All About Beltane

April’s showers have given way to rich and fertile earth, and as the land greens, there are few celebrations as representative of fertility as Beltane. Observed on May 1st (or October 31 – November 1 for our Southern Hemisphere readers), festivities typically begin the evening before, on the last night of April. It’s a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth, and a day that has a long (and sometimes scandalous) history. Depending on your tradition, there are a number of ways you can celebrate this Sabbat. First, you might want to read up on:

Rituals and Ceremonies

Depending on your particular tradition, there are many different ways you can celebrate Beltane, but the focus is nearly always on fertility. It’s the time when the earth mother opens up to the fertility god, and their union brings about healthy livestock, strong crops, and new life all around.

Here are a few rituals you may want to think about trying — and remember, any of them can be adapted for either a solitary practitioner or a small group, with just a little planning ahead.

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Customs and Folklore

Interested in learning about some of the traditions behind the celebrations of May Day? Learn why the Romans had a big party, and who the popular fertility gods are.

Beltane Magic

Beltane is a season of fertility and fire, and we often find this reflected in the magic of the season. Let’s look at some of that spring magic, from ritual sex to fertility magic, along with the magic found in gardens and nature.

Crafts and Creations

As Beltane approaches, you can decorate your home (and keep your kids entertained) with a number of easy craft projects. Start celebrating a bit early with fun floral crowns and a Maypole altar centerpiece.

Feasting and Food

No Pagan celebration is really complete without a meal to go along with it. For Beltane, celebrate with foods that honor fertility of the earth. Enjoy light spring soups, Scottish bannocks, fertility bread loaves, and more.

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Beltane: Its History and Modern Celebration in Wicca in America

by Rowan Moonstone

The celebration of May 1st, or Beltane as it is known in Wicca Circles, is one of the most important festivals of our religious year. I will attempt here to answer some of the most often asked questions about this holiday. An extensive bibliography follows the article so that the interested reader can do further research.

  1. Where does the festival of Beltane originate?Beltane, as practiced by modern day Witches and Pagans, has its origins among the Celtic peoples of Western Europe and the British Isles, particularly Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
  2. What does the word Beltane mean?Dr. Proinsias MacCana defines the word as follows: “… the Irish name for May Day is Beltane, of which the second element, ‘tene’, is the word for fire, and the first, ‘bel’, probably means ‘shining or brilliant’.”1 The festival was known by other names in other Celtic countries. Beltaine in Ireland, Bealtunn in Scotland, Shenn do Boaldyn on the Isle of Mann and Galan Mae in Wales.2
  3. What was the significance of this holiday to the ancients?To the ancient Celts, it symbolized the coming of spring. It was the time of year when the crops began to sprout, the animals bore their young and the people could begin to get out of the houses where they had been cooped up during the long dark cold winter months. Keep in mind that the people in those days had no electric lights or heat and that the Celtic countries are at a much more northerly latitude than many of us are used to. At that latitude, spring comes much later and winter lasts much longer than in most of the US. The coming of fair weather and longer daylight hours would be most welcome after a long cold and dark winter.
  4. How did the ancient Celts celebrate this festival?The most ancient way of observing this day is with fire. Beltane, along with Samhain (Nov. 1), Imbolc (Feb. 1), and Lughnassadh (Aug. 1), was one of the four great “fire festivals” which marked the turning points of the Celtic year. The most ancient records tell us that the people would extinguish all the hearth fires in the country and then relight them from the “need fires” lit by the druids (who used friction as a means of ignition). In many areas, the cattle were driven between two great bonfires to protect them from disease during the coming year. It is my personal belief, although I have no documentation to back up the assumption, that certain herbs would have been burnt in the fires, thus producing smoke which would help destroy parasites which might make cattle and other livestock ill.
  5. In what other ways was this festival celebrated?One of the most beautiful customs associated with this festival was “bringing in the May.” The young people of the villages and towns would go out into the fields and forests at Midnight on April 30th and gather flowers with which to bedeck themselves, their families and their homes. They would process back into the villages, stopping at each home to leave flowers and to receive the best of food and drink that the home had to offer. This custom is somewhat similar to “trick or treat” at Samhain and was very significant to the ancients. John Williamson, in his study “The Oak King, the Holly King and the Unicorn” writes: “These revelers were messengers of the renewal of vegetation, and they assumed the right to punish the niggardly, because avarice (as opposed to generosity) was dangerous to the community’s hope for the abundance of nature. At an important time like the coming of summer, food, the substance of life, must be ritually circulated generously within the community in order that the cosmic circuit of life’s substance may be kept in motion (trees, flocks, harvests, etc.).”3 These revelers would bless the fields and flocks of those who were generous and wish ill harvests on those who withheld their bounty.
  6. What about maypoles?The maypole was an adjunct to the festival of bringing in the May. It is a phallic symbol, and as such represented fertility to the participants in the festival. In olden days, the revelers who went into the woods would cut a tree and bring it into town, decking it with flowers and greenery and dance around it clockwise (also called deosil, meaning “sun-wise”, the direction of the sun’s apparent travel across the face of the Earth) to bring fertility and good luck. The ribbons which we associate with the maypole today were a later addition.
  7. Why was fertility important?The people who originated this custom lived in close connection with the land. If the flocks and fields were fertile, they were ableto eat; if there was famine or drought, they went hungry. It is hard for us today to relate to this concept, but to the ancients, it was literally a life and death matter. The Celts were a very close tribal people, and fertility of their women literally meant continuity of the tribe.
  8. How is the maypole connected with fertility?Many scholars see the maypole as a phallic symbol. In this aspect, it is a very powerful symbol of the fertility of nature and spring.
  9. How did these ancient customs come down to us?When Christianity came to the British Isles, many of the ancient holy sites were taken over by the new religion and converted to Christian sites. Many of the old Gods and Goddesses became Christian saints, and many of the customs were appropriated. Charles Squire says,” An ingenious theory was invented after the introduction of Christianity, with the purpose of allowing such ancient rites to continue with a changed meaning. The passing of persons and cattle through flame or smoke was explained as a practice which interposed a magic protection between them and the powers of evil.”4 This is precisely what the original festival was intended to do; only the definition of “evil” had changed. These old customs continued to be practiced in many areas for centuries. “In Scotland in 1282, John, the priest in Iverkething, led the young girls of his parish in a phallic dance of decidedly obscene character during Easter week. For this, penance was laid upon him, but his punishment was not severe, and he was allowed to retain his benefice.”5
  10. Were sacrifices practiced during this festival?Scholars are divided in their opinions of this. There is no surviving account of sacrifices in the legends and mythology which have come down to us. As these were originally set down on paper by Christian monks, one would think that if such a thing had been regularly practiced, the good brothers would most certainly have recorded it, if for no other reason than to make the pagans look more depraved. There are, however, some surviving folk customs which point to a person representing the gloom and ill fortune of winter being ostracized and forced to jump through the fires. Some scholars see this as a survival of ancient human sacrificial practices. The notion that animals were sacrificed during this time doesn’t make sense from a practical standpoint. The animals which had been retained a breeding stock through the winter would either be lean and hungry from winter feed, or would be mothers nursing young, which could not be spared.
  11. How do modern day pagans observe this day?Modern day pagan observances of Beltane include the maypole dances, bringing in the May, and jumping the cauldron for fertility. Many couples wishing to conceive children will jump the cauldron together at this time. Fertility of imagination and other varieties of fertility are invoked along with sexual fertility. In Wiccan and other Pagan circles, this is a joyous day, full of laughter and good times.
  12. What about Walpurgisnacht? Is this the same thing as Beltane?Walpurgisnacht comes from an Eastern European background, and has little in common with the Celtic practices. I have not studied the folklore from that region and do not consider myself qualified to write about it. As the vast majority of Wiccan traditions today stem from Celtic roots, I have confined myself to research in those areas.

Footnotes

  1. MacCana, Proinsias, Celtic Mythology, The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, London, 1970, p.32.
  2. Squire, Charles, Celtic Myth and Legend, Poetry and Romance, Newcastle Publishing Co., Van Nuys, CA, 1975, p.408.
  3. Williamson, John, The Oak King, the Holly King, and the Unicorn, Harper & Row, NY, 1986, p.126.
  4. Squire, p.411.
  5. Hole, Christina, Witchcraft In England, Rowman & Littlefield, Totowa, NJ, 1977, p.36.

