What is Beltane?

For many people in the UK, May 1st is known as May Day (and of course C’s birthday!).  It’s perhaps best-known to the public as a bank holiday!  However, it is also significant for being the date of a spiritual festival that has been celebrated for centuries.

This festival is known as Beltane, and it has Celtic roots, marking a pivotal point between the equinox in the spring and the solstice in the summer.  The word ‘Beltane’ actually refers to a fire that burns particularly brightly, and as such, it is a festival that celebrates passion, unity, and fertility.  Part of the word, ‘Bel’, is named after ‘the bright one’, a famous God in Celtic lore.  The word ‘tane’, derived from ‘teine’, is Gaelic for ‘fire’.

Across the world, Beltane is a celebration of the feminine and the masculine coming together.  It’s seen by many, even in ancient times, as a shrine to fertility.  This doesn’t just mean fertile bodies and human reproduction.  It is also believed that celebrating rituals during Beltane may encourage plentiful harvests in the months to come.

Regardless of how May 1st or Beltane is celebrated across the world, it is seen as an extremely happy and passionate occasion.  It’s seen as a chance to re-energise with the warm months ahead of us, and to re-invigorate the ‘life force’ that we all have within ourselves.  As such, Beltane can also be seen as a festival where we learn to celebrate our bodies and our sexual energies.  Many people see Beltane as an excellent opportunity to gain new self-confidence, to try new things, and to let down personal barriers.

This fire festival traditionally takes place from sunset on April 30th to sunset on May 1st.  People would traditionally light fires to appease the God Bel and would leap over or through said fires to encourage fertility and to cleanse the soul.  We’d never encourage actively leaping through fire in this day and age!  However, Beltane celebrations have evolved where the Gods can still be appealed to, and you can again celebrate that beautiful life force from within.

There are many different rituals which people undertake to honour Beltane during this time.  Fire-building is perhaps the simplest, and it is often a great excuse to hold a celebration with friends.  Many people choose to welcome the forthcoming spring and summer by decorating their spaces, including their meditation areas, with colourful flowers and blooms.  It is also a time to get creative!  Maypoles which are famously seen around May Day have been traditionally decorated in the name of Beltane for centuries.  These poles are actually meant to symbolise phalluses, in honour of Bel’s potency.

Beltane is a wonderful spiritual festival as it encourages positive thinking, hope, and mindful meditation.  It is a celebration of our own sexual energies as well as that of our bountiful futures to come.  While the way we celebrate Beltane may have changed over the years, it is still popularly observed all over the world on May 1st.