few of the legends about bees:
- In some areas of New England and Appalachia, it was believed that once someone died, it was important for the family to "go tell the bees" of the death. Whoever kept the bees for the family would make sure the bees got the news, so that they could spread it around.
- Ancient Egyptian pharaohs used the honeybee as the royal symbol, during the period between 3000 b.c.e. and 350 b.c.e.
- The Greeks believed that a baby whose lips were touched by a bee would become a great poet or speaker.
- If a bee flies into your house, it means that someone is coming to visit. If you kill the bee, the visitor will bring you bad news.
- Several deities are associated with bees and honey - Aphrodite, Vishnu, Pan, Cybele, andRa, just to name a few.
- Ever hear the phrase "busy as a bee"? Bees in a hive work repetitively a the same task all day long. A bee who goes out foraging may fly as many as ten miles a day, gathering pollen and nectar to bring back to the hive, over and over again. According to the National Honey Board, a bee may visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar to make just one pound of honey. Thus, bees are associated with hard work and diligence.
- If a bee lands on your hand, it means money is coming your way.
- Bees are, in some cultures, associated with purity. This is because the worker bees that produce honey never mate.
- Author J.K. Rowling named Professor Albus Dumbledore for an archaic English word related to bees. She says that when writing, she imagined the headmaster of Hogwarts"wandering around the castle humming to himself," and so chose to associate his name with bees.
- In Celtic mythology, the bee is a messenger between our world and the spirit realm. Bees are also associated with wisdom.
- Bees and honey appear in the Norse eddas, often connected with Yggdrasil, the World Tree.
The Language of Flowers
Here is a partial list of flowers and their meanings.
- Acacia: secret love
- Agrimony: gratitude
- Apple blossom: good fortunes
- Arbor vitae: undying friendship
- Bluebell: constancy of the heart, humility
- Buttercup: childhood friendship
- Carnation: pure love, devotion and dedication
- Chrysanthemum: truth and honesty
- Crocus: be cautious with my heart
- Daisy: innocence, purity
- Dandelion: flirtation
- Forget-me-not: true love
- Gardenia: happiness, joy
- Geranium: I love you over all others
- Honeysuckle: faithfulness and devotion
- Iris: respect, honor
- Ivy: marriage, fidelity
- Lavender: distrust, a fickle heart
- Lemon blossom: fidelity and faithfulness
- Lilac: innocence, pure love
- Lily of the valley: happiness
- Magnolia: perseverance
- Morning glory: flirtation, admiration
- Narcissus: self-absorption
- Orchid: rare and exotic beauty
- Peony: shyness, bashful
- Periwinkle: fond memories of past meetings
- Phlox: a joining of two hearts
- Rose: love (pink for innocent love)
- Rosemary: remember me
- Snapdragon: you presume too much about my feelings
- Sunflower: all is not as it seems
- Sweet William: a gallant and honorable admirer
- Tulip: a declaration of love
- Violet: faithfulness, dedication
- Wisteria: welcoming a new person into your life
- Zinnia: missing absent friends
Beltane Across The World
In addition to these celebrations, it's important to remember that there are many deities from around the world that are associated with fertility. Although Beltane isn't celebrated everywhere, nearly all cultures at some point had a god or goddess whose duty was to make sure both the crops and the people were fertile.
In parts of Germanic Europe, Walpurgisnacht is celebrated each year around April 30 - right around the time of Beltane. The festival is named for Walpurga, a Christian saint, who spent a number of years as a missionary in the Frankish empire. Over time, the celebration of St. Walpurga blended with the Viking celebrations of spring, and Walpurgisnacht was born.
In Norse traditions - and many others - this night is the time when the boundary between our world and that of the spirits is a bit shaky. Much like Samhain, six months later, Walpurgisnacht is a time to communicate with the spirit world and the fae. Bonfires are traditionally lit to keep away malevolent spirits or those who might do us mischief.
Today, some Pagans in central and northern Europe still celebrate Walpurgisnacht as a precursor to Beltane. Although it is named for a martyred saint, many Germanic Pagans try to honor the celebrations of their ancestors by observing this traditional holiday each year. It is typically observed much like May Day celebrations - with lots of dancing, singing, and ritual around the bonfire.
Floralia The Roman May Day Celebration
The Romans had a celebration for just about everything. Certainly, any Roman deity worth their salt got a holiday of their own, and Flora was no exception. She was the goddess of spring flowers and vegetation, and one of many fertility goddesses. In fact, she was so well respected as a fertility deity that she was often seen as a the patron deity of Roman prostitutes.
Her holiday originated around 235 b.c.e. It was believed that a good festival ensured that Flora would protect the blooming flowers around the city. At some point the celebration was discontinued -- but it clearly took its toll when wind and hail did some serious damage to the flowers of Rome. In 173 b.c.e., the Senate reinstated the holiday, and renamed it the Ludi Floralis, which included public games and theatrical performances.
The Floralia took place during the five days between April 28 and May 3. Citizens celebrated with drinking and dancing. Flowers were everywhere, in the temples and on the heads of revelers. Anyone making an offering to Flora might give her a libation of milk and honey.
Morris Dancing & Mummer's Play
Morris dancing was part of many social events in rural English towns. Although the dancing was for entertainment purposes, it was also quite theatrical, and dancers often worked for months preparing for a single event. Morris dancing is symbolic, and the dance tells a story, with each dancer playing the part of a specific character. Unlike traditional country dances, in which anyone could participate, a Morris dance was a spectator event. It was used to celebrate special occasions and holidays - events like Whitsun,Beltane, Michaelmas, or even a wake or funeral.
Morris dancers in the past were part of an elite guild - membership as a dancer was by invitation only. Once a Morris-man became part of a team, he was obligated to some degree of secrecy, because the complex dances could not be taught to anyone who wasn't part of the group.
What we know today as Morris dancing is actually connected to Christian holidays and events. However, some scholars believe that the Morris tradition evolved from early Pagan rites, in which dancers stomped and shouted upon the earth, waking it from winter's sleep, or to call up fertility deities during the planting season.
Also popular in rural England was the Mummer's Play. These seasonal folk-plays emerged as part of every village's agricultural community celebrations, and were usually performed indoors as part of an evening's entertainment. The mummer, or guiser (from the word disguise), first appeared in the Middle Ages. Going mumming involved elaborate costumes, overly comic performances, and allegorical plays and speeches, nearly always performed in rhyme.
