Beltane was one of the most important Gaelic festivals as it was the beginning of pastoral summer; when livestock were driven out to their summer pasture lands. The Celts were a mostly pastoral people, very dependent of their herds for survival. It was believed that the faeries were very active around this time of year; rituals were held on the 1st of May to appease the spirits and to protect the crops, the herds, and the dairy products. Ancient texts tell how the druids would make two great fires, speak spells and incantations, and then drive all the cattle in the village through the space between. Beltane is also a Fire Festival opposite of Samhain.
For Beltane 2019, in honor of this notoriety of fire, we will build our ritual bonfire with nine (9) sacred woods; each chosen long ago by the Druids for a specific reason – Willow for protection and healing, Hawthorn for masculine energy, Alder the tree of prophecy and divination, Birch the wood of regeneration, Rowan the wood of astral projection, power and success, Ash the tree of knowledge, Holly for its protective magick, Hazel for access to the sacred wells, and Oak for strength, fertility and success.
This ritual is designed for a group and intended to be performed outdoors with a central bonfire or fire pit.
What you’ll need to prepare for this ritual (as written)
Quarter Candles (4 total) in these colors – Red (South,) Yellow (East,) Green (North,) and Blue (West)
Goddess Candle – Large White Candle (I use a three wick candle for the Goddess)
Goblet with sacred well water and napkin (optional, see below)
Bonnach Bread (recipe at the end) cut and prepared as per the needs shown below
Fresh Wreath of Flowers
Bonfire with 9 sacred Beltane woods
Any portion of the ritual that is bracketed with <> refers to instructions and should not be spoken aloud.
<Opening Statement – A call to action for the participants to stop talking, gather, and prepare to begin the ritual>
“Let it be called, let it be cast, this magick sphere of present and past; a meeting place, a sacred space, where we welcome all from the human race”
Join Us As We Call the Quarters
We call upon the great spirits of the East; the direction of air; where the sun rises and gives birth to inspiration and originality and the winds share it with the world- join us in celebration on this night <light yellow candle>
We call upon the great spirits of the South; the direction of fire; where the heat of passion was forged in the pure flames of creation and affection before given freely to mankind – join us in our celebration on this night <light red candle>
We call upon the great spirits of the West; the direction of the setting sun and the transition from light to darkness; two sides in perfect balance; harmonious; complex and yet trouble free <light blue candle>
We call upon the great spirits of the North; the direction of Mother Earth, the source of life as we know it; populated, explored, and civilized, but still holding endless secrets and amazing abilities <light green candle>
Great Goddess, we call upon you to grace us with your presence on this Beltane eve. We who are the keepers of the flame, the stewards of the land, the poets, the bards, the druids, the mystics, the seers, and the blessed give thanks for your great gifts. Join us tonight in our ritual, hail and blessed be! <light Goddess Candle>
The Story Behind Beltane
Beltane or ‘Bright Fire” has it’s etymology from two words; ‘Bel,’ derived from Belinus the Celtic God of Fire and Sun and ‘teine’ the Gaelic word that means fire. The day is also known as May Day, Walpurgisnacht, and May Eve. Even though in modern day, Beltane is known for it’s fire festivals, it’s not the total story. In fact, Beltane honors life in the noblest of ways. Spring is at it’s zenith, welcoming in the summer. Everywhere we see new life; our perennials have returned; our trees are covered with buds that are just about to burst; the air is filled with the sounds of insects and birds, and the energy of Mother Earth is higher than any other time of the year. On this night, we celebrate fertility, sexuality, and abundance.
The Maiden goddess has matured, reaching her fullness of womanhood. She is the manifestation of growth and renewal; called Flora, the Goddess of Spring. She’s also known as the May Queen or the May Bride. Her suitor, The Young Oak King (also known as Jack-In-The-Green, the May King, or the Green Man), falls deeply and passionately in love with her and wins her hand in marriage. Their union is consummated on that night and the May Queen becomes ripe with child. The May Queen and the May King symbolize the Sacred Marriage of the union of Earth and Sky. This sacred union has happily been re-enacted by humankind throughout the centuries. But it’s so more than just sensuality, passion, vitality and joy; it’s also about the result of that love – conception and new life. Babies conceived at Beltane were considered a gift from the gods. They were sometimes referred to as “merry-begots” because the mothers were impregnated during Beltane’s merrymaking.
Customs, Rites, and Fire
On the eve of Beltane the ancient Celts would build two large fires, created from the nine sacred woods, in honor of summer. But first, all other fires were extinguished and the Beltane fire was struck using only friction. The tribal herds were ritually driven between them, so as to purify and protect them in the upcoming year. Humans would then leap over the Beltane bonfire for many reasons; Young people jumped the fire for luck in finding a spouse, travelers jumped the fire to ensure a safe journey, and pregnant women jumped the fire to assure an easy delivery. Each person had their own reasons for stepping across the flames and no one passed on the opportunity. At the end of the night, Rowan twigs were carried around the fire three times, then hung over hearths to bless homes.
