Beltane is a Gaelic festival that celebrates and protects life. It is the union of the god and goddess, often referred to as the “Green Man” and the “May Queen.” This is the time in which the sacred masculine and feminine reunited and copulated to keep the wheel of the seasons, and therefore, life, going. Sacred bonfires were created and cattle were walked between them, or sometimes even over the hot embers, to protect the heard from evil as they transitioned them to summer pastures. Men and women also walked through the smoke or leaped through the flames for protection and to ensure fertility. The name of the festival was derived from the name of the god “Bel,” (AKA Balanus) meaning “bright one,” and “teine” which means fire, together Beltane means “bright fire.”
This was the first day of spring. It signified a renewal of life for the northern Europeans after the long winter had thawed. Although this time of year buzzed with the potential of new life and vitality, winter was only a half turn away on the wheel of life. Surviving this yearly winter death depended on the happy marriage of the god and goddess, and everyone in the community doing their part to keep in the good graces with the forces of nature.
In a day and age that seems more governed by technology then solar cycles, what we worship also reflects our shift in priorities. No need for nature gods when internet connection influences our productivity more than the yearly rain fall. In heated homes, it’s easy to forget about the death that winter brings. We have large grocery stores that have something for nearly any palate or craving no matter the season. Yes, it seems that humankind has finally dominated the powers of nature; we can finally rest easy in the knowing that we can escape from superstition and live a “civilized” life.... Or have we?
In the past few decades, there has been accumulating evidence that we, in fact, are not separate from nature. Momma Earth has started to respond to us, and like misbehaved children, she is warning us that we will be put on an indefinite time-out if we don’t start playing nice again. Technology is no replacement for embracing our natural part in the web of life.
At the same time that much of our civilization is moving away from nature, there is a movement by pockets of folks in many places to start reclaiming and reinventing the old ways. I say reinvent, because in many cases we have such sparse knowledge of what ancestors actually did, that modern folks are left to fill in the details. Personally, I think this is OK and shouldn’t keep us back in doing what we can to reconnect. The old ways often reflected necessity; the rituals incorporated what the people had on hand and what could be found in the area that they lived. If the people of old were spontaneously brought into the modern era, I think it is fairly safe to say that this same methodology would apply.
So, if you are like me, and are a tree-hugging, nature-spirit-loving earthling with a laptop, here’s some ways that we can still connect to this union of Pappa and Sky and Momma Earth at this auspicious time of Beltane (or any other time that you wish).
1) Fire Ritual: The sacred bonfires were a focal point of this holiday. Fire has been used by all cultures to transform, purify, and protect. We can use fire in much of the same way as our ancestors did. Today, many of the energies that can sabotage our productivity and happiness come not from chaotic natural forces, but from within. In this ritual, we are offering up our unhelpful ways of being to be transformed into more desirable traits.
Simply make a fire in a fireplace, fire pit, campfire, or even a candle in a fire-proof container will work.
Decide on what you are wanting to attract into your life and what you are willing to let go of to make this happen. The sacrifice is what will be transmuted into something more helpful, this can be an unhelpful belief, habit, relationship, or way of being.
Light the fire with the intention that this will be a fire of purification and transformation.
Write on a piece of paper what you are willing to let go. Fold up the paper and throw it into the fire. (Especially if you are using a candle, I recommend getting Flying Wish Paper for this; unlike other types of paper, it is made for this purpose and incinerates almost immediately and won’t smolder with toxic smoke from paper manufacturing chemicals.)
Watch the paper incinerate and imagine what you are letting go of being released through the flames and smoke, and know that this sacrifice will be returned to you as what you desire.
2) Sex Magic: During this time, it wasn’t unusual for folks to go out into the field or into the woods and enact the sacred union of the god and goddess (known as Heiros Gamos). Beltane is a time when the sacred masculine and feminine come together and with the pregnancy of the May Queen, life was ensured to prosper and carry on. When we speak of sacred masculine and feminine, I want to stress that we are speaking of energy, not gender. Everyone has masculine and feminine energy within ourselves. When we know how to unite these forces, we become powerful forces of creativity and manifestation. This isn’t just for making babies; want to birth a new project, business, or home? Sex magic can be a powerful way to birth what you want into reality. There are many different practices for this, but one of the simplest is:
Focus on what it is that you are wanting to create while you are sexually enjoying yourself.
If you have a partner, then all the better if you can get them to also focus on the intention with you during your sexy-time.
If you don’t have a partner, then never fear, this kind of birthing experience can be done solo. Focus on what you are wanting to gestate and eventually bring into being as you enjoy yourself.
3) Bless a tree: Typically, Hawthorn, Birch, or Rowan were sacred to this celebration, however, I think any tree would appreciate some love and appreciation. There is scientific evidence that shows that plants respond to good “vibes,” and can even identify and differentiate the person who feeds and waters them to others who are just passing by.
Find a tree that you would like to bless
Prepare an offering of water
Sit or stand next to the tree and give it gratitude for being part of the larger circle of life. Thank it for the oxygen it gives, the soil that it protects from erosion, shade that it provides. Perhaps sitting with your back up against the tree or touching the tree and just notice how you feel as you physically connect to mother Earth through the tree. (This is actually called “Earthing,” and has been showed to decrease inflammation in the body, if done for prolonged period of time.)
Offer the water, thanking the tree. (It’s OK if it is only a cup, this water is infused with your gratitude, however, if the tree is dehydrated, you may want to consider getting enough water to it, to re-hydrate it.)
Nowadays, the tools we use may have changed; for most of us, we may be more prone to identify our iPhone with our livelihood over a plow, but that doesn’t mean we have to uproot ourselves completely. Beltane, and other nature-centered celebrations can be used as helpful reminders to stop and honor the web of life, it’s cycles, and conscientiously come back home to our human-nature.