Beltane was one of the most important rituals in the ancient world; moreover, it was a night of community. Everyone would gather together to celebrate the return of summer and the lighting of the Beltane bonfire. To the ancients, fire was seen as both healing and purifying and on Beltane night the bonfires would be danced around, jumped over, or ceremoniously walked around by each and every member of the community. Every fire, including the sacred hearth fires, would be extinguished and re-lit with the flame from the Neid Fire. Farmers would drive their animals between to bonfires as a protective measure before they were put out to pasture. Through fire, all living things were connected. Additionally, Beltane was a time of courtship and fertility rituals.
At Beltane, the Horned God (Green Man) is killed and reborn. He then regains his rightful role as consort to the Goddess (May Queen) which leads to his rebirth. This ritual combines many of the elements of the ancient world, and has influence from the Beltane Fire Festival held annually in Edinburgh, Scotland. It combines fire, dance, and theatrical interpretation which brings life to the stories of our ancestors. It is not a copy of that famous festival, but an adaptation for a much smaller group. It does require a lot of space, fire safety, and willing participants that aren’t afraid to “get their Beltane on!”
This is unlike any other ritual you’re likely to encounter, and it’s the first one I’ve ever penned which can be performed for an audience (if you choose.) It will require a minimum of 18-20 people and ample preparation time for a successful performance. If you are doing it without an audience, approach it as a sacred performance for the Gods and Goddesses and the forest animals. Let no action be without intent and no intention be without action.
Cast of Characters
The May Queen – dressed in all white with an elaborate headdress/hairstyle
The Green Man – In green with horns if possible and removable foliage attached to arms and legs
Consorts of the May Queen – The White Women – dressed in white and be certain to not out-do the Goddess
Representations of Chaos – The Red Men – dressed in red and carrying live torches (use caution)
Drummers (at least three people with portable drums)
The Blue Man – Adjunct to the Green Man – all in blue
The Völva – Priestess
The following pictures are from the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland and are included to help you understand the costuming look and feel. Since the climate is different in every area, it might not make sense for participants to wear loincloths. What’s important is the coloring, as the colors represent the different factions and add to the performance significantly.
Layout of the Area
Every area is different, so I cannot provide an exact map. You will need some key elements to perform this ritual including a large fire (unlit), a processional route (your choosing), and a fire arch or two bonfire entrance way. You’ll also need four (4) Tiki Torches positioned around the fire area – one in each of the cardinal directions.
Torches for Red Men
Wands for White Women (decorated with colored ribbon)
Oversized Bow Drill to symbolically light Neid Fire
Cedar branches (or other winter foliage)
Setting the Stage
The ritual involves a processional which grows as it progresses (accompanied by drummers) until finally entering the ceremonial area. Once the fires are lit, it morphs into a fertility ritual where the chaotic Red Men attempt to seduce the orderly White Women. The Red Men are rebuffed and slink away, however the Green Man decides to intervene and petitions the May Queen to encourage the White Women to engage with the Red Men. In his haste, the Green Man makes the fatal error of touching the May Queen, and he is summarily beaten to death by the White Women who also rip away his winter foliage. The Goddess takes pity on the Green Man and resurrects him. The reborn youthful Green Man and the May Queen are suddenly smitten and together they encourage their factions to come together. The Red Men and White Women witness the marriage of the God and Goddess, their kiss symbolizes the start of summer and beginning of the festivities!
Plan your processional route understanding the following will need to occur along the way. Don’t make the mistake of planning it too short (lots of people moving require more space than you might imagine.)
The starting procession group is the May Queen, Green Man, Völva, drummers. It starts out as a solemn procession walking to drumming before encountering the first addition which is the White Women (meet, bow, and exchange pleasantries with their Queen before falling in line behind the group.) The procession continues until the Blue Man is encountered (he bows to the Green Man and takes his place behind him in the procession. Continue to move until the group reaches the entrance (the fire arch/gate)
The Red Men are positioned across the entrance with flaming torches. The Green Man and May Queen recognize that unpredictability of chaos must be honored. The Blue Man comes forth and lays branches of Cedar on the pathway as a symbol of winter then, one of the White Women then approaches and spreads flowers on the pathway covering the symbols of winter with a symbol of summer. Both the Queen and Green Man bow to the Red Men, who then light the fire arch with their torches and open their ranks to allow the procession to enter the sacred bonfire area. [If you are using two smaller bonfires as your entrance way, adjust slightly]
Carefully, I stress carefully, have the procession walk single file through the arch. The White women should all gather on the North side of the bonfire area, the Green Man and Blue Man to the West, the May Queen to the East, the drummers and Völva behind the May Queen, and once everyone else is in position, the Red Men enter and stand in the South. Once everyone has taken their places, the drummers should stop drumming.