Bibliography

  • Bord, Janet & Colin, Earth Rites, Fertility Practices in Pre-Industrial Britain, Granada, London, 1982.
  • Danaher, Kevin, The Year in Ireland, The Mercier Press, Cork, 1972.
  • Hole, Christina, Witchcraft in England, Rowman & Littlefield, Totowa NJ,1977.
  • MacCana, Proinsias, Celtic Mythology, The Hamlyn Publishing Group, Ltd., London, 1970.
  • MacCulloch, J.A. Religion of the Ancient Celts, Folcroft Library Editions, London, 1977.
  • Powell, T.G.E. The Celts, Thames & Hudson, New York, 1980.
  • Sharkey, John, Celtic Mysteries, the Ancient Religion, Thames & Hudson, New York, 1979.
  • Squire, Charles, Celtic Myth, Legend, Poetry, and Romance, Newcastle Publishing Co., Van Nuys, CA, 1975.
  • Williamson, John, The Oak King, The Holly King and the Unicorn, Harper & Row, New York, 1986.
  • Wood-Martin, W.G., Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, Kennikat Press, Port Washington, NY, 1902.

A Detailed History of Beltane

“…There have been many waves of Beltane festivals, each in its own generation with a different facet, but all saying ‘We Need To Celebrate’”
– Margaret Bennett, 2006

To the pastoral Celtic people’s of Europe the changing pattern of the seasons was a matter of life and death, and marking these changes key moments in the life of the community. Beltane – “bright fire” – was one such marker celebrated in various forms across Ireland, Scotland and Man as the starting point of summer. A celebration of the time of light and growth to come, Beltane was associated with a variety of practices, from the display of fresh greenery to the baking of Beltane bannocks. Perhaps the most important element, however, was the lighting of Beltane fires on the first of May, which would recall the growing power of the sun and provide an opportunity to cleanse and renew the conditions of a community – both humans and their animals – that had spent the dark months indoors. In Scotland, the lighting of Beltane fires – round which cattle were driven, over which brave souls danced and leapt – would survive into modern times, although a process of slow decline saw towns and villages slowly abandon the practice in the nineteenth century. The last Beltane fire recorded in Helmsdale took place in 1820. In the middle years of the century the fires of Fife spluttered out, and by the 1870s they would go unlit in the Shetland Isles. By the start of the twentieth century, Edinburgh, which had for time immemorial seen beacons lit on Arthur’s Seat, ceased such public Beltane celebrations.

In 1988 Edinburgh’s Beltane fires were brought to life once more, led by Angus Farquhar – then of industrial band Test Dept, who took part in the first Beltane performance, now ofNVA. The inspiration here was the idea of recreating a sense of community and an appreciation of the cyclical nature of the seasons and our connection to the environment. With the aid of choreographer Lindsay John and a folklorist Margaret Bennett of Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies, this first performance drew on existing folk traditions surrounding Beltane to create a modern celebration of the festival which has continued to grow and evolve as the years have gone by.

This first modern Beltane saw only five performers take to Calton Hill, watched by an audience of fifty to a hundred people. Within five years this had grown to several hundred performers and three thousand audience members, during which time the Society came into place to support the continuation of the festival. While Arthur’s Seat had traditionally been the location for Edinburgh’s Beltane celebrations, at the time of the planning of the ‘new’ Beltane Festival a location was needed that was more accessible and central, while still maintaining an association with nature and the environment. Calton Hill also at that time had a bad reputation relating to sex and drugs and was a ‘no go’ area of the city, and part of the aim was to ‘reclaim’ that space for the local community through our celebrations.

As the Beltane Fire Festival has grown and developed, change has been inevitable. In 1992, Angus Farquhar organised his last Beltane, and the following year the Beltane Fire Society formed to take on his mantle. By 1999, audience numbers had reached ten thousand, and in 2001 the Festival took on its first paid production manager to co-ordinate the growing event, currently a part-time paid role in an otherwise volunteer organisation. Growing costs, attendance numbers and council licensing requirements meant that in 2004 the decision was made for the previously free event to be ticketed for the first time. An admission charge did little to effect the festival’s popularity, however, and in 2004 the event sold out for the first time with an audience of twelve thousand. In recent years, the audience has varied between six and twelve thousand people, experiencing a cast of around three hundred performers, plus support groups, technicians and production groups.

As “Beltane” has got bigger, it also expanded outwith the night itself, part of a cultural mileau which helped to spawn several performance groups which would move beyond the bounds of Beltane. Most notable was te POOKa, a performing arts charity which for many years had a symbiotic relationship with the festival, sharing personnel, headquarters and, in its early years, the name “Beltane Productions”. The charitable objectives of the Society, which in part seeks to raise awareness of the Quarter Days of the Scottish seasonal calendar, have also expanded its own performances to mark these complementary festivals. While the festivals of Imbolc and Lugnasadh have generally been small, informal affairs for members of the Society, the most established alternate celebration is Samhuinn – 31st October – when the coming of winter is marked by a public procession in Edinburgh city centre.

Despite these changes, BFS remains a volunteer-run community charity, with the performance on the night itself at its core. And, while the performance itself has grown and changed, it has firmly retained key elements – the procession of the May Queen, the death and rebirth of Green Man, the lighting of the bonfire – which provide a backbone of continuity while allowing a huge amount of flexibility within each group and each character as to how they wish to engage with and shape the story of our Festival. The Beltane fires have returned to Edinburgh in a vibrant, modern tradition which has become a world-renowned spectacle.

From:

Beltane Fire Society

Formed in 1988, Beltane Fire Society is a community arts performance charity that hosts the Beltane Fire Festival and Samhuinn Fire Festival in Edinburgh.

Beltane

Introduction

Beltane

Find this year’s date in the multifaith calendar

Ritual burning of a straw manBeltane is a Celtic word which means ‘fires of Bel’ (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.

Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In spring time, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and fields.

Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.

Other festivities involved fire which was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. Cattle were often passed between two fires and the properties of the flame and the smoke were seen to ensure the fertility of the herd.

Today Pagans believe that at Beltane the God (to whom the Goddess gave birth at the Winter Solstice) achieves the strength and maturity to court and become lover to the Goddess. So although what happens in the fields has lost its significance for most Pagans today, the creation of fertility is still an important issue.

Emma Restall Orr, a modern day Druid, speaks of the ‘fertility of our personal creativity’. (Spirits of the Sacred Grove, pub. Thorsons, 1998, pg.110). She is referring to the need for active and creative lives. We need fertile minds for our work, our families and our interests.

Fire is still the most important element of most Beltane celebrations and there are many traditions associated with it. It is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse and revitalise. People leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) and happiness through the coming year.

Although Beltane is the most overtly sexual festival, Pagans rarely use sex in their rituals although rituals often imply sex and fertility. The tradition of dancing round the maypole contains sexual imagary and is still very popular with modern Pagans.

The largest Beltane celebrations in the UK are held in Edinburgh. Fires are lit at night and festivities carry on until dawn. All around the UK fires are lit and private celebrations are held amongst covens and groves (groups of Pagans) to mark the start of the summer.

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Edinburgh traditions

Beltane in Edinburgh

Performer in white costume and bright white makeup with a blue-painted Blue Man in the foregroundWhite Woman performer ©Every year on 30th April on Calton Hill in Edinburgh thousands of people come together for a huge celebration to mark the coming of summer. The evening begins with a procession to the top of the hill led by people dressed as the May Queen and the Green Man (ancient God and Goddess figures representing fertility and growth).

The May Queen crowns the Green Man, in a ritual similar to that carried out by Wiccan Pagans (who follow a structured set of rituals). The winter ends when the Green Man’s winter costume is taken from him and he is revealed in his spring costume. A wild dance takes place and the Green Man and the May Queen are married.

The main element of any Beltane celebration is fire. On Calton Hill torchbearers carry purifying flames and fire arches are used to represent the gateways between the earthly world and the spirit world.

Most of the imagery used in the costumes and rituals comes from the Celts and from Scottish folklore. Other influences come from indeginous people world wide. For instance, the symbol of Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron, can be seen on the faces of some of the performers, and the Geisha traditions of Japan are evident in the dress of the White Women (assistants of the May Queen). Due to the ecclectic nature of the celebrations, Edinburgh’s Beltane is not recognised as a religious ritual by many practising Pagans.

Fire archFire arch ©

  • The blue paint of the Blue Men refers to the woad used by Celtic warriors.
  • The May Queen’s male consort is the Green Man, sometimes called the May King, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood or the woodland faery Puck.
  • The Red Men represent mischief makers, Pan-like figures who live for the moment without a care in the world or inhibitions.
  • The White Woman and her handmaidens protect the May Queen and attend to her later in the evening. They are the order and discipline in the face of the Red Men’s chaos.
  • Torch Bearers are an important, trusted group. Dressed from head to foot in black, with blacked out faces, their hair covered, they are protected from fire and other elements.

From: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/holydays/beltane_1.shtml

Beltane Lore & Rites

by Selena Fox

DSC 2730-smallAlso known as May Eve, May Day, and Walpurgis Night, happens at the beginning of May. It celebrates the height of Spring and the flowering of life. The Goddess manifests as the May Queen and Flora. The God emerges as the May King and Jack in the Green. The danced Maypole represents Their unity, with the pole itself being the God and the ribbons that encompass it, the Goddess. Colors are the Rainbow spectrum. Beltane is a festival of flowers, fertility, sensuality, and delight.