The medieval form of the Mummer's play eventually died out, and was replaced by a slightly more formal version in the seventeenth century. The central theme is nearly always the death of a character, followed by his resurrection and subsequent spiritual redemption. Typically, a play features three major parts - the Hero, the Fool, and the Doctor who restores the fallen hero to life. Popular heroes in Mummer's plays include St. George and Robin Hood.
For a while, Morris dancing was a bit of a dying art, thanks in no small part to the Industrial Revolution. As England became more industrial, people left the small rural villages where Morris dancing was once popular, and headed for the big cities to find work. Naturally, much of the tradition was lost. Lately, however, the Morris dance has seen a resurgence in the British Isles. New Morris teams and groups are evolving regularly, and what was once the exclusive domain of male dancers is now open to both men and women.
Mummer's plays and dances seem to have died out in England around the first World War. Nowadays, mumming is still done around the Christmas holidays as a way to raise money, mostly by local folk dance troupes. Like Morris dancing, there has been a rise in popularity recently for Mummer's plays, and in some areas of England, local village groups and dance enthusiasts are reviving this ancient tradition. For many modern Pagans of British ancestry, a Morris dance or Mummer's play is part of the Beltane celebration, as an homage to both the fertility season and their English heritage.
Fertility Deities of Beltane
- Artemis (Greek): The moon goddess Artemiswas associated with the hunt, and was seen as a goddess of forests and hillsides. This pastoral connection made her a part of spring celebrations in later periods.
- Bes (Egyptian): Worshiped in later dynasties, Bes was a household protection god, and watched over mothers and young children. He and his wife, Beset, were paired up in rituals to cure problems with infertility.
- Bacchus (Roman): Considered the equivalent of Greek god Dionysus, Bacchus was the party god -- grapes, wine, and general debauchery were his domain. In March each year, Roman women could attend secret ceremonies called the bacchanalia, and he is associated with sexual free-for-alls and fertility.
- Cernunnos (Celtic): Cernunnos is a horned god found in Celtic mythology. He is connected with male animals, particularly the stag in rut, and this has led him to be associated with fertility and vegetation. Depictions of Cernunnos are found in many parts of the British Isles and western Europe. He is often portrayed with a beard and wild, shaggy hair -- he is, after all, the lord of the forest.
- Flora (Roman): This goddess of spring and flowers had her own festival, Floralia, which was celebrated every year between April 28 to May 3. Romans dressed in bright robes and floral wreaths, and attended theater performances and outdoor shows. Offerings of milk and honey were made to the goddess.
- Hera (Greek): This goddess of marriage was the equivalent of the Roman Juno, and took it upon herself to bestow good tidings to new brides. A maiden about to marry could make offerings to Hera, in the hopes that she would bless the marriage with fertility. In her earliest forms, she appears to have been a nature goddess, who presides over wildlife and nurses the young animals which she holds in her arms.
- Kokopelli (Hopi): This flute-playing, dancing spring god carries unborn children upon his own back, and then passes them out to fertile women. In the Hopi culture, he is part of rites that relate to marriage and childbearing, as well as the reproductive abilities of animals. Often portrayed with rams and stags, symbolic of his fertility, Kokopelli occasionally is seen with his consort, Kokopelmana.
- Pan (Greek): This agricultural god watched over shepherds and their flocks. He was a rustic sort of god, spending lots of time roaming the woods and pastures, hunting and playing music on his flute. Pan is typically portrayed as having the hindquarters and horns of a goat, similar to a faun. Because of his connection to fields and the forest, he is often honored as a spring fertility god.
- Priapus (Greek): This fairly minor rural god has one giant claim to fame -- his permanently erect and enormous phallus. The son of Aphrodite by Dionysus (or possibly Zeus, depending on the source), Priapus was mostly worshiped in homes rather than in an organized cult. Despite his constant lust, most stories portray him as sexually frustrated, or even impotent. However, in agricultural areas he was still regarded as a god of fertility, and at one point he was considered a protective god, who threatened sexual violence against anyone -- male or female -- who transgressed the boundaries he guarded.
- Sheela-na-Gig (Celtic): Although the Sheela-na-Gig is technically the name applied to the carvings of women with exaggerated vulvas that have been found in Ireland and England, there's a theory that the carvings are representative of a lost pre-Christian goddess. Typically, the Sheela-na-Gig adorns buildings in areas of Ireland that were part of the Anglo-Norman conquests in the 12th century. She is shown as a homely woman with a giant yoni, which is spread wide to accept the seed of the male. Folkloric evidence indicates that the figures are theory that the figures were part of a fertility rite, similar to "birthing stones", which were used to bring on conception.
- Xochiquetzal (Aztec): This fertility goddess was associated with spring, and represented not only flowers but the fruits of life and abundance. She was also the patron goddess of prostitutes and craftsmen
Beltane Rites & Rituals
In addition to fire and fertility, this time of year is a popular one for handfastings. More and more Pagan couples are opting to have handfasting ceremonies instead of a regular wedding. We'll talk about the history of handfastings, how to make sure your ceremony goes off without a hitch, and some great ideas for magical handfasting favors for your guests!
How to Celebrate Beltane with a May Pole Dance
The Maypole is one of the traditional symbols of Beltane, and let's not kid ourselves about its purpose: it's a giant phallus.
Because Beltane festivities usually kicked off the night before with a big bonfire, the Maypole celebration usually took place shortly after sunrise the next morning. This was when couples (and probably more than a few surprised triads) came staggering in from the fields, clothes in disarray and straw in their hair after a night ofbonfire-inspired lustiness.
Time Required: Varied
The pole was erected on the village green or common, or even a handy field -- thrust into the ground either permanently or on a temporary basis -- and brightly colored ribbons attached to it. Young people came and danced around the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. As they wove in and out, men going one way and women the other, it created a sleeve of sorts -- the enveloping womb of the earth -- around the pole. By the time they were done, the Maypole was nearly invisible beneath a sheath of ribbons.
To set up your own Maypole dance, here's what you'll need:
A pole anywhere from 15 to 20 feet long, preferably made of wood
Guests who like to have fun
Dig a hole in advance, a few feet deep. You don't want your friends to wait while you hunt for a shovel. The hole should be at least three feet deep, to keep the pole from flopping over during the ceremony.