Silence as The Green Man approaches the unlit bonfire. He will theatrically pretend to start the Neid fire with a bow and dowel as tradition has always been. The Blue Man will approach crouching and toss a lit match into the fire for effect, before taking a permanent position there.
Once the fire is lit, the May Queen walks the circle and blesses the participants (very heavy on the theatrics) The participants must return a bow or curtsy with an equal amount of theatrics, and pleasantries such as thank you great Goddess, etc.
Once the grand entrance is completed, the Green Man takes a torch and walks to the perimeter of the circle, starting in the East. The Blue Man is the narrator and he reads the following script while the Green Man moves from torch to torch lighting each as the statement is read.
We light the directions, but cast no circle, for all that surrounds us shall be deemed our sacred space. Tonight we welcome the age of summer once again!
We look to the East, where the healing winds glide across the crimson of dawn – oh mighty Spirits of Air, We call upon you to join us tonight!
We turn to the South, where the eternal flames light the skies like the pure white light of midday – oh cleansing Spirits of Fire, We call upon you to join us tonight!
And now we face West, where the clear waters rush over the cool grey evening skies – oh thunderous Spirits of Water, We call upon you to join us tonight!
At last, the North, where the darkness of blackest midnight gives restful pause to all living things – oh grandest Spirits of the Earth, We call upon you to join us tonight!
<This should be to drumming, but softly>
The Green Man returns to his position in the West. The Blue Man remains by the fire, keeping it bright and well stoked. The Red Men start acting like any group of lustful boys would do when looking at a group of girls – they look at them and then each other (theatrical actions that go over the top; smiling head nodding, winking, etc.) until slowly they start to saunter over to the White Women (carefully carrying their torches) – its an act of faux seduction.
The white women rebuff the men, turning their heads away and acting too good for these chaotic reds (this is a symbolic battle between order and chaos) – they use their wands to shoo them away or to block their progress. This must be a back and forth, playful interaction (flirting with fire and sticks should be enough to say be careful) – after about 5 minutes, the Red Men abandon the courtship and return to their side with some acting and head shaking (like they can’t believe they weren’t accepted) The whites return to an orderly and faux proper state; forming a tight line of “prudish on the outside, but secretly interested on the inside.” (remember, it is a fertility ritual)
The Green Man, unable to understand the strike-out, tries to comfort the Red Men, but goes further and petitions the White Women with the same results of rebuke. However, he doesn’t give up as easy and proceeds to petition the Queen, bowing and kneeling and such theatrics. She does the same rebuff, arms crossed, looking away, etc.
<drumming getting louder as the action heats up>
When it seems like he’s headed back to the bench with the Red Men, he makes one last effort and reaches out to touch her arm and all hell breaks loose – the White Women become unhinged; they surround him and lead him away. They perform a figurative beat-down with their wands and in the process, they are pulling off his heavy green leaves (stripping the winter foliage) and throwing them about. The Green Man drops to his knees and finally to lying prone on the ground. He is finished. They step away from the body, lifeless and dead.
All eyes are looking around; the Red Men are in shock and huddle together appearing like they are about to charge the White Women in an attack; the White Women also huddle up with their wands horizontally across their chests in a defensive posture.
<a single drummer picks up the beat again, but very soft>
The May Queen walks the longest route possible to the fallen Green Man, passing everyone and using soothing hand signals to calm the agitated group. She finally reaches the fallen Green Man and looks down upon him lovingly. She pretends to exhale a great breath upon his being as says, “sweet breath I grant you once again…be reborn”
She extends a hand to his and he slowly gains his bearings, until once again standing, but now a younger version of his former self. His eyes and smile sparkle at the Goddess and they join hands and walk around the inner circle for all to see. The conflict which has divided the men and women is now over. They continue the circle until arriving in the east where the Völva is waiting.
<drummers all drum>
The Red Men and White Women gravitate toward one another and intermingle in quasi-couplets. Men bow, women curtsy, hands may be kissed, etc. This goes on for a few moments when the Völva takes control of the ritual and calls for order and silence.
A symbolic marriage of between the newly reincarnated Green Man and the May Queen occurs. The actual ceremony can be anything you want it to be, as long as it ends with a kiss.
The Völva needs to say something like, “With this kiss, we welcome the season of Summer!”
Everyone dances around the fire and shares libations, etc.
Since there is no official circle, there is no closing ceremony. You can have everyone jump over the Beltane fire to purify, cleanse or to bring fertility. Couples can jump together to pledge themselves to each other, either for the first time or as a renewal.
Offer anyone a coal from the Beltane fire to take home with them to light their hearth or symbolic hearth
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