Celebrating Beltane Podcasts

 

Beltane Chants

 

Beltane Customs

Prepare a May basket by filling it with flowers and goodwill and then give it to someone in need of healing and caring, such as a shut-in or elderly friend. Form a wreath of freshly picked flowers, wear it in your hair, and feel yourself radiating joy and beauty. Dress in bright colors. Dance the Maypole and feel yourself balancing the Divine Female and Male within. On May Eve, bless your garden in the old way by making love with your lover in it. Make a wish as you jump a bonfire or candle flame for good luck. Welcome in the May at dawn with singing and dancing.

Going A-Maying & Bringing in the May — Merry-making and Nature communion. * Midpoint between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. * In Pagan Rome, Floralia, from April 27-May 3 was the festival of the Flower Goddess Flora and the flowering of Springtime. On May 1, offerings were made to Bona Dea (as Mother Earth), the Lares (household guardian spirits), and Maia (Goddess of Increase) from whom May gets its name. * Roman Catholic traditions of crowning statues of Mary with flowers on May 1 have Roman Pagan roots. * Marks the second half of the Celtic Year; one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals. Complement to Samhain, it is a time of divination and communion with Fairy Folk/Nature Spirits. * Pastoral tradition of turning sheep, cows, other livestock out to pasture. * In Pagan Scandinavia, mock battles between Winter and Summer were enacted at this time. * Building on older tradition of this time being a holiday for the masses, in the twentieth century, May Day has been a workers’ holiday in many places. * Some say that Mother’s Day, in the USA, Mexico, and elsewhere has Pagan roots.

 

DSC 2542-smallMaypole

Forms include pole, tree, bush, cross; communal or household; permanent or annual. * In Germany, Fir tree was cut on May Eve by young unmarried men, branches removed, decorated, put up in village square, & guarded all night until dance occurred on May Day. * In England, permanent Maypoles were erected on village greens * In some villages, there also were smaller Maypoles in the yards of households. * Maypole ribbondances, with two circles interweaving; around decorated bush/tree, clockwise circle dances.

 

Flowers & Greenwood

Gathering and exchange of Flowers and Greens on May Eve, pre-dawn May Day, Beltane. * Decorating homes, barns, and other buildings with Green budding branches, including Hawthorn. * Making and wearing of garland wreaths of Flowers and/or Greens. * May Baskets were given or placed secretly on doorsteps to friends, shut-ins, lovers, others. * May Bowl was punch (wine or non-alcoholic) made of Sweet Woodruff blossoms.

 

DSC 2841-smallBeltane Fires

Traditionally, sacred woods kindled by spark from flint or by friction — in Irish Gaelic, the Beltane Fire has been called teine eigin (fire from rubbing sticks). * Jump over the Beltane Fire, move through it, or dance clockwise around it. * Livestock was driven through it or between two fires for purification and fertility blessings. * In ancient times Druid priests kindled it at sacred places; later times, Christian priests kindled it in fields near the church after peforming a Christian church service. * Rowan twigs were carried around the fire three times, then hung over hearths to bless homes. * In the past, Beltane community fire purification customs included symbolic sacrifice of effigy knobs on the Beltane Cake (of barley) to the fire, or, in medieval times, mock sacrifice of Beltane Carline (Hag) who received blackened piece of Beltane Cake; Maypoles in Spain were each topped with a male effigy which was later burned. Contemporary Pagans burn sacred wood and dried herbs as offerings in their Beltane fires.

 

May Waters

Rolling in May Eve dew or washing face in pre-dawn May Day dew for health, luck, beauty. * Getting head and hair wet in Beltane rain to bless the head. * Blessing springs, ponds, other sacred waters with flowers, garlands, ribbons, other offerings. * Collecting sacred waters and scrying in sacred springs, wells, ponds, other waters.

 

Sacred Union & Fertility

Union with the Land focus, often with actual mating outside on the Land to bless fields, herds, home. * May Queen (May Bride) as personification of the Earth Goddess and Goddesses of Fertility. * May King (May Groom) as personification of Vegetation God, Jack-in-Green — often covered in green leaves. * At Circle Sanctuary, in addition to May Queen & May King, is May Spirit Couple, an already bonded pair. * Symbolic Union of Goddess and God in election/selection, crowning, processional, Maypole dance, feast. * Morris Dancers and pageants (with Hag & Jack-in-Green) to awaken the fertility in the Land.

Beltane — Holiday Details and History

Author: Christina Aubin [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: April 30th. 2000
Times Viewed: 258,199

Beltane is the last of the three spring fertility festivals, the others being Imbolc and Ostara. Beltane is the second principal Celtic festival (the other being Samhain). Celebrated approximately halfway between Vernal (spring) equinox and the midsummer (Summer Solstice). Beltane traditionally marked the arrival if summer in ancient times.

At Beltane the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon, whereas winter (Samhain) begins when the Pleiades rises at sunset. The Pleiades is a cluster of seven closely placed stars, the seven sisters, in the constellation of Taurus, near his shoulder. When looking for the Pleiades with the naked eye, remember it looks like a tiny dipper-shaped pattern of six moderately bright stars (the seventh can be seen on very dark nights) in the constellation of Taurus. It stands very low in the east-northeast sky for just a few minutes before sunrise.

Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and summer (Light Part). As Samhain is about honoring Death, Beltane, its counter part, is about honoring Life. It is the time when the sun is fully released from his bondage of winter and able to rule over summer and life once again.

Beltane, like Samhain, is a time of “no time” when the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest. No time is when the two worlds intermingle and unite and the magic abounds! It is the time when the Faeries return from their winter respite, carefree and full of faery mischief and faery delight. On the night before Beltane, in times past, folks would place rowan branches at their windows and doors for protection, many otherworldly occurrences could transpire during this time of “no time”. Traditionally on the Isle of Man, the youngest member of the family gathers primroses on the eve before Beltane and throws the flowers at the door of the home for protection. In Ireland it is believed that food left over from May Eve must not be eaten, but rather buried or left as an offering to the faery instead. Much like the tradition of leaving of whatever is not harvested from the fields on Samhain, food on the time of no time is treated with great care.

When the veils are so thin it is an extremely magical time, it is said that the Queen of the Faeries rides out on her white horse. Roving about on Beltane eve She will try to entice people away to the Faeryland. Legend has it that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane night, you may see the Faery Queen or hear the sound of Her horse’s bells as She rides through the night. Legend says if you hide your face, She will pass you by but if you look at Her, She may choose you. There is a Scottish ballad of this called Thomas the Rhymer, in which Thomas chooses to go the Faeryland with the Queen and has not been seen since.

Beltane has been an auspicious time throughout Celtic lore, it is said that the Tuatha de Danaan landed in north-west Connacht on Beltane. The Tuatha de Danaan, it is said, came from the North through the air in a mist to Ireland. After the invasion by the Milesians, the Tuatha faded into the Otherworld, the Sidhe, Tir na nOg.

The beginning of summer heralds an important time, for the winter is a difficult journey and weariness and disheartenment set in, personally one is tired down to the soul. In times past the food stocks were low; variety was a distant memory. The drab non-color of winter’s end perfectly represents the dullness and fatigue that permeates on so many levels to this day. We need Beltane, as the earth needs the sun, for our very Spirit cries out for the renewal of summer jubilation.

Beltane marks that the winter’s journey has passed and summer has begun, it is a festival of rapturous gaiety as it joyfully heralds the arrival of summer in her full garb. Beltane, however, is still a precarious time, the crops are still very young and tender, susceptible to frost and blight. As was the way of ancient thought, the Wheel would not turn without human intervention. People did everything in their power to encourage the growth of the Sun and His light, for the Earth will not produce without the warm love of the strong Sun. Fires, celebration and rituals were an important part of the Beltane festivities, as to insure that the warmth of the Sun’s light would promote the fecundity of the earth.

Beltane marks the passage into the growing season, the immediate rousing of the earth from her gently awakening slumber, a time when the pleasures of the earth and self are fully awakened. It signals a time when the bounty of the earth will once again be had. May is a time when flowers bloom, trees are green and life has again returned from the barren landscape of winter, to the hope of bountiful harvests, not too far away, and the lighthearted bliss that only summer can bring.

Beltane translated means “fire of Bel” or “bright fire” – the “bale-fire”. (English – bale; Anglo-Saxon bael; Lithuanian baltas (white)) Bel (Bel, Bile, Beli, Belinus, Belenos) is the known as the bright and shinning one, a Celtic Sun God. Beli is the father, protector, and the husband of the Mother Goddess.