Ask each participant to bring their own ribbon -- it should be about 20 feet long, by two to three inches wide. Once everyone arrives, attach the ribbons to one end of the pole (if you put a metal eyelet screw in the pole beforehand, it makes it a lot easier -- you can just tie each ribbon to the eyelet). Have extra ribbons on hand, because inevitably someone will have forgotten theirs.
Once the ribbons are attached, raise the pole until it is vertical, and slide it into the hole. Be sure to make lots of bawdy jokes here. Pack dirt in around the base of the pole so it won't shift or fall during the dance.
If you don't have an equal number of male and female guests, don't worry. Just have everyone count off by twos. People who are "1" will go in a clockwise direction, people who are "2" go counterclockwise. Hold your ribbons in the hand that is closest to the pole, your inside hand. As you move in the circle, pass people by on first the left, and then the right, then the left again. If you're passing them on the outside, hold your ribbon up so they pass under it. You might want to do a practice round beforehand. Keep going until everyone runs out of ribbon, and then knot all the ribbons at the bottom.
One thing that's always welcome at a Maypole Dance is music. There are a number of CDs available, but there are some bands whose music have a May theme to them. Look for the phrase "Morris music" or traditional pipe and drum tunes. Of course, the best thing of all is to have live music, so if you have friends who are willing to share their skill and sit out the dance, ask them to provide some musical entertainment for you.
If you're doing a kids' Maypole, it's probably easier just to have them all go in one direction with their ribbons. It doesn’t look quite as fancy when it's done, but it's still pretty.
You may want to have a crown of flowers attached as well -- put that at the top once all the ribbons are in place, but before you raise the pole.
How to Hold a Beltane Bonfire Ritual
Time Required: Varied
This was typically the time of year when fairs and markets were held, and as most country villages had a common or a green of some sort, there was always room for merriment. Depending on where you live, you might not have enough space for a big bonfire or dancing -- and that's okay. Just make do with what you have. An alternative to a large bonfire might be a small fire bowl (they're usually available at discount stores and home improvement chains) or even a tabletop brazier. If you're in an apartment and space is at a premium, consider building your fire in a small cauldron or other heat resistant bowl.
Beltane is the spring counterpart to Samhain. While in the autumn, everything is dying, in spring it comes alive, glorious and bursting free from the earth. Beltane is about fertility and sex and passion and life. This ceremony is designed for a group, and includes a symbolic union of the May Queen and the King of the Forest. Depending on the relationship between the people playing these roles, you can get as lusty as you like. If you're doing a family-oriented Beltane celebration, you may choose instead to keep things fairly tame.
For this ritual you'll need the following:
A bonfire -- set it up ahead of time, and designate someone to be in charge of lighting and tending it
A May Queen -- if possible, select a woman to play this part who is still within her childbearing years
A King of the Forest -- any adult man can play this role, but it's even better if he's someone who is actually partnered with the woman playing the May Queen
Drums and other noisemakers
Optional: a crown of flowers for each of the females present
Optional: a headdress of antlers for each of the males present
First, have the group circle around the fire, with the May Queen and the King of the Forest on opposite sides. The High Priest (HP) or High Priestess (HPs) should welcome everyone with something like this:
Beltane is here! It is a time when the earth is fertile and full.
Long ago, our ancestors planted their fields at Beltane.
The fields that lay fallow for months are now warm and waiting.
The soil that was dormant for the winter now begs us to plant our seeds.
The earth is awakening and ripe, and this is a season of love and passion.
It is a season of fire.
At this point, the fire starter should begin lighting the bonfire. The HP or HPS continues:
As our fires grow, lighting up the night sky, the fire within us grows stronger.
It is the fire of lust and passion, knowing that like the earth, we too are fertile.
Tonight, the God emerges from the forest. He is known by many names --
he is Pan, Herne, Cernunnos, the Green Man. He is the God of the Forest.
Tonight is the night he will chase and capture the maiden.
She is the Queen of the May, Aphrodite, Venus, Cerridwen.
She is the Goddess of fields and flowers, she is Mother Earth herself.
As the HP introduces the God of the Forest and the May Queen, they should each step forward into the circle.
The HP says
Bring fertility to the land! Let the hunt begin!
At this point, the May Queen and the God of the Forest begin the chase, traveling sunwise around the circle, weaving in and out of the other participants. Remember, the May Queen wants to make love to the God of the Forest. This is a fun chase, a joyful courtship, not a mock rape; make sure both parties understand this and prepare accordingly. She can even allow him to get close to her, pretending she's ready to join him… and then slipping away at the last second. They should travel the circle three times in the chase, and finally stop at a point in front of the bonfire -- hopefully, it will be burning well by now.
While the God of the Forest is pursuing his lady love, everyone else in the circle starts drumming. Start of slowly -- after all, a courtship can take some time to get started. As the couple begins to speed up, increase the tempo of the music. If you'd like to chant instead of or in addition to drumming, go ahead. There are many popular traditional chants in Wicca and Paganism, and nearly all sound good when you sing them with a group. When the May Queen and the God of the Forest finally complete their three-times journey of the circle, the drums should stop abruptly.
The HP says
Fire and passion, love and life, brought together as one.
At this point, the May Queen says to the God of the Forest:
I am the earth, the womb of all creation.
Within me, new life grows each year.
Water is my blood, air my breath, and fire is my spirit.
I give you honor, and shall create new life with you.
The God of the Forest replies to her, saying:
I am the rutting stag, the seed, the energy of life.
I am the mighty oak that grows in the forest.
I give you honor, and shall create new life with you.
The couple kisses, long and passionate. If they're feeling really lusty, they can fall to the ground and roll around for a while -- feel free to cover them with a blanket if you like. This kiss (or more) is the symbolic union of the male and female spirit, the great rite between man and woman. Once the embrace is broken, the HP calls out:
The earth is once more growing new life within! We shall be blessed with abundance this year!
Everyone else in the circle claps and cheers -- after all, you've just guaranteed that your village will have hearty crops and strong livestock this year! Celebrate by dancing around the bonfire, drumming and singing. When you are ready, end the ritual.
* Note: if you have a woman in your group who is trying to conceive, she is absolutely the best choice for the role of May Queen. Her partner or lover may act the part of the God of the Forest, or another man may stand in as a symbolic consort.
