a guide to the symbolism of the Wiccan Sabbat
by Arwynn MacFeylynnd
Date: April 30, May 1, or the Full Moon in Taurus, depending on your tradition.
Alternative names: Bealtaine (Irish Wittan), Bealtinne (Caledonii or the Druids), Celtic Summer, Floralia, Giamonios, the Great Rite, La Giornata di Tana or Tana’s Day (Aridian Strega), May Day, May Eve, Roodmas, Rudemas (Mexican Craft), Samhradh and La Baal Tinne (Faery Wicca), Walburga (Teutonic), Walpurgis Eve, Walpurgisnacht (German) and Whitsun or Old Bhealltainn (Scottish PectiWita).
Primary meanings: Beltaine honors the union of the God and Goddess and the beginning of the fertile Goddess’s reign. We see Her power in the flowering plants and warm days. This day marks the emergence of the God into manhood. The Goddess and the God unite, and the Goddess becomes pregnant. Flowers and greenery symbolize the Goddess, the Maypole the God.
Symbols: Many pagans represent Beltaine with fresh flowers all around and a cauldron filled with flowers. All of the following flowers are symbolic of Beltaine: roses, bluebells, marigolds, daisies, primroses and lilac. Mirrors are also appropriate. Altar decorations may also include a small Maypole or phallic-shaped candle and a daisy chain. Plaiting and weaving straw, creating in wicker and making baskets and fabrics are traditional arts. Other symbols are the traditional full-sized Maypole (about 10 feet tall), May baskets, crossroads, eggs, butter churns and chalices.
Colors: White and dark green particularly, also all colors of the rainbow.
Gemstones: Sapphires, bloodstones, emeralds, orange carnelians and rose quartz.
Herbs: Almond, angelica, ash trees, birch trees, bluebells, cinquefoil, daisies, frankincense, hawthorn, ivy, lilac, marigolds, primroses, rosemary, roses, satyrion root, woodruff and yellow cowslip.
Gods and goddesses: All virgin-mother goddesses, all young father gods and all gods and goddesses of the hunt, of love and of fertility. Some Beltaine goddesses to mention by name include Aphrodite, Arianrhod, Ariel, Artemis, Astarte, Cybele, Diana, Freya, Rhiannon, Shiela-na-gig, Skadi, Var, Venus and Xochiquetzal. Beltaine gods include Apollo, Bacchus, Bel/Belanos, Cernunnos, Cupid/Eros, Faunus, Frey, the Great Horned God, Herne, Odin, Orion, Pan, Puck and Robin Goodfellow.
Customs and myths: Wrapping the Maypole is a Beltaine tradition. In the old days, the Maypole was often made from a communal pine tree decorated at Yule, with most branches removed for Beltaine. In some traditions, the ribbons around the top are red and white; the white can represent the Virgin Goddess and the red the Sun God, or the white the Maiden and the red the Mother. The participants dance around the Maypole with the ribbons — the males holding the red and the females holding the white. As they dance, they intertwine the ribbons to form a symbolic birth canal around the phallic pole, representing the union of the Goddess and God. Many Wiccans choose this time to perform their own handfastings; others hold that the Goddess frowns on marriage in this month. Another great choice would be the next Sabbat at the Summer Solstice.
The Great Rite, jumping the balefire, blowing horns and gathering flowers are other Beltaine traditions. Solitary practitioners might weave ribbons as an alternative to dancing around the Maypole. It is considered taboo to give away fire or food on this day.