Beltane is the time of the yearly battle between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythur ap Greidawl for Creudylad in Welsh mythology. Gwyn ap Nudd the Wild Huntsman of Wales, he is a God of death and the Annwn. Creudylad is the daughter of Lludd (Nudd) of the Silver Hand (son of Beli). She is the most beautiful maiden of the Island of Mighty. A myth of the battle of winter and summer for the magnificent blossoming earth.

In the myth of Rhiannion and Pwyll, it is the evening of Beltane, that Rhiannon gives birth to their son. The midwives all fell asleep at the same time, as they were watching over Rhiannon and her new baby, during which he was taken. In order to protect themselves, they smeared blood (from a pup) all over Rhiannon, to which they claim she had eaten her son. The midwives were believed, and Rhiannon was forced to pay penance for seven years. She had to carrying people on her back from the outside of the gate to the palace, although rarely would any allow her to do so. The baby’s whereabouts were a mystery. Oddly, every Beltane night, one of Pwyll’s vassals, Teirnyon Twryv Vliant, had a mare that gave birth but the colt disappeared. One Beltane night Teirnyon Twryv Vliant awaited in the barn for the mare to foaled, when she did, he heard a tremendous noise and a clawed arm came through the window and grabbed the colt. Teirnyon cut off the arm with his sword, and then heard a wailing. He opened the door and found a baby, he brought it to his wife and they adopted Gwri Wallt Euryn (Gwri of the Golden Hair). As he grew he looked like Pwyll and they remembered they found him on the night Rhiannon’s baby became lost. Teirnyon brought Gwri of the Golden Hair to the castle, told the story, and he was adopted back to his parents, Rhiannon and Pwyll, and and named by the head druid, Pryderi (trouble) from the first word his mother had said when he was restored to her. “Trouble is, indeed, at an end for me, if this be true”.

This myth illustrates the precariousness of the Beltane season, at the threshold of Summer, the earth awakening, winter can still reach its long arm in and snatch the Sun away (Gwri of the Golden hair). “Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out” (clout: Old English for cloth/clothing). If indeed the return of summer is true than the trouble (winter) is certainly over, however one must be vigilant.

On Beltane eve the Celts would build two large fires, Bel Fires, lit from the nine sacred woods. The Bel Fire is an invocation to Bel (Sun God) to bring His blessings and protection to the tribe. The herds were ritually driven between two needfires (fein cigin), built on a knoll. The herds were driven through to purify, bring luck and protect them as well as to insure their fertility before they were taken to summer grazing lands. An old Gaelic adage: “Eadar da theine Bhealltuinn” – “Between two Beltane fires”.

The Bel fire is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers. The fires further celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires.

Celebration includes frolicking throughout the countryside, maypole dancing, leaping over fires to ensure fertility, circling the fire three times (sun-wise) for good luck in the coming year, athletic tournaments feasting, music, drinking, children collecting the May: gathering flowers. children gathering flowers, hobby horses, May birching and folks go a maying”. Flowers, flower wreaths and garlands are typical decorations for this holiday, as well as ribbons and streamers. Flowers are a crucial symbol of Beltane, they signal the victory of Summer over Winter and the blossoming of sensuality in all of nature and the bounty it will bring.

May birching or May boughing, began on Beltane Eve, it is said that young men fastened garland and boughs on the windows and doors of the young maidens upon which their sweet interest laid. Mountain ash leaves and Hawthorne branches meant indicated love whereas thorn meant disdain. This perhaps, is the forerunner of old May Day custom of hanging bouquets hooked on one’s doorknob?

Young men and women wandered into the woods before daybreak of May Day morning with garlands of flowers and/or branches of trees. They would arrive; most rumpled from joyous encounters, in many areas with the maypole for the Beltane celebrations. Pre-Christian society’s thoughts on human sexuality and fertility were not bound up in guilt and sin, but rather joyous in the less restraint expression of human passions. Life was not an exercise but rather a joyful dance, rich in all beauty it can afford.

In ancient Ireland there was a Sacred Tree named Bile, which was the center of the clan, or Tuatha. As the Irish Tree of Life, the Bile Pole, represents the connection between the people and the three worlds of Bith: The Skyworld (heavens), The Middleworld (our world), and The Otherworld. Although no longer the center life, the Bile pole has survived as the Beltane Maypole.

The Maypole is an important element to Beltane festivities, it is a tall pole decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. Young maidens and lads each hold the end of a ribbon, and dance revolving around the base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons. The circle of dancers should begin, as far out from the pole as the length of ribbon allows, so the ribbons are taut. There should be an even number of boys & girls. Boys should be facing clockwise and girls counterclockwise. They each move in the direction that they are facing, weaving with the next, around to braid the ribbons over-and-under around the pole. Those passing on the inside will have to duck, those passing on the outside raise their ribbons to slide over. As the dances revolve around the pole the ribbons will weave creating a pattern, it is said that the pattern will indicate the abundance of harvest year.

In some areas there are permanent Maypoles, perhaps a recollection of ancient clan Bile Pole memory. In other areas a new Maypole is brought down on Beltane Eve out from the wood. Even the classical wood can vary according to the area tradition is pulled from, most frequently it seems to be birch as “the wood”, but others are mentioned in various historical documents.

Today in some towns and villages a mummer called Jack in the Green (drawing from the Green man), wears a costume made of green leaves as he dances around the May pole. Mumming is a dramatic performance of exaggerated characters and at Beltane the characters include Jack in the Green and the Fool. The Fool, and the Fool’s journey, symbolism can be understood in relation to Beltane as it is the beginning of beginnings, the emergence from the void of nothingness (winter), as one can also see the role of the green man as the re-greening of the world.

Traditionally in many areas Morris dancers can be found dancing around the Maypole. Morris dancing can be found in church records in Thame England going back to 1555. Morris dancing is thought to have originated many centuries ago as part of ancient religious ceremonies, however it seems that Morris dancing became associated with Mayday during the Tudor times, and its originating history is not all that easily traced, as is the way with many traditions.

The Maypole dance as an important aspect of encouraging the return of fertility to the earth. The pole itself is not only phallic in symbolism but also is the connector of the three worlds. Dancing the Maypole during Beltane is magical experience as it is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when these gateways are more easily penetrable. As people gaily dance around and around the pole holding the brightly colored ribbons, the energy it raises is sent down into the earth’s womb, bringing about Her full awakening and fruitfulness.

In Padstow, Cornwall, Beltane morning a procession is led by the “obby oss” a costumed horse figure, in a large circular banded frock and mask. The procession is full of song, drums and accordions. Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University points out that the first account of the Padstow May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss revelries was written in 1803. He offers evidence however that, like English Morris Dancing, its origins lie in English medieval times. This does not discount the possibility that its roots lay in the foundation of the fertility rites of Beltane, a more politically correct transmutation of fertility acts.

There is also a Queen of May. She is said in many areas to have worn a gold crown with a single, gold leaf at its front, in other areas her crown was made of fresh flowers. She was typically chosen at the start of the Beltane festival, which in time past was after sundown on the eve before Beltane day. Many accounts mention both a May Queen and King being chosen, whom would reign from sundown the eve before the Beltane day to sunset on Beltane. Among their duties would be to announce the Beltane games and award the prizes to the victors. The rudimentary base of this practice can be drawn back to the roots of Beltane festivities, the union of the Goddess and Her Consort, the joining of earth and sun, the endowment of summer. The Goddess has many guises: Danu – The Great Mother, Blodeuwedd (the Flower Bride), Isolt (Iseult, Isolde) and many, many others. The consort can also take many forms including the Green Man, Cernunnos or Tristan.

As Beltane marks this handfasting (wedding) of the Goddess and God, it too marks the reawakening of the earth’s fertility in its fullest. This is the union between the Great Mother and her Young Consort, this coupling brings new life on earth. It is on a Spiritual level, the unifying of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine to bring forth the third, consciousness. On the physical, it is the union of the Earth and Sun to bring about the fruitfulness of the growing season.

It is customary that trial unions, for a year and a day, occur at this time. More or less these were statements of intent between couples, which were not legally binding. The trial marriages (engagements) typically occurred between a couple before deciding to take a further step into a legally binding union. It seems ancient wisdom understood that one does not really know another until they have lived with them, and when you live together things change and we change, as well. With this understanding unions were entered upon, first as a test period, and then if desired, a further commitment could be taken. It through always knowing that it is only through the choice of both to remain, that the relationship exists favorably.

May, however, according to old folklore is not a favorable time for marriages in the legal and permanent sense. There is reference after reference in the old books of this belief, and according to my Irish grandmother, May is not the month to marry, woe is to had by those who do. I can understand the premise of this folklore, May is the Goddess and God’s handfasting month, all honor would be Hers and His.

