If you are not pagan, you may be blissfully unaware that Beltane will soon be upon us. It is usually celebrated on 30th April/1st May and is one of four seasonal Gaelic festivals that occur each year.
For the Celtic people, Beltane marked the beginning of summer. Cattle would be driven out into the summer pastures, and rituals performed to protect the cattle, as well as the crops and people, and to ensure growth.
Beltane is known for its bonfires. Flames, smoke and ashes from these bonfires were considered to have protective powers. The herdsmen and their cattle would walk around the bonfire (or between them, if there were two). They might even leap over the flames or embers.
When the fire had died down, people would daub themselves with its ashes and sprinkle them over their crops and livestock.
Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. There would be feasting and offerings to the gods (or, more precisely, a supernatural race akin to fairies).
Cattle and their cattle-sheds would be decorated with yellow May flowers (this possibly evoked fire).
It was also believed that at around this time pagan gods and nature spirits were at their most active, and many of the Beltane rituals were designed to appease them.
According to some, the fire rituals were meant to mimic the Sun and ensure a supply of sunshine for men, animals and plants. Others believed that they symbolised burning up and destroying all harmful influences.
About 60 years ago, Beltane celebrations had more or less died out; however, there has been a revival in recent times, notably thanks to Celtic neo-pagans and Wiccans. It is also celebrated in the Southern hemisphere (although around 1st November).
If you are interested in pagan/Celtic elements as part of a ceremony that you are planning – be it wedding, anniversary, special birthday or vow renewal – , then please contact me, your independent civil celebrant, and we can put together a wonderful handfasting ceremony.
Featured image source: telegraph.co.uk