Summer sweeps in accompanied by the night of mischief that is Beltane. Beltane, or May Eve, is the second hinge of the year (after Halloween), representing an important turning point in the seasons. Whereas Halloween marks the beginning of winter and the start of a new year, Beltane is the transition from spring to summer. The veil between worlds is thin on both festivals, but whereas Halloween is a time to remember your ancestors, at Beltane the spirits around us are more mischievous and it was said to be a time when the door to the fairy realm stood open. Traditionally, Beltane is celebrated when the Hawthorn, or May tree, blossoms, but there are no May blossoms making an appearance yet. Spring has barely sprung so it’s difficult to recognise that summer is about to begin.
Beltane heralds an abundance of life and fertility. The sun warms the earth and nature is in full force, flowers are blooming, trees full of blossom, lush greenery abounds. At this time, we celebrate unfettered vitality, passion and self expression. Finally, after the dark of winter and the fragile beginnings of spring, we can revel in the joy and power of life and love. It’s a celebration of union, community and sensuality, but also commitment, as this is a time when handfastings would take place.
At Beltane, the Goddess transforms from maiden to mother, often symbolised by the crowning of a May Queen. She is at the beginning of the pregnancy that will result in her giving birth to herself at Yule. Maypoles were, and in some places still are, used to celebrate the exuberant life and fertility of the season, with the weaving of red and white ribbons by dancers, beneath a sinking crown of flowers.
Beltane is a fire festival, when beacons would be lit on hill tops to welcome the return of the sun. People would jump over the fires to attract fertility and other wishes and cattle would be driven through the smoke before being taken to their summer pastures. Old hearth fires were put out and re-lit from the Bel-fire. Symbolically, you can absorb the light and life of summer by lighting a candle, just before sunset on May Eve and leaping the flame.
In earlier times, people would go a-Maying in the woods, spending the night there taking advantage of the freedom and mischief of Beltane. At dawn, they would bring back greenery they had collected to decorate doors and lintels for protection and good luck. If you aren’t a witch, this is the only time of year when Hawthorn blossoms can be brought safely across the threshold. I have already made my trip to the woods and brought back spring treasures to bring blessings to the house for the summer to come.
Don’t be introspective on this festival – celebrate. Enjoy the sensual pleasures of creating: get caught up in spreading paint on a canvas, try writing in longhand with an elegant pen and paper, do some sculpting or collage, make something physical with your photographs instead of just uploading them digitally, create a crown of flowers. Work outdoors if you can, absorbing the energy of the returning sun. Draw on the power of your own fertility of imagination as a creative spring.
Or celebrate the abundance of your creativity. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t had any objective success, celebrate the fact that you have inspiration, imagination and a creative talent. If you can, get together with other people and use the dawn of summer to begin a project together, or to simply celebrate the power of collaboration. Have your celebration outdoors, in a wood, an orchard, or a garden filled with flowers.
Summer has had a slothful start this year, teasing us with the promise of warmth to come. Beltane will be accompanied, not by the land in full provocative bloom, but by a more languid waking of the earth. Still, the suggestion of summer is there in the lengthening days and a lightening of mood. Our ancestors had faith that summer would return and lit fires on the highest hills to affirm this. With all our science, we still doubt that the season will be all we want it to be. But the magic of Beltane is to remind us that, whatever the weather now, summer always begins, life and creativity always persevere. All that’s needed from us is to believe it.