Witches usually celebrate Beltane on May 1, although some prefer to mark it around May 5, when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Taurus. The sabbat is named for the god Baal or Bel, sometimes called “the bright one.” In Scottish Gaelic, the word bealtainn means “fires of Belos” and refers to the bonfires pagans light on this sabbat. The joyful festival celebrates the earth’s fertility, when flowers bloom and plants begin sprouting in the fields. The Christian Church adopted this ancient holiday as May Day, and some of Beltane’s old rituals (sans the overt sexuality) are still enacted today.
The Holiday’s Significance
The second fertility holiday in the Wheel of the Year, Beltane coincides with a period of fruitfulness. To ancient and modern pagans alike, this holiday honors the earth and all of nature. In early agrarian cultures, farmers built fires on Beltane and led livestock between the flames to increase their fertility.
Sexuality is also celebrated on this sabbat—the Great Rite has traditionally been part of the holiday’s festivities. In pre-Christian days, Beltane celebrants engaged in sexual intercourse in the fields as a form of symbolic magick to encourage fertility and a bountiful harvest. Children who were conceived at this time were said to belong to the Goddess.
Ways to Celebrate
It’s best to celebrate Beltane outside in order to appreciate nature’s fullness. Because Beltane is a fertility holiday, many of its rituals contain sexual symbolism. The Maypole, around which young females dance, is an obvious phallic symbol. Witches often decorate the Maypole with flowers in recognition of the earth’s beauty and fruit fruitfulness. Sometimes a woman who seeks a partner will toss a circular garland over the top of the pole, signifying the sex act, as a way of asking the Goddess to send her a lover.
Another fertility ritual utilizes the cauldron, symbol of the womb. Women who wish to become pregnant build a small fire in the cauldron, then jump over it. If you prefer, you can leap over the cauldron to spark creativity in the mind instead of the body.