Water is another important association of Beltane, water is refreshing and rejuvenating, it is also imperative to life. It is said that if you bathe in the dew gathered before dawn on Beltane morn, your beauty will flourish throughout the year. Those who are sprinkled with May dew are insured of health and happiness. There are other folk customs such as drinking from the well before sunrise on Beltane Morn to insure good health and fortune.

The central color of Beltane is green. Green is the color of growth, abundance, plentiful harvest, abundant crops, fertility, and luck. White is another color that is customary, white brings the energies of cleansing, peace, spirituality, and the power to dispel negativity. Another color is red who brings along the qualities of energy, strength, sex, vibrancy, quickening, health, consummation and retention. Sun energy, life force and happiness are brought to Beltane by the color yellow. Blues and purples (Sagittarius energies: expansion, Good Fortune, magic, spiritual power, Success), and pinks (Venus energies). Beltane is rich in vibrant color, lighting the eyes and cheering the Spirit as we leave the dreariness of winter behind.

It is customary to bake a colorful fruit and spiced filled bread for festivals in the Celtic lands, traditionally this festival bread is sweet dough made with sweetmeat and spices. In Scotland they are the bannock – Bonnach Bealtain – for Beltane, in Wales – Bara Brith, Ireland it is Barm Brack and in Brittany Morlaix Brioche. For Beltane this bread was made the eve before Beltane day, is it said that the bread should not allow it to come into contact with steel during preparation (steel is harmful, deadly to the faery folk).

Bannocks are actually uncut scones originally cooked on a griddle. Wheat does not grow well in the Highlands, originally bannocks were made with oat or barley flour made into dough with little water and no leavening. Traditionally, a portion of the cake was burned or marked with ashes. The recipient of the burnt cake jumped over a small fire three times to purify and cleanse him or herself of any ill fortune. Offerings of bannocks and drink are traditionally left on doorsteps and roadways for the Faeries as an offering, in hope of faery blessings.

May is the month of sensuality and sexuality revitalized, the reawakening of the earth and Her Children. It is the time when we reawaken to the vivid colors, vibrant scents, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture of summer after a long dormant winter. It is a time of extraordinary expression of earth, animal, and person a time of great enchantment and celebration.

The excitement and beauty of Beltane can not be better expressed than through the gaiety and joy of our children. There is not doubt “spring fever” hits at Beltane, and hits hard. Children are full of unbridled energy charged up and ready to go! Children always amplify the seasonal energies and the thrill of their change, they bring richness and merriment wherever they go.

It is the child’s unrestrained expression of bliss and delight that is what Beltane is all about. It is the sheer joy of running through fields, picking flowers, rapturing in the sunlight, delighting in the fragrance of spring, dancing in the fresh dew covered grass. Our children guide us through the natural abandonment of our adult sensibilities and show us how to take grand pleasure, warmth and bliss from the gift of Beltane.

Blessed Beltane to you and yours!

Christina Aubin
Beltaine 2000

Beltane / Beltain / Beltaine / Bealtaine

30th April / 1st May

The beginning of Summer – Summer is a comin in !

Beltane was an important festival in the Celtic calendar. The name originates from the Celtic god, Bel – the ‘bright one’, and the Gaelic word ‘teine’ meaning fire, giving the name ‘bealttainn’, meaning ‘bright fire’.

This is the beginning of the ‘lighted half’ of the year when the Sun begins to set later in the evening and the hawthorn blossoms. To our ancestors Beltane was the coming of summer and fertility. Nature is in bloom and the earth is full of fecundity and life.

Beltane falls half way between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice and is a Cross Quarter Day.

Fire festivals

Beltane is one of the four Celtic fire festivals marking the quarter points in the year – feasts were held and bonfires were lit throughout the countryside. Fire was believed to have purifying qualities – it cleansed and rejuvenated both the land and the people.

The ritual welcoming of the sun and the lighting of the fires was also believed to ensure fertility of the land and the people. Animals were transfered from winter pens to summer pastures, and were driven between the Beltane fires to cleanse them of evil spirits and to bring fertility and a good milk yield. The Celts leapt over Beltane fires – for fertility and purification.

Young men would circle the Beltaine fires holding Rowan branches to bring protection against evil – its bright berries suggested fire – malign powers were considered particularly active at the year’s turning-point.

It was considered unlucky to allow anyone to take fire from one’s house on May Eve or May Day, as they would gain power over the inhabitants.

A Beltane fire festival is held annually in Edinburgh, at Calton Hill on 30th April – a May Queen and Green Man, representing Beltane fertility and renewal lead the celebrations on the hillside.

The Beltany Stone Circle in the North West of Ireland is named after the Beltane festival as the sunrise at Beltane is aligned with the only decorated stone in the circle.

The Maiden

The Triple Goddess – worshipped by the Ancient Britons – at Beltane is now in her aspect of the Maiden :

The May Queen, May Bride, Goddess of Spring, Flower Bride, Queen of the Fairies
a symbol of purity, growth and renewal.

The Crone turns to stone on Beltane Eve.

May Blossom

Hawthorn - May blossom

May blossom symbolises female fertility, with its creamy/ white, fragrant flowers. Hawthorn blossom was worn during Beltane celebrations, especially by the May Queen.

It is believed to be a potent magical plant and it is considered unlucky to bring the blossom inside the house, apart from on May eve.

Flower Language

May Day – Beltane Traditions maypole-ribbons

Beltane is a time of partnerships and fertility. New couples proclaim their love for each other on this day. It is also the perfect time to begin new projects.

The maypole – a phallic pole planted deep in the earth representing the potency and fecundity of the God, its unwinding ribbons symbolized the unwinding of the spiral of life and the union of male and female – the Goddess and God. It is usually topped by a ring of flowers to represent the fertile Goddess.

Paganhill, near Stroud, has one of the tallest maypoles. The Puritans banned maypoles during the 17th Century.
Birch trees
It was a Celtic tradition to fell a birch tree on May day and to bring it into the community.

Crosses of birch and rowan twigs were hung over doors on the May morning, and left until next May day.

Beltane cakes or bannocks – oatcakes coated with a baked on custard made of cream, eggs and butter – were cooked over open fires and anyone who chose a mis-shapen piece or a piece with a black spot was likely to suffer bad luck in the coming months. They were also offered to the spirits who protect the livestock, by facing the Beltane fire and casting them over their shoulders.

Beltane Celebrations and Rituals

At Sheen do Boaldyne, in the Isle of Man, twigs of Rowan are hung above doorways as protection – the opening of Summer was regarded as a time when fairies and spirits were especially active, as at Samhain and the opening of Winter.

The ‘Obby ‘Oss, at Padstow, Cornwall – wearing of animal skins was believed to be a relic of a Pagan sacred marriage between earth and sky, and the dance enacts the fertility god sacrificed for the good of his people.

The May Queen – Maid Marion/the Maiden consorts with Robin/ the Green Man in Celtic celebrations of May day.

Going ‘A-Maying’ meant staying out all night to gather flowering hawthorn, watching the sunrise and making love in the woods – a ‘greenwood marriage’.

The dew on the May day morning is believed to have a magical potency – wash your face and body in it and remain fair all year, and guarantee your youth and beauty continues – men who wash their hands in it will be good at tying knots and nets – useful if you’re a fisherman!

From: http://www.new-age.co.uk/celtic-festivals-beltane.htm

The Great Rite for Covens

The Great Rite

Janet and Stewart Farrar


Symbolic

Preparation: the chalice should be filled with wine. A veil of at least a yard square is needed preferably of a Goddess color such as blue, green, silver, or white.

The Coven, except for the High Priestess and High Priest, arrange themselves around the perimeter of the circle, man and woman alternately as far as possible, facing the center.

The High Priestess and High Priest stand facing each other in the center of the circle, she with her back to the altar, he with his back to the South.

The High Priest kneels before the High Priestess and gives her the Five Fold Kiss; that is, he kisses her on both feet, both knees, womb, both breasts, and the lips, starting with the right of each pair. he says, as he does this:

“Blessed be thy feet, that have brought thee in these ways.
Blessed be thy knees, that shall kneel at the sacred altar.
Blessed be thy womb, without which we would not be.
Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty.
Blessed be thy lips, that shall utter the Sacred Names.”

For the kiss on the lips, they embrace, length to length, with their feet touching each others. When he reaches the womb, she spreads her arms wide, and the same after the kiss on the lips.

The High Priestess then lays herself down, face upwards, with her arms and legs outstretched to form the Pentagram.

The High Priest fetches the veil and spreads it over the High Priestess’s body, covering her from breasts to knees. He then kneels facing her, with his knees between her feet.

The High Priest calls a woman witch by name, to bring his athame from the altar. The woman does so and stands with the athame in her hands, about a yard to the West of the High Priestess’s hips and facing her.

The High Priest calls a male witch by name, to bring the chalice of wine from the altar. He does so and stands with the chalice in his hands, about a yard to the East of the High Priestess’s hips and facing her.

