Witchy Woman: Happy Beltaine!

BRITAIN SCOTLAND FESTIVALHappy Beltaine, everybody!

Beltaine is an ancient Gaelic celebration of fertility and fire.  In fact, Beltaine means “bright fire”.  As with all holy “days” in ancient Irish and Scottish culture, this sun celebration traditionally begins on the night of April 30 and carries over to May 1 because the ancient Gaels started their “days” at night due to the rising of the Moon.  Beltaine is opposite the most sacred holy day in Gaelic spirituality, Samhain, and is thought to be a time when the veil between this side and the Other Side is very thin.

With modern versions of this fire festival, Beltaine brings out the pagan in everyone who attends — and rightfully so!  The famous Beltane Festival in Scotland is renown for fiery showmanship of reinvented revelry.

While the Romans were not pagan, the Romans loved a raucous festival whenever they could have one.  The Roman celebration of Floralia, in honor of the goddess Flora, began on April 27 and lasted six days.  This twist put an emphasis on flowers because of the new Spring blooms, so wearing flowers is a common accessory for Beltaine attendees…. But then, wearing vegetation and animal talismans is common throughout paganism.

The Beltaine fire is lit in a very particular way from several, specific woods.  Some traditions re-enact the birth of the May Queen from the sacred fire, as she transforms from the Maiden of Spring into her newly awakened, newly fertile sexual self, ready to make love with her male partner.  The May Queen then births four maidens from the fire, and these each represent the four directions and the four elements, and all their correspondences.  Yes, the emphasis is on the woman and all her representations, including the Moon, the land, even fire, which represents spirituality, passion, and creativity.

According to tradition, the flowers blooming and the crops growing in the ground are a sign of the Goddess and the God creating new life.  At Beltaine, the God expresses his love for the Goddess, resulting in a sacred union between the Sun and the Land.  For some, this joining is between the May Queen and the Green Man, the guardian of the animals and the forest.  Or you can get very specific and envision this union between specific deities in the Gaelic pantheon.  (A particular favorite of mine is Cernunnos, pagan stud-muffin of the forest that he is.)  The May Pole, with which most people are familiar, is actually a phallic symbol of the God, a.k.a. Green Man, Oak King, antlered stud-muffin.  Decorating the May Pole and dancing around it honors the male divine as he prepares his erect self for making love with the female divine, a.k.a. the Goddess, May Queen, etc.  This consummation of the life-affirming love between the Goddess and the God is enacted in the Great Rite, a sex ritual that can be conducted between a high priestess and a high priest or by any in attendance, in public or in private as the festival rules allow.

This divine marriage is symbolically represented by couples in the special joining ritual known as a Handfasting, called such because of the custom of the two lovers having their hands “fastened” by a strip of cloth or ribbon.  The couple would also jump over a besom (broom) to mark the transition from single life to being handfasted.  A Handfasting lasts for 366 days, sometimes called “a year and a day”, and at the end of this time (at the next Beltaine), the couple would choose to stay together or to part — no ill feelings, no shame, no messy divorce.  (We could learn a LOT from this!)

Other customs for a Beltaine celebration include building two bonfires and having a processional between them as a portal from Spring to the traditional first day of Summer.  In the Old Times, the clan would process the cattle between the bonfires and lead them out to the wide open grassy areas for the first time that season.  Cattle (and oxen) were vital to the clan’s survival.  Similar fire celebrations for Mayday exist in most of the modern northwestern European cultures, especially Ireland, Scotland, and Scandanavian countries.

The May Queen, indeed all women, represent the land — the entire earth, and the survival of all we know.  Honoring the sacred feminine is paramount, and yet 2,500 years of patriarchy and institutionalized religion would prefer women be subordinate and mere chattel to the wills of the patriarchs who plunder the earth for financial profit.  Pagan rituals such as Beltaine not only honor the sacred feminine but help restore balance between the male and the female in our society.

Happy Beltaine!!!





  1. I saw a critique of you online, but was compelled to learn before I respond. I found this post. You claim the Romans were definitely non-pagan. The definition of pagan is polytheistic. The Roman Gods, among others, include Mars, Venus, Mercury, Apollo, Neptune, Saturn, Jupiter, Sol, and Diana. I agree that most of the last 2500 years had a patriarch dominance. Mexico however follows their matriarch traditions. Neither of those have equality. Equality in a 2 person relationship does not work. There has to be limited inequality, or a slight imbalance to decide the last name of their children and if necessary, to resolve a split decision. Other than that, I feel there should be equality. The male can earn less or be the stay at home spouse. The one that is more financially responsible should be the one managing the money and having the final word on differences in setting up the family budget. In a loving relationship, both parties will work together with sacrifices for trivial issues. The Bible says that a woman’s body belongs to the man and the man’s body belongs to a woman. That teaches equality and humbleness rather than using sex as a weapon or used only when the mood and timing are perfect. There are times the male wants sex but the wman can say no, due to discomfort or she wants to avoid being physically hurt by the type of sex, or the male just wants to use the female for intercourse and then go to sleep. The male should never force the woman or want just intercourse, but be respectful of the woman and make sex enjoyable for his mate as well as himself. This ideology is to limit the rights of one person over another’s as much as possible. Similarly, the parents cannot rape, mentally abuse, sexually abuse, or kill their children because the children are disobeying, mean, or otherwise unwanted. That also applies to abortions as well. The baby has rights too and the parents can trump those rights, but again that inequality has to be very limited, such as if the woman’s health is in danger, then it is a tossup and the woman would have the overriding decision because it is her health that is in danger. Have a good day and feel free to discuss.

  2. As I explained in my post, the definition of pagan is “country dweller” and was the moniker given by the Romans to the indigenous tribes of the continent we now call Europe. The connotation of pagan is polytheistic. Not the same thing.

    And I really don’t give a damn what the bible says. The bible says a lot of things that are abusive, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, and that incite violence.

    Also, a woman always has control over her body, especially to choose whether or not she becomes a mother.