Also known as May Day, April 30 and May 1 was an ancient observance that marked the beginning of summer. In Ireland, cattle were driven out to their summer pastures and rituals were performed to encourage familial growth and protection. Mass bonfires were kindled: their flames, embers, and ashes the epitome of protective power. Gaelic peoples and their cattle would walk around these bonfires and sometimes leap over the flames for good luck! Houses were decorated with wild May flowers; pastel hues of yellow, pink, and blue. Celebrations also included May Trees (or in some cases Poles or Bushes), which were decorated with flowers and bright ribbons. Ancients also built labyrinths and walked them in silent meditation.
In 2013, I participated in my first Beltane celebration. I had my research, but was I ready to start leaping over bonfires? Not really. Instead, I visited a local coven with some friends. There was feasting, labyrinth walking, and children playing games. It was an amazing opportunity to get involved in my Wiccan community. Later that day, I was still buzzing with energy. I went home with a good friend of mine where we performed a small fire ritual. Since then, I have never missed a chance to celebrate Beltane! As an apartment renter, however, I tend to encounter a few issues along the way. Here are my top three Beltane complications and some solutions I found helpful.
Problem #1: I live in the American South, where I do not have ready access to the nine sacred woods. It seems more appropriate to wildcraft these items, rather than purchase them.
Answer: This has ALWAYS been my biggest problem. Many books insist you need Birch, Oak, Hazel, Rowan, Hawthorne, Willow, Fir, Apple, and Vine. When I was living in the tropics, I was lucky to find three of those! So, what to do? One option is to buy the wood from an online vendor. There are plenty of reputable sites, but this method can get expensive fast. The second option: Use your local flora. Don’t get too bogged down with the Eurocentric specifications, when you have a natural world right outside your window. Each sacred wood is associated with a symbolic element and you can find native trees that correlate to these meanings as well. Using the plants in my area, I came up with: Cedar, Dogwood, Honeysuckle, Magnolia, Oak, Willow (Bottlebrush), Pine, American Holly, and Maple. In the past I even added Palm to my list! Look for nine different trees that represent: female energy, male energy, knowledge, life, fairy magick, death, birth, love, and joy.
Problem #2: I live in a small place and cannot have a bonfire.
Answer: I absolutely love the warmth that comes from a roaring fire. Apartment-bound witches like myself, however, lack the ability to stoke up a bonfire. Bonfires require space, a lot of kindling, and caution. The solution is candles… lots and lots of them! Light as many as possible on your altar or around your house. Incorporating the element in this way really helps to get the energy flowing. NEVER leave candles unattended though, especially if you have pets or young children. Another option to consider, is to take a small cauldron outside and burn your sacred wood in the open. Smoke detectors are not fond of inside Beltane celebrations!
Issue #3: What does Beltane mean for the Green Witch?
Answer: It took me quite some time to appreciate the connection between Green Magick and Beltane. For some, fire is associated with destruction, fear, and chaos. No one ever loves hearing about a recent forest fire. Fire, however, is as natural as green growth! It is a type of purification. Mass burning gives plants a chance to regrow and provides the next generations with much needed nutrition. That said, please don’t go out and set your garden aflame! Instead, take the ashes from your Beltane ceremony and sprinkle them around your plants. They will thank you for it.
There are so many crafts, rituals, and recipes associated with Beltane. But to keep this post concise, I will leave it here. For more reading and some fantastic pictures, check out this year’s Beltane Fire Festival in Scotland. Do you have any good memories or advice of Beltane? Share your stories in the comment section below!
Pax et Bonum,