What You Need
A couple willing to play the parts of May Queen and God of the Forest
Drums and noisemakers
Hold a Family Abundance Rite for Beltane
This family ritual is one that you can easily include children in. Hold it at night, if possible. Before beginning, prepare your family's evening meal. Include spring foods, such as a light salad, fresh fruit, or breads. Set the table as you normally would, and go outside. For this ritual, you'll need the following:
- A small flower pot for each person in the family
- A bowl of dirt or potting soil
- Seeds for your favorite herbs or flowers
- A cup of water
- A small fire
- A piece of paper for each person in the family
The oldest person in the family should lead the ritual. Begin by saying:
The light has returned, and life has come back to the earth.
The soil is dark and full of energy,so this evening we plant our seeds.
They will lie in the soil, taking root and growing,
until the time has come for them to meet the sun.
As we plant these seeds, we give thanks to the earth
for its strength and life-bringing gifts.
Each person fills their pot with soil. You can either pass the bowl of dirt around, or if you have small children, just let each approach the altar or table. If there are a number of people participating, you may want to sing a chant as everyone fills their pot. A good chant for this is:
Earth my body, water my blood,
air my breath and fire my spirit;
repeated multiple times, or sung as a round-robin.
Once everyone has filled their pot with soil, pass out the seeds. Say:
Tiny seeds, containing life!
They travel upon the wind and bring to us abundance.
Flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruit…
all the bounty of the earth.
We give thanks to the seeds,
for the gifts that are to come in the harvest season.
Each person should push their seeds down into the soil. Older participants can help smaller children with this. Finally, pass around the cup of water. Say:
Water, cool and life-giving!
Bringing power to these seeds,
and moistening this fertile soil.
We give thanks to the water,
for allowing life to bloom once more.
When each person has finished potting their seeds, set the flower pots on the altar or table. Give each participant a small piece of paper and something to write with. Say:
Tonight we plant seeds in the earth,
but Beltane is a time in which many things can grow.
Tonight we plant seeds in our hearts and souls,
for other things we wish to see blossom.
We plant the seeds of love, of wisdom, of happiness.
We dig deep, and begin a crop of harmony, balance, and joy.
We add water to bring life and abundance of all kinds into our homes.
We offer our wishes into the fire, to carry them out to the Universe.
Each person should write on their paper something they wish to see blooming in their own life -- harmony, happiness, financial security, strong relationships, healing, etc. For small children, it may be something very simple -- even if your first-grader writes down that he wants a pony, don't discourage anyone's wishes. After each person has written their wish down, they approach the fire one at a time and cast the paper into the flames (help little ones with this part, just in the interest of safety).
When everyone has placed their wishes into the fire, take a few moments and think about the meaning of Beltane. Think about the things you want to see bloom and grow in your own life, in both the material and the non-physical realm. When everyone is ready, end the ritual. You may wish to follow the ceremony with another Beltane festivity, such as a Maypole Dance, or the traditional cakes and ale.
Honor the Sacred Feminine with A Goddess Ritual
Time Required: Varied
This simple ritual can be performed by both men and women, and is designed to honor the feminine aspects of the universe as well as our female ancestors. If you have a particular deity you call upon, feel free to change names or attributes around where needed. Otherwise, you can use the all-encompassing name of "Goddess" in the rite.
Decorate your altar with symbols of femininity: cups, chalices, flowers, lunar objects, fish, and doves or swans. You'll also need the following items for this ritual:
A white candle
An offering of something that is important to you
A bowl of water
A handful of small pebbles or stones
If your tradition calls for you to cast a circle, do so now. Begin by standing in the goddess position, and saying:
I am (your name), and I stand before you,
goddesses of the sky and earth and sea,
I honor you, for your blood runs through my veins,
one woman, standing on the edge of the universe.
Tonight, I make an offering in Your names,
As my thanks for all you have given me.
Light the candle, and place your offering before it on the altar. The offering may be something tangible, such as bread or wine or flowers. It can also be something symbolic, such as a gift of your time or dedication. Whatever it is, it should be something from your heart. You may want to read up on Offerings to the Gods for some ideas.
Once you have made your offering, it is time to call upon the goddesses by name. Say:
I am (your name), and I stand before you,
Isis, Ishtar, Tiamat, Inanna, Shakti, Cybele.
Mothers of the ancient people,
guardians of those who walked the earth thousands of years ago,
I offer you this as a way of showing my gratitude.
Your strength has flowed within me,
your wisdom has given me knowledge,
your inspiration has given birth to harmony in my soul.
Now it is time to honor the women who have touched your life. For each one, place a pebble into the bowl of water. As you do so, say her name and how she has impacted you. You might say something like this:
I am (your name), and I stand before you,
to honor the sacred feminine that has touched my heart.
I honor Susan, who gave birth to me and raised me to be strong;
I honor Maggie, my grandmother, whose strength took her to the hospitals of war-torn France;
I honor Cathleen, my aunt, who lost her courageous battle with cancer;
I honor Jennifer, my sister, who has raised three children alone…
Continue until you have placed a pebble in the water for each of these women. Reserve one pebble for yourself. Finish by saying:
I am (your name), and I honor myself,
for my strength, my creativity, my knowledge, my inspiration,
and for all the other remarkable things that make me a woman.
Take a few minutes and reflect on the sacred feminine. What is it about being a woman that gives you joy? If you're a man performing this ritual, what is it about the women in your life that makes you love them? Meditate on the feminine energy of the universe for a while, and when you are ready, end the ritual.
This ritual can be adapted for a group easily; with a little planning it can become a beautiful ceremony for a number of people. Consider doing it as part of a womens' circle, in which each member honors the others as part of the rite.
What You Need
A white candle
A bowl of water
A collection of pebbles or small stones
Here are a few you may wish to add in to your upcoming rites and rituals.
- Am Beannachadh Bealltain (The Beltane Blessing) is a shorter, Pagan-friendly adaptation of one featured in the Carmina Gadelica.
- Prayer to Cernunnos is offered to the Horned God, Cernunnos, who is considered the lord of the forest and fertility in many Wiccan traditions.
- A Thanks to the Earth Mother honors the land itself, and the fertility of the earth at Beltane.
- Honoring the May Queen is a way to pay tribute to the Queen of the May, a figure who often appears in Faerie lore and legend.
- Blessing to Protect the Herd: In ancient societies, Beltane was a time to bless the herd, keeping it safe and healthy for the coming year. This blessing honors the animals, whether you have livestock or family pets.
- Prayer for the Gods of the Forest pays tribute to Osiris, Cernunnos and the other fertility gods of spring.
