One of the four quarter day festivals, Beltane saw members of communities come together to celebrate the return of the summer. The observance of this hugely important time in the turning of the wheel of the year was characterised by a celebration of the return of the fertility of the land, and would have been a time when livestock would have been put out to pasture.
The word ‘Beltane’ roughly translates as ‘bright fire’ and, as such, one of the most important rituals, which survives today in our modern festival, concerns the lighting of the Beltane bonfire. Fire was seen as a purifier and healer and would have been walked around and danced/jumped over by the members of the community. Farmers would also have driven their cattle between bonfires to cleanse and protect them before being put out into the fields.
In ancient communities, all hearth fires would have been extinguished and a new neid fire lit which would have then been used to relight people’s hearths in their own homes. In this way the community was connected to each other by the sacred fire which was central to all. The festival would also have been a time of courtship rituals and a celebration of our own fertility!
The important point to note when thinking about our own festival is the joy and the revelry that is fostered in the ritual. It is about casting off the darkness and celebrating the light. It is a time for celebrating fertility, both in the context of our biological functions as well as our own creative energies, the fertility of our creative community.