wheel of the year | Beltane (April 30 - May 1)
Beltane is a joyful festival of growth and fecundity that heralds the arrival of summer. It is the festival of the ‘Good Fire’ or ‘Bel-fire’, named after the solar deity Bel. Bel was also known as Beli or Bile in Ireland, with Bile meaning ‘tree’, so Beltane may also mean ‘Tree-fire’. Beltane is the counterpart of Samhain (and is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain, the ‘first Samhain’), and these two important festivals divide the year into summer and winter halves, just as the two equinoctial celebrations, Ostara and Mabon, divide the year into light and dark halves.
Lighting fires was customary at Beltane, and traditionally a Beltane fire was composed of the nine sacred woods of the Celts. All hearth fires were extinguished on Beltane Eve and then kindled again from the sacred “need fires” lit on Beltane. People would leap through the smoke and flames of Beltane fires and cattle were driven through them for purification, fertility, prosperity and protection.
In terms of the God and Goddess cycle, Beltane marks the union of the two deities, bringing new life to the earth. It is a traditional time for Handfastings (marriages), and was a time for couples to make love outside to bless the crops and the earth. Maypoles were often danced around at Beltane to bring fertility and good fortune. The later addition of ribbons which were wrapped around the pole by the dancers brought a further sense of the integration of male and female archetypes, mirroring the union between the God and the Goddess. Beltane lore also includes washing in May-day dew for beauty and health, and scrying in sacred waters, such as ponds or springs. (x)