The High Priest delivers the invocation:

“Assist me to erect the ancient altar, at which in days past all worshipped;
The altar of all things.
For in old time, Woman was the altar.
Thus was the altar made and placed,
And the sacred place was the point within the center of the Circle.
As we have of old been taught that the point within the center is the origin of all things,
Therefore should we adore it;
Therefore whom we adore we also invoke.
O Circle of Stars,
Whereof our father is but the younger brother,
Marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space,
Before whom time is ashamed, the mind bewildered, and the understanding dark,
Not unto thee may we attain unless thine image be love.
Therefore by seed and stem, root and bud,
And leaf and flower and fruit do we invoke thee,
O Queen of Space, O Jewel of Light,
Continuous on of the heavens;
Let it be ever thus
That men speak not of thee as One, but as None;
And let them not speak of thee at all, since thou art continuous.
For thou art the point within the Circle, which we adore;
The point of life, without which we would not be.
And in this way truly are erected the holy twin pillars;
In beauty and strength were they erected
To the wonder and glory of all men.”

The High Priest removes the veil from the High Priestess’s body, and hands it to the woman witch, from whom he takes his athame.

The High Priestess rises and kneels facing the High Priest, and takes the chalice from the man witch. (Note that both of these handings-over are done without the customary ritual kiss. The High Priest continues the invocation:

“Altar of mysteries manifold,
The sacred Circle’s secret point
Thus do I sign thee as of old,
With kisses of my lips anoint.”

The High Priest kisses the High Priestess on the lips, and continues:

“Open for me the secret way,
The pathway of intelligence,
Beyond the gates of night and day,
Beyond the bounds of time and sense.
Behold the mystery aright
The five true points of fellowship”

The High Priestess holds up the chalice, and the High Priest lowers the point of his athame into the wine. Both use both of their hands for this. The High Priest continues:

“Here where Lance and Grail unite,
And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip.”

The High Priest hands his athame to the woman witch and then places both his hands round those of the High Priestess as she holds the chalice. He kisses her, and she sips the wine; she kisses him, and he sips the wine. Both of them keep their hands around the chalice while they do this.

The High Priest then takes the chalice from the High Priestess, and they both rise to their feet.

The High Priest hands the chalice to a woman witch with a kiss, and she sips. She gives it to a man with a kiss. The chalice is passed around the Coven, man to woman, with a kiss each time, until the entire Coven has sipped the wine. The chalice can be refilled and any one can drink from it without repeating the ritual once the chalice has gone around once.

To consecrate the cakes, the woman picks up her athame, and the man, kneeling before her, holds up the dish. the woman draws the Invoking Pentacle of Earth in the air above the plate while the man says:

“O Queen most secret, bless this food into our bodies;
bestowing health, wealth, strength, joy and peace,
and that fulfillment of love that is perfect happiness.”

The woman lays down her athame and passes the cakes to the man with a kiss, he passes them back with a kiss and they are passed around the Coven the same way the wine was. Be sure to save some of the wine and some cake for an offering to the Earth and the Little Folk. After the meeting, leave the offering outside of the house if working indoors, or behind in the woods or field, when you leave if you are working outdoors.

Farrar, Janet and Stewart; “Eight Sabbats For Witches”; Robert Hale 1983
Transcribed onto computer file by Seastrider

Actual

Preparation: the chalice should be filled with wine. A veil of at least a yard square is needed preferably of a Goddess color such as blue, green, silver, or white.

The Coven, except for the High Priestess and High Priest, arrange themselves around the perimeter of the circle, man and woman alternately as far as possible, facing the center.

The High Priestess and High Priest stand facing each other in the center of the circle, she with her back to the altar, he with his back to the South.

The High Priest kneels before the High Priestess and gives her the Five Fold Kiss; that is, he kisses her on both feet, both knees, womb, both breasts, and the lips, starting with the right of each pair. he says, as he does this:

“Blessed be thy feet, that have brought thee in these ways.
Blessed be thy knees, that shall kneel at the sacred altar.
Blessed be thy womb, without which we would not be.
Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty.
Blessed be thy lips, that shall utter the Sacred Names.”

For the kiss on the lips, they embrace, length-to-length, with their feet touching each others. When he reaches the womb, she spreads her arms wide, and the same after the kiss on the lips.

The High Priestess then lays herself down, face upwards, with her arms and legs outstretched to form the Pentagram.

The High Priest fetches the veil and spreads it over the High Priestess’s body, covering her from breasts to knees. He then kneels facing her, with his knees between her feet.

The High Priest delivers the invocation:

“Assist me to erect the ancient altar, at which in days past all worshipped;
The altar of all things.
For in old time, Woman was the altar.
Thus was the altar made and placed,
And the sacred place was the point within the center of the Circle.
As we have of old been taught that the point within the center is the origin of all things,
Therefore should we adore it;
Therefore whom we adore we also invoke.
O Circle of Stars,
Whereof our father is but the younger brother,
Marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space,
Before whom time is ashamed, the mind bewildered, and the understanding dark,
Not unto thee may we attain unless thine image be love.
Therefore by seed and stem, root and bud,
And leaf and flower and fruit do we invoke thee,
O Queen of Space, O Jewel of Light,
Continuous on of the heavens;
Let it be ever thus
That men speak not of thee as One, but as None;
And let them not speak of thee at all, since thou art continuous.
For thou art the point within the Circle, which we adore;
The point of life, without which we would not be.
And in this way truly are erected the holy twin pillars;
In beauty and strength were they erected
To the wonder and glory of all men.”

The Maiden fetches her athame from the altar and ritually opens a gate way in the Circle. The Coven file through and leave the room. The Maiden is the last one through and reseals the Circle. The High Priest removes the veil from the High Priestess’s body.

The High Priestess rises and kneels facing the High Priest. The High Priest continues the invocation:

“Altar of mysteries manifold,
The sacred Circle’s secret point
Thus do I sign thee as of old,
With kisses of my lips anoint.”

The High Priest kisses the High Priestess on the lips, and continues:

“Open for me the secret way,
The pathway of intelligence,
Beyond the gates of night and day,
Beyond the bounds of time and sense.
Behold the mystery aright
The five true points of fellowship”
“Here where Lance and Grail unite,
And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip.”

The High Priest and High Priestess now have intercourse. This is a private matter between them and none of the Coven can question them about it. When they are done, one of them ritually opens the Circle and calls the rest of the Coven. When they are back in the Circle, it is again sealed. The wine is now consecrated.

A male witch kneels in front of the altar before a female witch. He holds up a chalice of wine and she holds her athame point down and lowers the athame into the wine. The man says:

“As the athame is to the male, so the cup is to the female; and conjoined, they become one in truth.”

The woman lays down her athame on the altar and kisses the man who remains kneeling and she accepts the chalice from him. She sips the wine, kisses him again and he sips, rises, and gives it to another woman with a kiss. The chalice is passed around the Coven, man to woman, with a kiss each time, until the entire Coven has sipped the wine. The chalice can be refilled and any one can drink from it without repeating the ritual once the chalice has gone around once.

To consecrate the cakes, the woman picks up her athame, and the man, kneeling before her, holds up the dish. The woman draws the Invoking Pentacle of Earth in the air above the plate while the man says:

“O Queen most secret, bless this food into our bodies; bestowing health, wealth, strength, joy and peace, and that fulfillment of love that is perfect happiness.”

The woman lays down her athame and passes the cakes to the man with a kiss, he passes them back with a kiss and they are passed around the Coven the same way the wine was. Be sure to save some of the wine and some cake for an offering to the Earth and the Little Folk. After the meeting, leave the offering outside of the house if working indoors, or behind in the woods or field, when you leave if you are working outdoors.

Farrar, Janet and Stewart; “Eight Sabbats For Witches”; Robert Hale 1983
Transcribed to computer file by Seastrider.

Information on The Great Rite



The Great Rite

Understanding The Rite
The Great Rite IS NOT for everyone and like all rituals it can be used as positive act just as easily as it can be used to abuse. While modern attitudes about sex are puritan in many circles, within the pagan world, it is simply part of nature. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t used without accountability. This energy of the union between partners is part of the miracle of love between two people. It’s energy is more than just physical gratification, it can become a prayer, a method of worship, and in honoring the Great Spirits in the form of the God and Goddess joining to form the God Head (Spirit).
 
In addition, the Great Rite is not always a physical act. While it may have started out that way in ancient cultures, societies and understandings evolve. So too do spiritual rites and ceremonies. Whither conducted as a physical act, or a symbolic act, the Great Rite can be a very beautiful and powerful event when conducted with the utmost respect and reverence.
 