Handfasting A Beltane Tradition
Handfasting Planning Inspiration
Handfastings and marriages occur the year round, but there is something about the summer months that especially calls lovers to pledge themselves to one another in multitudes. What is it exactly? Does the blossoming and blooming of nature call us to blossom and bloom in our love? Does the flowing of the yearly tide make us yearn to tap into that growing energy before it begins to ebb? Do the ancient fertility rites of Beltane nudge us to join together from across the ages? Do people simply have more free time? Odds are, it’s a mix of all these elements—a blend of the magical and the practical—that causes so many people to wed at this time of year. Regardless, the balmy days of summer draw me to the subject of handfasting, and all the joys (and tribulations) therein.
Handfasting and Wedding Rituals: Welcoming Hera’s Blessing by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein is a prime place to start. Brimming with details on handfasting history, ways in which to incorporate magical symbolism into your ceremony, and, best of all, many innovative and inclusive rituals, Handfasting is ideal for any pagan who plans on “tying the knot” (it’s pretty obvious to us where that modern term came from, isn’t it?), or just anyone who is looking for a different sort of union or a unique ceremony. You won’t find guides to different diamond cuts or when to send out invitations and thank you notes, but you will find help with the things that make up the true core of any handfasting or wedding—the words spoken, the symbols used, and the people you share it with.
What are handfastings?
For those of you who did not catch the pagan origins behind the phrase “tying the knot,” the term “handfasting” comes from the tradition of two people pledging themselves to one another (oftentimes for a year and a day) and sealing that pledge by binding their hands together with cord and knotting it. Today handfastings vary immensely in their forms. Some are legal marriages, and some are private promises. Some choose to continue the traditional year-and-a-day time frame, others for as long as love will last; some for life, and others for all lifetimes to come. Variations aside, the goal of these rituals is the same: to make vows of devotion witnessed by family, friends, and the divine.
Why Handfastings Versus Marriage?
Why is it we continue to desire these rituals? With the alarming divorce rate, the (often immense) costs and stress involved, and the questionable social and political implications, we are certainly given many reasons to give up the idea of legally bonding ourselves to another. Yet the wish to do so is as strong as ever, perhaps even stronger, because the act is seen more and more frequently as a choice, rather than a need. When two people decide to dedicate their lives to one another despite all of the arguments against it, it is a brave and true statement of their commitment to one another. Raven Kaldera sums up the challenge quite well when he says,
“marriage is a crucible within which people find out more about themselves, their upbringing, their brainwashing, their demons, their strengths, their challenges, and their true paths. It’s almost impossible to commit yourself to that kind of close connection with another human being, even if only for a while, and not learn something deep about yourself.”
Who's Involved with The Handfasting Ceremony?
Who is involved may very well be the aspect of handfastings that differs most from traditional weddings. From clergy to participants, pagan unions have always been more inclusive and accommodating than traditional ones. Long before the gay marriage debate, there were gay unions performed by Wiccan and pagan priests and priestesses. While perhaps not legally binding, these rituals provide the public (and divine) recognition that is desired. In Handfasting and Wedding Rituals, Kaldera and Schwartzstein offer rites for gay and lesbian couples, transgendered couples,polyamorous “couples,” and even underage couples who wish to make a serious commitment to one another (the authors present this as a way to acknowledge the young people’s love for one another, while hopefully discouraging rash acts like elopement, and even include a part in the vows to “promise to do everything in my power, and make whatever sacrifices are necessary to refrain from burdening you with a child of our union until such time as we are legally of age and have the resources to support a family”). Handfasting and Wedding Rituals also offers rituals for interfaith unions, including those to blend pagan elements with Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Judaic traditions.
Moving beyond the vows, Handfasting and Wedding Rituals also respectfully considers the people you choose to surround yourselves with at this meaningful event. Kaldera and Schwartzstein offer ways in which blended families can incorporate their children into the service, including the couple making vows to their new (step) children. Also included are ways to incorporate children in general, without relegating them to the somber (and often empty) roles of flower girls and ring bearers. One couple the authors worked with decided to have all the children dress up in elven clothing and masks and run about the space throwing glitter before the ceremony and blessing the space with “faery gold.”
Blessings, readings, vows, and full rituals are labeled with levels of one, two, or three in terms of their “pagan content,” an important and useful way in which the authors consider your guests. A level one ritual, while likely to be different than the average wedding, is not likely to upset anyone who isn’t pagan sympathetic. A level two ritual will have a bit more pagan terminology, and a level three ritual will often invoke specific pagan gods and goddesses, and won’t disguise your beliefs to anyone. Each level offers meaningful and beautiful words for you to use. It all depends on your (and your guests’) comfort zones and willingness to step beyond what is expected at such events.
When do Handfastings Traditionally Take Place?
Ah, the all important question of “when?” Although many do marry in the summer months, and this does tap into the earth’s energy, any time of year can be lovely. It’s no wonder that handfastings and weddings are often scheduled months, or even years, before the ceremony. While there are plenty of reasons to do this, from securing a location to hiring a caterer, one reason that may be overlooked is astrology. Even if you don’t know much about astrology beyond your sun sign, there are a few relatively simple things you can do to ensure the heavens are on your side on your wedding day. Keep in mind though, as Kaldera and Schwartzstein state,“the likelihood is that you won’t be able to find the perfect day, unless you have three years and none of your friends mind coming to a wedding at 5 a.m. on a Wednesday.”
The following advice was gleaned from Sharon Leah, the Editor of Llewellyn’s Astrological Calendar, and the guide to many successful Llewellyn employee weddings. First, as a time of new beginnings, weddings should ideally take place some time between twelve hours after the new Moon and when the moon the moon is full. Before the new Moon is twelve hours old it is still considered dark, which is not an advantageous phase for weddings. Second, try not to marry while the Moon is void-of-course (which happens before a sun enters a new sign, and can last anywhere from two minutes to two hours), as things undertaken during that time do not turn out as intended. The third big thing to consider is whether Mercury or Venus may be retrograde during your chosen time. Both of these will cause problems. Mercury retrograde is well known for making plans, communications, and things break down. Venus retrograde could point to the holding back or misdirection of love and good things between the couple. For simple moon phase information, check out Llewellyn’s calendars and almanacs. For more information on planning your wedding date using astrology, look at Appendix A in Handfasting and Wedding Rituals. A little bit of research can go a long way to ensuring an auspicious day for your ceremony.
