Beltane Fires & Sacred Union

"Beltane" image from handcrafted holiday cards by www.gildedquill.net.

The fires blaze with nine of the sacred woods – ash, oak, apple, hawthorn, birch, elder, blackthorn, grape vine, rowan, holly, willow, cedar, yew, or hemlock.

Drive your cattle between the fires to purify and protect them, bring luck, and ensure their fertility. Pass between them yourself, to burn away the sludge of darkness and any of the cold and dark that may still cling to you. Jump over the dying embers. Smudge the Beltane ashes on your face and scatter them in the fields.

Your hearth fires have been put out. The hearth has been cleaned and laid with fresh wood. Take a burning brand from the Beltane fire to relight the hearth fire in your home with the fresh light of spring.

It has been six months since Samhain and the celebration of death, the onset of winter and the dark time of year. Now it is time to celebrate life, rebirth and the light half of the year. May 1* brings Beltane, meaning “bright fire” or “lucky fire.” It is the “fire of Bel” – the bright, shining Celtic Sun God, the father, protector, and the husband of the Mother Goddess.

Beltane falls halfway between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. At Beltane the Pleiades seven-star cluster in the constellation Taurus rises over the morning horizon just before sunrise. Winter (Samhain) begins when the Pleiades rise at sunset. The ancients used the rising and setting of this star cluster as a marker for the planting season. Beltane, like Samhain six months earlier, is a time when the veils between the worlds are said to be thin, and magical things can happen.

Fertility is the theme of the Beltane season. It is about the Sacred Union of the masculine and feminine. Dancing around the Maypole is not common in the Puritan-based U.S., but is still observed with enthusiasm in Great Britain and Ireland. The pole itself is a phallic symbol as well as a conduit of energy that connects the three worlds – above, below, and the middle world. As people dance around the pole, weaving the ribbons into a pattern, the energy raised goes into the earth’s womb to awaken her fruitfulness. The earth wakes from her winter resting phase, is warmed by the Sun, and sprouts with exuberant new life. Birds fledge and leave their nests. Children show us how to frolic in the bright sun and roll in fields of flowers.

The festival of Beltane is the time when lovers slip into the woods together. (It is not a coincidence that Imbolc, nine months later, is associated with childbirth and midwifery.) At Beltane, lovers can pledge to live together for a year and a day. After that year has passed, they may decide to part, or may make plans for handfasting at Midsummer.

Beltane invites us to open to the sacred union of masculine and feminine, in whatever form that comes for each person’s stage in life. Children see things adults have long forgotten to notice. They remind us how to play and to marvel at Creation itself. Young adults may feel the flow of vitality and sexuality. Even if not partnered, Beltane is an invitation to connect to one’s own sensuality and rich creativity. As we grow older, the desire to integrate the male and female aspects within ourselves grows ever stronger. We all hold the natural polarities of the receptive, nurturing feminine and the active, expressive masculine. Bringing these aspects of our Selves into balance is the Sacred Union, and the work of spiritual growth.

Suggestions for your observance:

Oatmeal is a traditional Beltane grain – celebrate by placing some on your altar, marking a prayer circle with oatmeal, or sharing oatmeal cookies with friends and family.

*[May 1 is a day of many kinds of celebrations and observances, but those are for another article.] __________

Sources:

Aubin, Christina. “Beltane – Holiday Details and History,” http://www.witchvox.com
Matthews, Caitlin. The Celtic Book of Days: A Guide to Celtic Spirituality & Wisdom. Destiny Books, Rochester VT, 1995.
http://www.druidry.org/obod/festivals/beltane.html
http://www.earthwitchery.com/beltane.html
http://www.theholidayspot.com/mayday/history.htm

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