Beltane: A Summer Holiday

By STUART MORRISON

ATLANTA — Summer is a time associated with the end of the school year, the arrival of vacation season, heat, beaches and swimming. But for Pagans, it means Beltane.

flowers
A field of wildflowers, typically associated with the beginning of summer. (Photo by Stuart Morrison)

Beltane is known by some as May Day, as it rests at the end of April and the beginning of May. It is the beginning of the Pagan summer, the plowing season for agriculture, and for Druids it is the beginning of the light half of the year, which ends at the end of October with Samhain which is celebrated commonly as Halloween.

According to Katelyn Willis, Deputy Senior Druid of The Grove of the Red Earth, there are two kinds of Celtic festivals: lunar festivals and fire festivals. Beltane is a fire festival.

“Part of the reason they are called fire festivals is because they involve stoking fires,” said Willis. “And part of it is [for] community building.”

Willis explained that part of the lore of the holiday is that it was the day the Celtic god Cernunnos (pronounced Kerr-noon-nos) gets married to a goddess who is usually unnamed. The goddess is known to the Saxons as Walpurgis, and Beltane is also known to them as Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis’ night).

Beltane is one of eight holidays on the Pagan wheel of the year, and is also traditionally one of the most important of the fire festivals for Celtic people in places like Ireland.

According to Willis, in her research, Beltane is usually the time when people in Ireland would put out their home fires, and go to the location of the king’s fire. The king’s fire was tended by the king’s Druids. The people of Ireland would take some of the king’s fire and relight their home fires from that.

For modern Pagans, there are some shared traditions, and there are groups that work to research the traditional practices like Ar nDraiocht Fein, an international group of Druids that focuses on scholarship and correct practice.

Within the modern Neo-Pagan landscape, Beltane is celebrated widely, and not just by Druids. Followers of Wicca are also known to celebrate the holiday with their own rituals, which have varying levels of similarity to the original practices.

Some of the traditions of Beltane include the May Pole, kindling the hearth fire, fertility workings, and less commonly, even sexual rites for fertility.

Patricia Lacasse of New Hampshire described the local practice of digging a hole for the may pole, then bringing it in, putting a ring at the top then attaching ribbons. They would then dance around it, creating a woven pattern on the pole.

Willis explains that the group she is involved with is family friendly, so sexual rites are not a part of their practice.

Online you can find information with the ADF website, OBOD, and the website patheos is a great place to start to find more information, and resources.

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