But as with ANY ritual, it can be misused as well. And all practitioners MUST understand the rights they hold within a group and within any ritual. Sexual harassment is a misuse of power, regardless of how it’s invoked. Demanding sexual favors in return for something badly needed, or desired is abuse and criminal, both in a spiritual sense as well as a physical accountability. Demanding a coupling for an initiation when the initiant is not comfortable with the union, is intimidation and rape. The causing of pain, terror and humiliation is a criminal act and is more than a misuse of power, it is a spiritual sin even within the pagan world. It is the desecration of the first grail, the womb of a woman and a disrespect to the spiritual path of any religion.
 
In ancient times, the GreatRite dealt with the union of the Goddess to the God to win favor or blessings from the Divine Universe. It was a ritual of survival that promoted fertility of fields, flocks and family.
 
Today the Great Rite deals with the essence of feminine and masculine energy as it relates to the God and Goddess. The idea is that in order to establish true Divinity within oneself, you need to accept and join your two natures together. We are all part masculine and part feminine within our being. Only when we learn to accept the nature of both can we discover the true divinity within.
 
Sex and Magik
Sex and magik have long gone hand in hand. This is nothing new and contrary to ‘moral’ attitudes, it’s not something that’s done just to get laid. Linking the sexual act with divine forces was an easy leap for early humans. Not understanding the medical process of copulation and conceiving. Prehistoric tribes documented their divine rituals through cave paintings which depict this idea fairly well.
 
These early paintings, carvings and figurines such as the ‘Venus of Willendor’ are perfect examples of the early reverence for fertility of a woman and her ability to give new life. This miracle of life was seen just as that, a miracle given to a woman by a deity, typically a Goddess. A woman who was extremely fertile was considered to be favored by the God/Goddess and elevated within her tribal structure. Some cultures viewed such a woman as the embodiment of the tribal Goddess who granted favor over the tribe. If this great Mother was fertile and brought new life to the tribe, that favor was also granted to the growing, harvest and hunting seasons of the tribe as well. In ancient times, all these events were strongly linked and each affected the other.
 
When early humans realized it took two to create life, the pendulum slowly switched from focusing on the matriarch to the patriarch. As long as a woman could bear children, she still held great power within her tribe. When she grew older and less fertile, she often chose her successor. But her singular power as ‘Mother Goddess’ shifted and was soon to be shared with a deserving male of the tribe.
 
In these ancient times, the fertility of a woman was seen as a blessing or as the Goddess living through the woman. The strength and ability of a man to provide food and housing for the tribe was seen as the God blessing or working through the physical hunter. Some suggest this is the early concept of the Horned God seen throughout legend and myth.
 
It is clear however, that the Goddess and Mother of the tribe was just as important as the God and the Hunter. Without both, the tribe will suffer and die. There cannot be abundance and sustenance for the whole society without the work of both the Goddess and God to provide fertility of the fields, the herds and even the tribe itself. From this early concept of survival, the reverence of ritual celebration and the union of male and female was born.
 
A Little History
From the beginnings of recorded history, we know that in Mesopotamia and Chaldea, Prostitution was a sacred profession, unlike today. Sacred Prostitution was seen as holy and practitioners were providing a service of the Goddess to the cultures of their society. A man would go to the temple and with an offering, he would request service of a Priestess within. His purpose was to gain favor of the Goddess for more children back at home with his wife, or an extra bit of fertility for his fields, or herds of sheep, cattle or camels. In lying with the Priestess he might feel blessed or honored, and go home full of confidence. He might dig extra irrigation ditches for his fields, or be more encouraged to lay with his wife.
 
The myths of the Greeks, to a greater or lesser extent are concerned with sex and the union of Deities with the lowly humans they rule over. The Greek pantheons constantly sought out human partners who’s conceived children often became revered demi-gods. These myths had both a good and bad side of their tale. On one hand, divine unions were seen as gifts from the Gods and often became ritualized. They became honored experiences even if they didn’t yield a child, but still gained abundance in the fields or herds.
 
On the other hand some tribes such as the Samothraki, involved the sacrifice of young men at one point in their history. Some Priestess would lay with a young man and to ensure she would become pregnant, she carried a very sharp, leaf-shaped knife which she used to take the life of the man she lay with. Sacrificing his life would ensure his essence was transferred to her womb.
 
There is even evidence of Sex and the Goddess in Biblical Times. It is held by some historians that the Hebrew God Yaweh was originally a phallic deity. In fact it is an accepted historical belief that the Hebrews were not always a monotheistic society. Phallic pillars were set up for worship in many of those early Hebrew villages, along with images of the Goddess Anat or Anath. Even today, the lineage of the faith is passed through the feminine side of the family. If a Jewish woman marries outside the faith, her children can be counted as Jewish, but if a man marries outside the faith it’s not so straight forward.
 
Through many passages of the Bible we can see evidence of Goddess worship. In Judges V, the Song of Deborah is a clear example. The story of Susanna and the elders is another example. If you can find an early version of the bible, you can see the ritualistic venues and importance of women such as Queen Esther who is another ‘goddess’ symbol. If read with a perspective of the Great Rite, it becomes clear that this queen was also a priestess of the Goddess. Through his reign, her husband the king had to prove his virility and therefore his right to lay with her. This is a very clear connection between the earliest Great Rite rituals and the bible. And don’t forget the Songs of Solomon, which have been considered one of the most glorious love poems ever written.
 
Other Biblical considerations revolve around the use of language of the time. The use of rock or stone, didn’t refer to the stability of God in ones life, but rather phallic symbology of the God. From early historical times, even up to the middle ages, ‘rocks’ or ‘stones’ often referred to the male testicles, and of course, pillars to the penis. “Of the rock that begat thee thou are unmindful” Deuteronomy 32:18. “For who is God save the Lord? And who is a rock save our God” Samuel 2:32. In this case God’s rock provided mankind with a son, the Lord Jesus.
 
The bible also provides one of the biggest examples of the reverence between the Divine and human coupling through the conception of Jesus. Early variations of the bible come right out and say “God lay with Mary and she conceived a son”. That translation has changed over the years thanks to the French and the first use of the term “immaculate conception” (meaning without sin or blemish) in 1497.
 
During the middle ages, oaths, promises and sworn statements were made ‘with a hand laid upon the sacred stone’. When taking the oath of office and loyalty, the right hand of the official was placed beneath the testicles of the king. In parts of the Middle East, this is still practiced today.
 
All this began to change after the fall of Rome and with the rise of Christianity. Sex began to be denied both as a source of magikal power and of pleasure between partners. Where as sex was seen as a gift from the gods, it was now becoming a sin and to find pleasure in the act of sexual copulation, was to accept the influence of the Devil. By this time, women were seen as the temptress who could drag a man down into the pits of hell and the only way to keep her from having that control, she must be subservient to her husband, brother, or even her son. Her sole value became her ability to bear children which quickly became a bargaining point as a bride or as a prize of war.
 
Items such as a Chastity belt became common place, but were deadly for the women who wore them. After years of being forced in such contraptions, a woman would develop various diseases, including blood poisoning. During this time, a woman’s life expectancy was no more than 30 years. Her entire value, power and favored desires were forgotten and tossed aside. She was property and her only value was the ability to provide a male heir to her husband and his family line. What a sad turn of events that diminished both the value of women and the sanctity of the physical pleasure and spiritual connection of the sexual union.
 
The Great Rite – Physical vs. Symbolic
The Great Rite is probably the most well known or heard about pagan rituals. Today it is a rite of sexual intercourse that pays homage to the polarity of male/female; god/goddess, priest/priestess. The rite can be performed “in-true” form, meaning the actual physical act of intercourse. Or “in-token” form, meaning a symbolic act of the union between God and Goddess.
 
This polarity exists in all things in and around the universe. The Great Rite therefore expresses the physical, mental, spiritual aspects of the Divine through the astral union between a man and woman as representations of the God and Goddess. Ok..say what? In other words, the energy created between a man and woman during the physical act of intercourse is an expression of spiritual energy from the God and Goddess.
 
To many the Great Rite is the Hieros Gamos, The Sacred Marriage or the Holy Matrimony, which results in the creation of the God Head (spirit). It’s the top of the spiritual trinity, whose base is the God and Goddess. This concept is nothing new and dates back to neolithic periods. Ancient kings required Hieros Gamos, which was a union with a priestess representing the Goddess, in order to rule. The King represented the God, the priestess the Goddess and through their Union his reign was both approved and blessed by the Divine Spirit. From this perspective it takes both the God and the Goddess to create the greater Divine Spirit and attain favor of that Spirit.
 
Depending on the tradition, the Great Rite was performed within a Magik Circle between the High Priest and Priestess. It is sometimes also performed for seasonal festivals, and especially handfastings between the newly married couple.
 
At times it has been used as an Initiation into a coven (such as 3rd degree initiations in the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions). Representing the inner marriage of the soul and spirit, ego and self. It is the gateway to becoming a whole being. In these type of initiations, the Rite is performed between the initiant and the High Priest, or High Priestess. This is done either “In token”, which is symbolically using ritual tools, such as an athame inserted into a chalice. Or “in true”, which is the physical sexual act.
 