How do you Celebrate a Handfasting?
This is the really fun part, deciding how you want to celebrate your handfasting, and your imagination is the limit. From decorations to vows, there are so many options to choose from. It can become overwhelming. Make sure to keep it enjoyable, and to incorporate elements that are meaningful to you and your beloved. No matter what florists, cake chefs, color coordinators, and your mother may say, go with what feels right to you. And try not to take things too terribly seriously. While your vows and the commitment you are making are very serious and important, the little details are not. We all want everything to go as planned, but we all know (especially as magical people) that things tend to end up the way they are supposed to, which is not always what we had in mind. I have seen exceptionally laid back people get so strung out over wedding preparations that they do not enjoy themselves at all, but rather hold their breath until the festivities are over and they can collapse. That’s not exactly the mood you want to start a marriage with, is it? So, enjoy yourself and make it a day that you remember not as an obstacle to be overcome, but as a celebratory first step on a challenging and fascinating journey.
The Magic of Beltane
The Beltane season is a time of fertility, not only for people but for the land as well. If you plant a garden each summer, Beltane is a good time to do some fertility magic so that you will have an abundant crop by the time the harvest rolls around. There are many different methods of ensuring the fertility of the land, and you can incorporate any of these into your rituals and ceremonies.
- In ancient Rome, it wasn't uncommon for the master of the land to take his wife out to the fields and have sex right there on the ground. If you had a lot of land, this could take all day, but it was practically guaranteed to ensure that the field would be fertile and productive once your slaves got the planting done.
- In some traditions, menstruating women add a bit of their blood to the soil to add potency. It's a scientific fact that blood contains a lot of nutrients, so it makes sense to blend this in with the dirt before planting.
- Farmers in the Congo region of Africa make offerings to the spirits of the land before they begin clearing it for planting. In addition to the offerings, there is also a great deal of chanting, drumming and singing, and it is only after the spirits indicate that they are pleased with the gifts and performances that the farmers may plant their crops.
- The Algonquin peoples of the mid-Atlantic region performed ritual dances to ensure a bountiful agricultural crop each year. Dances involved a lot of noise, in order to wake the sleeping earth.
- In Crete, a sword dance called the Kuortes was held each spring. During the Kourtes, a group of men gathered together, moving in unison with sticks or swords. Although it sounds warrior-like, it wasn't a martial dance but one that scholars say promoted fertility, instead. If you think about it, banging a stick or sword on the freshly plowed earth has quite a bit of fertility symbolism.
- Roman women paid tribute to Flora, the goddess of flowers, in order to ensure fertility of both the land and the womb. A woman who was having trouble conceiving a child might offer flowers at Bona Dea's temple on the Aventine Hill. In an interesting paradox, Bona Dea was a goddess of both virginity and fertility, and was represented by the snake, often connected to fertility as well.
- In Nagoya, Japan, residents still celebrate the annual Honen-sai festival. This is held each year in the spring, to make sure the crops will be plentiful, and includes a parade - the highlight of which is a giant penis on a float (the penis, carved from a cypress tree, is about fourteen feet long and quite impressive indeed).
What is The Great Rite?
Sacred Sexuality Revealed
What is the Great Rite? And What is Ritual Sex?
I keep seeing references to the Great Rite and "ritual sex." I was sure I read somewhere that Wiccans didn't have sex in rituals. What's the deal?
In some (although not all) traditions of Wicca and Paganism, sacred sex is part of spiritual practice. Wicca in its original form is a fertility religion, first and foremost, so it's understandable that at some point you may encounter some references to sexual acts, whether they be actual or implied. By implied, we mean the symbolic -- the joining of an athame with a chalice, for example. The most commonly referenced form of ritual sex is the Great Rite, which is the ritualized connection of the god and goddess. Author Vivianne Crowley says, "The outer rite involves a linking of the male and the female; the sacred marriage is outwardly a marriage of two people, but inwardly it is a marriage of the two within one person." The Great Rite is more than just sexual union; it is the enactment of the creation of the universe itself in Wiccan tradition.
Although the Great Rite is certainly the best known form of ritual sex, not all ritual sex is the Great Rite. Ritual sex has a number of different purposes besides the Great Rite -- it can be used to raise energy, create magical power, or find a sense of spiritual communion with a partner. If "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals," then certainly sex in ritual can be seen as a sacramental act of love.
It should also be noted that in some magical traditions, masturbation and sexual release is a perfectly valid way of raising magical energy.
In Her Hidden Children, author Chas Clifton writes, "Many Pagan religions include invocation and possession by their gods. Wicca, in particular, extends that possession to sexual acts, whether literal or metaphorical." He goes on to say that by making sex sacred, "Wiccans in all countries set their own stamp on nature religion, uniting in their bodies the cosmic and the most personal energies of planetary life."
Because ritual sex is a sacred act, any form of it should be consensual. In most traditions, it is also performed in private, and in all traditions, performed only by adults. Some traditions of Wicca require actual intercourse as part of a Third Degree elevation, or in rituals performed by a High Priest and High Priestess. However, most Pagans today would say that it is never required by any legitimate coven for initiation as a neophyte. In other traditions, the act is symbolic but not actualized.
More often than not, if ritual sex is performed, it is between two individuals who are part of an existing relationship already, and who are of equal levels of power within the dynamic of the coven. Ritual sex between two Third Degree people has a good polarity to it, but ritual sex between a Third Degree and a Neophyte is stretching that balance of power a bit. Think of it as the difference between two teachers who date one another, and a teacher who dates his students.
Again, no reputable coven will demand sexual initiation of its members. Ritual sex -- the Great Rite or otherwise -- is a specific, sacred act that is performed only by those who have studied and learned enough to feel comfortable performing it with a trusted partner.
Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac
The Magick of Chocolate
The results are impressive. Women who consumed chocolate daily reported a higher degree of sexual satisfaction. The study, which was funded by a university for academic purposes, and not by a chocolate company, indicated that even women who normally had a lower libido reported an increase in their sex drive after consuming chocolate.
From a scientific standpoint, chocolate contains both Serotonin and Phenylethylamine, which are mood-lifting hormones found naturally in the human brain. When we consume chocolate, we increase our normal levels of both, which leads to that feeling of excitement, as well as an increased level of energy. So although chocolate may or may not be a true aphrodisiac, it certainly does have some aphrodisiac properties. After all, it makes us feel good all over -- much like being in love!
