The Height Of Spring – Beltane
Beltane marks the height of the season of Spring. The Goddess’s reign begins, the rule of the year relinquished by the God. Emphasis is on all the “unnecessary”, ephemeral things that make human happiness, such as love, beauty, playfulness, and the arts. These things are the fruits of successful labor in the fields, which leaves us the leisure to enjoy them. They elevate our consciousness to a level above mere survival. These energies, projected into the Beltane fires, make them a potent charm.
Flowers opening. Trees and shrubs in bloom and beginning to leaf out. Threat of snow and ice ended.
Final plowing and planting. Milk flow comes in full.
Baal (fire of the sun), a god of the Sun and of vegetation, has his great feast at this time; as does Olwen, a Welsh form f Venus; Belili, sister and lover of Tamuz, Priapus, Pan and Eros; Maia, the mother of Mercury; Terminus, Roman god of boundaries; Aphrodite and Venus; the Roman Flora.
St. George is the Xian version of the vegetation god. Slain by the Giant
(death), he is revived by the Fool (Sun) and kills the Dragon (Winter), in the spring mummer’s play.
Appearance of Robin Hood, Maid Marian and the Merry Men, of Merlin and the fairy Viviane or Nimue, and the legend of Gwain and the Green Knight. Feast of Pluto or Hades and of Walburga, a Teutonic Earth-Goddess converted into a Xian saint.
PURPOSE OF THE RITES
To ensure growth and health of the crops. Magic for happiness in love. Sexual union among the people are united with the life-force of all nature. Fire-magic to strengthen the sun and obtain adequate rainfall.
On the last three days in April, houses are cleaned and fumigated with juniper berries and rue. Couples go to the woods May Eve, build bowers of green branches and stay all night. At dawn they return bringing green and flowering branches, and decorate the homes and door lintels as they go from house to house, singing May carols. A Maypole, cut from a straight young tree, is brought from the woods, decorated with ribbons, flowers and green branches – or the flowers and greenery are brought from the woods to decorate (and symbolically revivify) a permanent Maypole in the village center.
Milkmaids and sweeps parade. A procession tours the boundary markers and other important landmarks, beating them with willow wands – no doubt t purification rite. Wells are decorated with flowers and blessed (originally, no doubt, the spirit of the well was propitiated with offerings) often in the same procession.
Dew gathered at dawn on May morning has many uses as a charm. A king and queen are crowned, sometimes by the figures of Merlin and Viviane, sometimes by the Mayor.
Green George (aka Jack O’ the Green Man) is a man concealed in a framework covered with green leaves, representing the vegetation spirit. He dances and whirls in the processions, and people sprinkle him with water – obviously an old rain charm. Sometimes he throws fodder to the animals. He goes with the May procession from house to house collecting presents of food for the company – showing that Spring brings nourishment.
Hobby horses parade in many parts of England and Europe, notably in Cornwall, the most famous and magically potent being at Padstow. Processions of young girls dressed in white sing May carols and leading a little May Queen.
Many small Maypoles – poles decorated with flowers, greenery and ribbons. Garland – hoops similarly decorated. Birth, Hawthorn Lily-of-the-Valley, Rowan, Willow. Masses of flowers.
Athletic contests, flower shows, horse races.
The altar may be placed in the East of Southeast, draped in white as a
background for the decorations of seasonal foliage and flowers. Use white candles.
Rites take place on the Eve, just after dark. Emphasize incense in the
banishings, as at Ostara. Also strike the altar, the watchtowers and the people with a willow switch – just a light tap – to drive away evil influences, with no suggestion of punishment.
Invoke the Goddess as any or all of the Goddesses whose feasts occur at this time; the God likewise. Charge the fire to bring happiness to lovers. Communion materials are the usual crescent-shaped Sabbat Cakes and May wine (white wine, usually a Rhine wine, in which sweet woodruff has been steeped for at least a few hours). Afterwards, couples may leap the dying fire to benefit form the charge. Ashes and charred sticks from the fire also carry the charge, and at all Sabbats these can be taken home by the coveners to sprinkle on their gardens, plants or domestic animals, or used in other ways as a charm.
Coveners should wear wreaths of flowers and herbs, particularly roses and vervain, if obtainable, and their clothing should be pretty and spring-like and decorated with flowers and leaves.
Rites on Beltane Day, beginning as early as people are inclined to get up in the morning, should include many of the folk customs mentioned here, wit h a May King and Queen enthrones in their bower representing the maiden love-goddess and the priapic green god, presiding over the revels, which include a Maypole dance, sports and games.