When the rite is performed as a celebration of the season, it is often conducted “in true” form by a couple who are already intimate partners. The public display of the union varies between traditions. For instance, a portion of the rite maybe performed within the ritual circle in front of the coven, and the intimate union is performed in private.
 
Gerald Gardner established an open and public display of the Great Rite with the coven watching. The Coven members would form the circle edges and the couple would copulate in the center. He also favored ritual scourging as part of the rite, a practice which has fallen greatly out of favor.
 
Other covens perform a portion of the ritual with everyone watching and then those forming the circle would turn their back on the couple in the center. Others Covens instruct the circle members to walk backwards out of the sacred ritual space, then turn and file out clockwise leaving the couple in private. And still other groups form a closed circle, and then open a doorway allowing the couple to exit the ritual circle and enter their own private space, which is typically a circle that was earlier prepared by the couple.
 
Because of the puritanical influence over sexual encounters, many modern groups practice the Great Rite “In-Token”. What’s important about any ritual is the energy it pulls in and creates. There’s no denying that many people are uncomfortable with the physical display of sexual unions. Making everyone feel at ease creates a calm peaceful energy for the spiritual gathering. So In-Token rituals are becoming more popular. The main point to the Great Rite is the creation of energy between the male(physical being) and female(spiritual being) to form the whole(the Divine Creation). That can be just as easily done through symbolic means as it can through a physical act.
 
There are several items that can be used to represent the Goddess in these forms of the Great Rite. A ritual cup is the most common, but a ritual bowl, a cauldron or even a fire bowl can be used. The corresponding item to represent the God can be a ritual athame, a wand, a sword or a staff. I have seen a carved tree (about 3ft in length) used as the God, and a fire bowl as the Goddess. The log was placed in the bowl and set on fire to represent the union. The gathering than danced by the light of the fire, honoring the spirit that moved within and through everyone present.
 
There are many variations that can be conducted for this ritual. There is no single or right way.
 
The Great Rite – The Ritual
The Rite maybe performed in many methods or formats. There are several rituals performed with the Great Rite for varying purposes, here are just a few.

  • The Rite of Pan
  • The Rite of the Horned God
  • The Rite of the Moon Cup
  • The Dance of Love
  • The Ritual of the Hawthorn Tower
  • The Raising of Osiris
  • The Two of Swords
  • The Grail of Grace
  • The of Crystal
  • The Calling of a Soul
  • The House of the goddess
  • The Adoration of the Pillar
  • The Rite that is Left Undone
 
Each of these empowers the rite with the energy of the union for specific purpose, but can be for different meanings. The Rite of the Horned God honors the great hunter and provider of a Tribe for instance.
 
In the Rite of Pan, the male force is the hunter and the female force the prey. Through out the ritual the struggle between male and female is established, but before the rite is realized, an understanding is gained that while the male is strong on the earth/physical sphere, the female is equally strong on the above/spiritual sphere.
 
In the Rite of the Moon Cup, the woman is the summoner, and the man her target. She is the daughter of the Moon, her representation on earth. He is Lord of the Forest who pays homage to the Goddess (the moon) for his domain.
 
The Dance of Love is often a ritual performed by a committed couple in private. The idea is to generate Divine energy for a specific purpose, such as to favor the couple with fertility or abundance of their individual family. In this ritual, the couple spends time in meditation prior to their union to connect with the Divine Universe. This act raises their energy to a higher level of reverence to distinguish this moment as something more special and important than other acts of love making. This also helps empower the partners to express their energy as the representations of the God and Goddess during physical contact. All of which culminates in the creation of energy for their specified intent, and it’s release into the ethereal world for manifestation.
 
 
The Great Rite – Straight or Gay
The concept of straight or gay is not an issue in Pagan communities in general. Same sex encounters are common in nature and being that humans are part of nature, it is seen as a common practice there as well. The Great Rite is not about the ‘physical’ aspects of a man and woman, but rather their expression of energy as the God and Goddess. This can be easily accomplished between same sex couples just as it can be expressed through heterosexual couples.
 
Feminine energy is not something that only women have. Men have too. By the same token, masculine energy is not specific to men. Women have it too. The Great Rite can be expressed through same sex couples simply by choosing which side of the polarity coin (masculine vs. feminine) is going to be represented by which partner.
 
Further Reading
This posting is ONLY an introduction into the concept behind the Great Rite and a few of the rituals which use it’s energy. Further reading prior to anyone practicing this rite is required. I have purposely made this post a high level explanation and have intentionally left out how the ritual is invoked. Primarily because of the ease to misuse this rite.
 
For further reading, I recommend the following:

  • Vivianne Crowley “Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium”
  • Janet and Stewart Farrar “A Witches Bible- Complete”
  • Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki “The Tree of Ecstasy”

Beltane Planting Ritual for Solitaries

This ritual is designed for the solitary practitioner, but it can easily be adapted for a small group to perform together. It’s a simple rite that celebrates the fertility of the planting season, and so it’s one that should be performed outside. If you don’t have a yard of your own, you can use pots of soil in place of a garden plot. Don’t worry if the weather is a bit inclement – rain shouldn’t be a deterrent to gardening. Just be sure you’re past the safe planting date for your region.

You’ll need:

  • Packets of seeds, or seedlings if you have them started already
  • Water
  • Pots of dirt, if you don’t have a garden
  • Gardening tools, such as a shovel

There is no need to cast a circle to perform this ritual, although if you prefer to do so, you certainly can. Plan on taking some time with this rite, though, and not rushing through it.

To begin, you’ll prepare the soil for planting. If you’ve already gotten your garden tilled or mulched, great – you’ll have a bit less work. If not, now’s the time to do so. Use your shovel or tiller to loosen the soil as much as possible. As you’re turning the earth over, and mixing it all up, take time to connect with the elements. Feel the earth, soft and moist beneath your feet. Take in the breeze, exhaling and inhaling calmly as you work. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, and listen to the birds chattering in the trees above you. Connect with nature, and with the planet itself

If your tradition includes a deity of agriculture or land, now is a good time to call upon them. For instance, if your tradition honors Cernunnos*, a fertility god, you might choose to use the following:

Hail, Cernunnos! God of the forest, master of fertility!
Today, we honor you by planting the seeds of life,
Deep within the womb of earth.
Hail, Cernunnos! We ask you to bless this garden,
Watch over it, and grant it abundance,
We ask that these plants grow strong and fertile
Under your watchful eye.
Hail, Cernunnos! God of the greenwood!

When you have finished turning the soil and preparing it, it is time to plant the seeds (or seedlings, if youstarted them earlier in the spring). While you can do this easily with a shovel, sometimes it is better to get down on your hands and knees and really connect with the soil. If you’re not limited by mobility issues, get as close to the ground as you can, and use your hands to part the soil as you put the seeds in place. Yes, you’ll get dirty, but that’s what gardening is about. As you place each seed into the ground, offer a simple blessing, such as:

May the soil be blessed as the womb of the land
Becomes full and fruitful to bring forth the garden anew.
Cernunnos*, bless this seed.

 

After you’ve gotten the seeds in the ground, cover them all up with the loose dirt. Remember, this could take a while if you’ve got a large garden, so it’s okay if you want to do this ritual over the course of a few days.

 

As you’re performing all the different actions of gardening – touching the earth, feeling the plants – remember to focus on the energy and power of the elements. Get dirt under your fingernails, squash it between your toes if you don’t mind being barefoot outside. Say hello to that worm you just dug up by accident, and place him back in the ground. Do you compost? If so, be sure to add the compost to your plantings.

Finally, you’ll water your freshly planted seeds. You can either use a garden hose for this, or you can water by hand with a can. If you have a rain barrel, use the water from the barrel to start your garden.

As you’re watering your seeds or seedlings, call upon the deities of your tradition one last time.

Hail, Cernunnos*! God of fertility!
We honor you by planting these seeds.
We ask your blessing upon our fertile soil.
We will tend this garden, and keep it healthy,
Watching over it in your name.
We honor you by planting, and pay you tribute with this garden.
Hail, Cernunnos, master of the land!

You may also wish to include a general Garden Blessing.

 

Once you have completed watering, take a look through your freshly planted garden one last time. Did you miss any spots? Are there any weeds you forgot to pull? Tidy up any loose ends, and then take a moment to savor the knowledge that you have planted something new and wonderful. Feel the sunlight, the breeze, the soil beneath your feet, and know you have connected once more to the Divine.

*Cernunnos is used as an example in this rite. Use the name of the appropriate deity for your tradition.

From: http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/beltaneritesandrituals/a/Beltane-Planting-Ritual-For-Solitaries.htm