In some magical traditions, food and magic go hand in hand. It stands to reason, then, that a great way to bring someone closer to your heart is to give them a gift of chocolate!
Beltane Crafts & Creations
Weaving & Braiding Magickal Craft Ideas
In many traditions of Paganism, handcrafts are used as a magical process. Weaving and braiding in particular are meditative exercises, and so magical workings can be incorporated into the creative technique. If you think about it, fibers in one form or another have been around for thousands of years, so it makes sense that our ancestors could have utilized them in spell work and ritual as well. By focusing on the process of braiding or weaving, you can let your mind wander off as your hands do the work. Some people report even being able to astral travel while doing such craftwork.
When spring rolls around, you can incorporate some of the earth's goodies into your braiding and weaving. Use willow wands, long grasses, or vines twined together to create new projects, like a Grapevine Pentacle. If you have fresh flowers, you can braid a chain of them into a floral crown. If onions are in season, you can create a protective charm with an Onion Braid.
If you have a strong connection to the moon, you can create a Moon Braid to honor the three different phases of the moon. For spell work, make a Witch's Ladder.
Another great option that's not only a meditative exercise, but also a green craft project: upcycle old t-shirts or sheets by cutting them into 1" strips to use in place of yarn. Braid the strips, then stitch the braids together to form bowls, baskets or even prayer mats and altar cloths.
Maypole for Your Beltane Altar
For many people, a Maypole Dance is the best way ever to celebrate the fertility holiday ofBeltane… but let's face it, you may not have the ability to do that. Not everyone can stick a 20-foot pole in their yard, or you may not even know enough other Pagans (or Pagan-friendlynon-Pagans) to have a Maypole Dance in the first place. If that's the case, there's a much smaller alternative. You can easily make a Maypole to put on your Beltane altar.
For this simple craft project, you'll need the following:
- A 1" thick dowel rod, about a foot long
- A wooden circle, about 4" in diameter
- Pieces of ribbon in various colors, about 2 feet long each
- A hot glue gun
Use the Maypole as a centerpiece on your altar. You can braid the ribbons as a meditation tool, or include it in ritual. Optional: add a small floral crown around the bottom to represent the feminine fertility of the Sabbat, as shown in the photo.
Make a Floral Crown
If you're holding any kind of Beltane celebration at all, it's all about the flowers! Be sure to jazz up your festivities with a crown of flowers -- it looks beautiful on any woman, and really brings out the goddess within. Not only that, it's pretty heavy on the fertility symbolism as well. A floral crown is easy to make with just a few basic craft supplies.
You'll need the following:
- Pipe cleaners (preferably green, but any color works in a pinch)
- Spring flowers, such as daisies, irises, petunias (leave the stems on)
- Ribbon in whatever colors you love
Next, take two more pipe cleaners and twist them around the ring, creating a framework for you to add your flowers.
Take your spring flowers and weave the stems through the pipe cleaner frame. Tuck the flowers in snugly so that the frame is covered. If you have trouble getting them to stay in place, or if they seem loose, wrap a bit of green florist's wire around them for additional stability.
Finally, cut several ribbons in a variety of lengths. Tie them to the back of the flower wreath. Once you put on your floral crown, you'll be all ready to go dance around the Maypole!
Make a Fairy Chair
Some people believe that Faeries inhabit their flower gardens. If you think you've got friendly Fae out there, this craft project is a great way to get kids into gardening at the beginning of spring. You'll need the following items:
- An old wooden chair
- Some primer paint
- Exterior paint in your favorite Faerie color(s)
- Polyeurethane or sealant
- Seeds for a climbing flower, such as morning glory or clematis
- A sunny spot in your garden
Find a sunny spot in your garden, and loosen the soil a bit. Place the chair where you want it, but be sure that it's the right spot, because it's going to become a permanent fixture. Once the chair is in place, plant seeds around the base of the chair, just a few inches away from the legs.
Water the soil each day, and as your climbing plants appear, twine the vines up through the legs of the chair and around it. Pretty soon, you'll have a chair covered with leafy greens and bright flowers. It's the perfect place for your kids to spot a Faerie!
Think you've got the Fae nearby? Be sure to read:
The Fae at Beltane: Beltane is traditionally a time when the veil between our world and that of the Fae is thin. In most European folktales, the Fae kept to themselves unless they wanted something from their human neighbors. It wasn’t uncommon for a tale to relate the story of a human being who got too daring with the Fae -- and ultimately paid their price for his or her curiosity! In many stories, there are different types of faeries.
Welcome the Fae to Your Garden: In some NeoPagan traditions, the Fae are often welcomed and celebrated. In particular, the Beltane season is believed to be a time when the veil between our world and that of the Fae is thin. If your tradition is one that celebrates the magical link between mortals and Faeries, you may want to take advantage of the fertile Beltane season to invite the Fae into your garden. Here are some ways you can make your outdoor space welcoming to the Fae.
Beltane Fire Incense
At Beltane, spring is beginning to get seriously underway. Gardens are being planted, sprouts are beginning to appear, and the earth is returning to life once again. This time of year isassociated with fertility, thanks to the greening of the land, and with fire. A few fire-associated herbs can be blended together to make the perfect Beltane incense. Use it during rituals and ceremonies, or burn it for workings related to fertility and growth.
Fresh herbs will likely be too young to harvest right now, which is why it's a good idea to keep a supply on hand from the previous year. However, if you do have a fresh plant you wish to dry out, you can do this by placing it on a tray in your oven at low heat for an hour or two. If you have a home dehydrator, these work just as well.
This recipe is for loose incense, but you can adapt it for stick or cone recipes. If you haven't read up on Incense 101, you should do that before beginning. As you mix and blend your incense, focus on the goal of your work.
- 2 parts Mugwort
- 1 part dried daffodil petals
- 1 part Basil
- 1 part Hawthorn berries
- 1 part Patchouli
- 1 part Cinnamon
- 1/2 part Dragon's Blood resin
Fire blend and fire light,
I celebrate Beltane this warm spring night.
This is the time of most fertile earth,
the greening of the land, and new rebirth.
Fire and passion and labor's toil,
life grows anew out of the soil.
By Beltane's flames, bring fertility to me,
As I will, so it shall be.
Store your incense in a tightly sealed jar. Make sure you label it with its intent and name, as well as the date you created it. Use within three months, so that it remains charged and fresh.