Since we have no livestock to drive, we will only focus on the jumping across portion. The Beltane fire was a great source of purification, and healing. As you jump over the fire, keep those thoughts in mind and allow yourself to be blessed.
<the leader of the ritual should give specific and clear instructions to everyone depending on the size and location of thew bonfire. it’s also wise to have a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby just in case of an accident>
<have everyone who wishes to, jump over the fire>
The Beltane cake was another part of the festivities; one part which usually differed from village to village. The original Bannochs were heavy flat cakes of barley or oatmeal while modern day ones are lighter and similar to modern bread. (use any type of traditional bread you see fitting) The loaf was divided into portions before the ritual and placed in a covered container. One of the pieces was darkened with charcoal. In ancient times, it was said that the person who drew this unlucky piece was to be sacrificed to Belinus. Others say this gave rise to the task of jumping over the bonfire, as the holder was afforded reprieve from sacrifice by jumping over the fire six consecutive times. Other versions would have a mock attempt at sacrifice by the other participants, with a last minute stay given to the holder.
In recent times, sacrificing has gone out of style, being replaced by token offerings to the God instead. We’ll pass the Bannoch around to see who draws the darkened piece. <pass the covered bread, ensuring no one peeks – when the darkened piece is drawn, it will likely add to the fun>
<have the person come to the alter and take the wreath of fresh flowers and place it in the fire as an offering>
<This next part is optional and can only be done if you have access to sacred well water>
May Day was a time when the faithful would visit the sacred wells when the power of the water was at its peak. There they would say prayers, make offerings, bathe and drink the water for healing, fertility, and restoration.
Tonight, we share sacred well water that has been blended from sacred wells across the world. These waters date back for centuries and are associated with healing, both physical and spiritual. Drink and feel the ancient energy!
<Pass the goblet and folded towel>
Each of us has different things of importance in our lives. Some treasure family and security above all, while others are focused on the land and their livelihood. Tonight we hope to cover everyone’s needs with our fertility blessing.
<have everyone join hands>
Humble stewards of the land,
Plowmen, Millers, Smiths, and Merchants
Space-holders, Scribes, Light-workers, and Healers
Nobles and common folk alike
Mothers, Fathers, Children and Infants
We gather on this Beltane night to celebrate
But also to offer and receive blessings
From shoreline, to sea, and shoreline again
Mountaintops and canyons, grasslands and forests
From Beltane Eve until the coming of Samhain
We humbly ask the Maiden, Mother, and Crone
And the Great Horned God of the Green
Bless these lands and those who reside in them
Bless the crops, the herds, and the fodder
Bless the forage and all that grows wild
Bless the waters and provide ample rains
Protect that which we depend on
Safeguard that which provides our food
Guard our flanks when we toil
Guard our homes and our pastures
Keep balance between our world and the world of the Fae
Watch over our little ones
Bless every thing and every one,
Great gods who create and bring life to all,
We ask for your blessings on this day of fire
Closing the Circle
Farewell great Spirits of the Earth, We thank you for your presence in our circle this night, go in peace leaving us full of your energies, a higher awareness and understanding of the world around us. <extinguish green candle>
Farewell great Spirits of Water, We thank you for your presence in our circle this night; go in peace, leaving our bodies cleansed and ready to step out with a new found hope for the future. <extinguish blue candle>
Farewell great Spirits of Fire, We humbly thank you for your presence in our circle and your banishing powers – go in peace and leave us knowing your warmth will always be near.” <extinguish red candle>
Farewell great Spirits of Air, We thank you for your presence in our circle tonight; go in peace leaving us with your intellect and wisdom. <extinguish yellow candle>
Great Goddess, we thank you for your presence in our circle tonight and for the many blessings we find ourselves surrounded with. Guide us with your wisdom as we leave this Beltane circle tonight.
“This circle is open but never broken”
Other Beltane Rituals from Past Years
Bonnach (Celtic) Bread Recipe
Bonnach or Bannocks come in a wide variety of types including cakes, shortbreads, flatbreads, and skillet bread. This recipe doesn’t have yeast or eggs. Bonnachs were traditionally eaten on feast days, often in celebration of a seasonal changes such as Beltane and Imbolc.
4 cups flour, 8 tsp. baking powder, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1 cup shortening, 1 cup dates or currants, 2 cups milk, 2 tsp. vanilla – mix dry ingredients, then add milk and vanilla – form into a dome shaped loaf – bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.