This weekend, we celebrate the beauty of our world with feasts, loved ones, dancing, and adornment. We honor this period of Beltane with the use of medicinal and edible flowers and trees. And, because Beltane means “bright fire,” it is appropriately marked with a large bonfire and staying up all night on Beltane Eve to witness the sunrise on the Beltane day. Traditionally, Beltane starts on April 30th and ends on May 1, May Day. It is a celebration of the passage from spring to summer, with fire rites ushered to safeguard crops, cattle, and community members, as well as to promote fertility, growth, and abundance.
Initially, the word 'Bealtaine' means ‘Bright Fire’ in Irish. The lighting of fires at sunset is a pre-Celtic and Celtic ritual. Cétshamhain (beginning of summer) was another name for it, and it honored the arrival of summer by herding livestock to summer pastures.
The festival of Beltane was marked by the lighting of large bonfires that symbolized a time of purification, transition, and hope of a good harvest later in the year. It was celebrated with grandiose feast days during which offerings were made to spirits, ancestors, gods, and goddesses. Houses were adorned with May flowers, as well as bonfires, believed to yield protecting ashes.
Beltane is also a time of romance, as the god and goddess fell in love and wed. The story goes that the lovers were separated all winter and are reunited in Springtime. Today, we celebrate their reunion during Beltane with food, drink, and multi-colored maypoles, which symbolize female energies wrapping themselves around the male form. The lusty energies of spring are still very much present at this time. The earth is fertile and full of life. Trees in our area burst into flower after the last frost. This is a great time for sowing field crops and for planting gardens. We celebrate with feasting, dancing, singing, drumming, and general merrymaking.
Flowers, in addition to springs, wells, and water, play a significant role in the Beltane celebrations. They were gathered into bouquets, worn as garlands in the hair, and used in seasonal rituals. The spring color palette of green, yellow, sky blue, and lavender, with violet overtones, all pay homage to the Beltane celebration and the colors of the plants that mark the shifts in the season. The freshness of this palette is well received in modern times after the long months of winter. Seasonal flowers such as lilacs, hawthorn, apple blossoms, and dog roses are used to decorate our altars. For purification rituals, rue, tansy, pennyroyal, and other cleansing herbs are added to baths or sauna rituals.
The blooming of the hawthorn, or may bush, marks the beginning of Beltane. Believed to have connections to the spirit world and a gateway to the past, this magical tree was often used as a meeting place for celebrations. Before maypoles were created, people danced around hawthorns and decorated them with gifts for the fae. People would make flower crowns and decorate their homes with blooming branches.
Hawthorn folklore has a rich and surprisingly varied history. The tree is thought by many to be housing fairies, and cutting twigs or branches on certain days of the year was forbidden. Hawthorn hedgerows were planted by farmers to protect their crops and livestock from witches that rode along the rows on their broomsticks, while others say witches used hawthorn branches to make brooms.
Hawthorn is also the herb of the heart. Physically, this remedy is a tonic that fortifies and strengthens the physical heart. Emotionally, Hawthorn encourages us to stand in on power and practice vulnerability with healthy boundaries. Spiritually, this tree reminds us of community and the importance jovial celebrations.
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