Beltane Traditions: From Maypoles to Mystic Fires

April 14, 2024

Beltane Traditions: From Maypoles to Mystic Fires

 The month of May begins with the ancient fire festival, Beltane. This Celtic celebration marks the transition from Spring to Summer, encapsulating the rebirth and fertility of the earth. Though this festival can be traced back thousands of years, many traditions remain unchanged today.

The Celtic Origins of Beltane

Beltane is one of four Celtic fire festivals, and the name translates to “the fires of Bel”.

The festival is dedicated to the ancient Celtic god Belenus or Bel, a sun god and a healer.

In central and northern Europe, the festival is known as May Day, but many of the traditions and significations are the same. Some pagans celebrate Beltane on or around May 1st, while others look for the blooms of the May tree, or Hawthorn,  as their sign that Beltane has arrived. For many, the celebrations can last up to a week. 

The mythology surrounding Beltane is the marriage of the May Queen and the Green Man, signifying the start of the fertile season. Most cultures have some version of this story: a God and Goddess are joined together in marriage to welcome the warm growing season. Thus, fertility, sex, and sensuality are core themes of the festival, and matchmaking and marriages were common activities during Beltane. 

Fire is the most important element of Beltane. It represents passion and fertility and also serves as a means of purification. Farmers would have their livestock run between two bonfires to cleanse the livestock and ensure fertility. The same was done for individuals as well as couples, who would jump over the fires to receive the same benefits.  Another well-known Beltane ritual is dancing around a maypole or may tree with ribbons attached at the center. Communities would come together to perform these rituals alongside lavish feasts with plenty of music and dancing. At the end of the night, families would take home a flame from the Beltane bonfire and light their hearths at home.

Beltane in Modern Practice

Beltane continues to be a part of pagan traditions across the world. Beltane is one of the eight Wiccan sabbats and special rituals are performed at this time of year. Cities throughout Europe still hold public festivals for Beltane or May Day, one of the largest festivals being in Edinburgh, Scotland. Many of the ancient rituals are still performed in modern celebrations. 

Fire remains the central theme of this festival, so be sure to include this element in your rituals. Bonfires are best, but you can also light a hearth fire or use candles in your practice. Many choose to spend this day with a lover or connecting with their own sexuality. You can smoke cleanse yourself and your home as they did with the Beltane bonfires in ancient days. You may choose to spend the day in your garden, preparing for the hot and fertile summer months. Making a flower crown out of foraged flowers is another Beltane activity, and can be done as a solo practitioner or as part of a group ritual. 

Beltane is a celebration of the earth's life force, so naturally, we want to indulge and enjoy ourselves. Wear your best clothes, listen to your favorite music, and eat your favorite foods. Honor the life force inside and around you. Some foods to include in your feasts and offerings would be honey, almonds, and figs. Herbs to use in your spellcraft would include mugwort, daisy, and woodruff. In addition, the acorn is a significant symbol for Beltane and a good ingredient for any witchcraft practiced around this time. 

However you choose to celebrate Beltane, you can find all the supplies you need in our store. If you’re not sure where to begin, try our Beltane Sabbat Box, which includes a seasonal tea, incense, and other tools for your Beltane rituals. You can visit us online or in our brick-and-mortar store in Asheville.