Your Beltane Celebration
In parts of Scotland, the Beltane bannock is a popular custom. It's said that if you eat one on Beltane morning, you'll be guaranteed abundance for your crops and livestock. Traditionally, the bannock is made with animal fat (such as bacon grease), and it is placed in a pile of embers, on top of a stone, to cook in the fire. Once it's blackened on both sides, it can be removed, and eaten with a blend of eggs and milk. This recipe doesn't require you to build a fire, and you can use butter instead of fat.
Prep Time: 20 minutesCook Time: 15 minutesTotal Time: 35 minutesIngredients:
- 1 1/2 C oatmeal
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 1/2 cup hot water
Separate the dough into two equal portions, and roll each one into a ball. Use a rolling pin to make a flat pancake that is about ¼" thick. Cook your oatcakes on a griddle over medium heat until they are golden brown. Cut each round into quarters to serve.
Traditionally, the Beltane bannock would have been made with meat fat, such as bacon grease, instead of butter. You can use this if you prefer.
Early Summer Salad
Let's face it, May isn't exactly the time when your garden is in full bloom. In fact, your principal crop right now may be mud. But never fear -- there are a ton of early summer greens and fruits you can combine into a salad, making this the perfect beginning to your Beltane feast! Make sure, though, when shopping, that you use the freshest ingredients.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutesIngredients
- 2 C leafy greens, such as baby spinach or arugula
- 2 C dandelion leaves, washed and drained
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1/2 C diced cucumber (remove seeds)
- 4 green onions, chopped
- A few leaves of basil, chopped
- 1/2 C nuts, chopped
- 1 C. fresh raspberries or strawberries
- 2 hardboiled eggs, sliced
- 1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 C strawberry vinegar
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp honey
- A pinch of salt and pepper
Southern Style Peppery Green Beans
Beltane is all about fire and heat, so it's a good time to cook up something peppery. This green bean recipe is adapted from traditional Southern-style cooking. For a lower-fat alternative, substitute turkey bacon for the pork bacon.
Prep Time: 20 minutesCook Time: 25 minutesTotal Time: 45 minutesIngredients:
- 1/2 lb bacon
- 1/2 C butter
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 lb green beans
- 1/2 C water
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Pepper
Tip: If you'd like to make these in your slow cooker, use 2 Cups of water instead, and let the beans simmer for about three hours in the cooker.
Nothing says spring has arrived quite like flower blossoms -- and what many people don't realize is that not only are they lovely to look at, they can taste good too. With a few fresh flowers, you can create a tasty treat. Use nasturtium, roses, pansies, lilac blossoms, violets, or any other edible flower for this recipe. Be warned, though -- this is a bit time consuming, so plan accordingly.
Prep Time: 1 hourTotal Time: 1 hourIngredients:
- Flower petals or blossoms, rinsed and dried
- 1 egg white, beaten
As you complete each petal, place it on a sheet of wax paper to dry. Drying time is anywhere from 12 hours to two days, depending on the humidity level in your home. If your flower petals aren't drying fast enough for you, place them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 150 degrees for a few hours.
Store your flower petals in an airtight container until it's time to use them. Use to decorate cakes and cookies, add to salads, or just eat as a snack.
Breads seem to be one of the staple foods of Pagan and Wiccan rituals. If you can tie yourbreak baking into the theme of the Beltane Sabbat, even better. In this recipe, use an uncooked loaf of bread (available in the refrigerated section of your grocery) and turn it into a phallus.
To make your fertility bread, you'll need the following:
- 1 loaf refrigerated bread dough
- Melted butter
Once you’ve shaped your bread, allow it to rise in a warm place for an hour or two. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until golden brown. When it comes out of the oven, brush with a glaze of melted butter. Use in ritual or for other parts of your Beltane celebrations.
Admittedly, the one in the photo is a bit... thick, but hey, use your imagination!
Green Man Cake
The Green Man is an archetype often represented at Beltane. He is the spirit of the forest, the lusty, fertility gof of the woodlands. He is puck, Jack in the Green, Robin of the Woods. For your beltance celebrations, why not put together a cake honoring him? The spice cake is easy to bake, and uses a delicious cream cheese frosting and rolled fondant to create the image of the Green Man himself. This recipes makes either one 9x13" sheet cake or 2 8-inch rounds.
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
- 1/4 C cornstarch
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 C milk
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp rum-flavored extract
- 1 C butter, softened (don't use margarine)
- 2 C firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 packages cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 C butter, softened
- 2 C confectioner's sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 package white fondant
- Green food coloring
- Leaf-shaped cutters
Add the softened butter to the flour mixture, and beat until it forms a clumpy sort of dough. Gradually add the liquid mixture in, blending it a little at a time until all the milk mixture has been combined with the flour mixture. Beat until completely smooth, and then add the brown sugar. Mix for another thirty seconds or so. Scoop batter into the pan and spread evenly.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan. Once you have it out of the pan, you can begin frosting the cake.
To make the cream cheese frosting, combine the cream cheese and the butter in a bowl, mixing well. Add the vanilla extract. Finally, stir in the confectioner's sugar and blend it in. Spread this evenly over the cake, and allow it to sit for an hour or so to firm up.
To make the Green Man himself, you'll need green fondant. If you've never worked with fondant before, it can be a little tricky, but with some practice you'll be able to use it easily. Roll out the fondant and knead it into a ball. Add the green food coloring in very small amounts and blend it in, until you've got the shade of green you want.
Roll the fondant out until it's about 1/8" thick. Use the leaf-shaped cookie cutters to cut out different sized leaves. Score lines on them, to look live leafy veins. Place them on top of the frosted cake and press in place, layering them to form a Green Man. Roll two small pieces into balls, flatten them down, and put them in to create eyeballs in amongst the leaves. Reminder - fondant tends to dry quickly once it's rolled out, so only cut off small pieces. The cake in the photo was made using a block of fondant about the size of a package of cream cheese.
Tip: if you're in a hurry, or you're not much of a baker, you can use any boxed spice cake mix. Also, if you have dietary restrictions, you can use other spice cake recipes, such as this greatGluten-free version.
For those of you interested in trying endless Beltane recipes for years to come, purchase my cookbook Recipes for The Pagan Soul, filled with endless insight, traditions, memories, stories and beautiful recipe's sure to delight even the most tried and true culinary adventurist, the endless resources, and delicious food found in this book is beyond words!