Beltane 2023 – Purification, Fertility, and the Return of the Sun

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Beltane (Beltine, Beltaine, Belltaine) continues to be one of the most important annual celebrations in the modern pagan world. It’s origin can be traced to the Celtic tribes of Gaelic Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Each year on the 1st of May, a great celebration filled with enduring rituals would take place to officially celebrate the beginning of summer and open pasturing. In ancient times, our ancestors only recognized two seasons, summer and winter. Beltane was the beginning of summer and Samhain, the beginning of winter. These two days were of critical importance as they were the two days each year when the veil that separates the world of the living with the world of the departed, was transparent. On the eve of both nights, faeries, witches, and other creatures from the other side, were free to enter our world and engage in all sorts of mischief or worse.

To keep the evil spirits at bay, light was utilized extensively. The lighting of the Beltane fires was considered a great cleansing opportunity for all things, livestock and humans especially. It was also symbolic of bringing back or re-engaging the power of the sun, after a long time of winter dormancy. The Celtic people were pastoralists and farmers and their survival was directly tied to their animals, so this event was meaningful to every man, woman, and child. It was also a fertility ritual, as our ancestors had a strong desire to have many children, they used this occasion  to boost their reproductive powers.

Preparations for this Beltane Ritual

To prepare for the Beltane celebration, the Druids would make two great balefires, speak spells and incantations, and then people and all the herb animals, would walk through the space between. This was done to increase fertility, cleanse, and as a protective practice against disease. For this ritual (using all fire precautions) build two fires with a space between them, to allow for easy movement between them.

For Your Circle, Altar, and Feast
Quarter Candles (4 total) in these colors –  Red (South,) Yellow (East,) Green (North,) and Blue (West)
Bannocks (recipe at the end), Mead, Roasted Meat (Beef, Goat, Sheep), Milk, Spring Onions, Watercress, Oatcakes, Seasonal Herbs, or other food and drinks you feel are appropriate for your celebration
A Fresh Wreath of Flowers
Decorations of Ribbons, Greenery, Spring Symbols

Any portion of the ritual that is bracketed with <> refers to instructions and should not be spoken aloud.

Gather Everyone to the Ritual Circle

For as long as our peoples have walked this earth, they would gather on sacred hilltops or in scared groves to practice the ancestral rituals of their tribes. Tonight, we honor those who came before us, invoke the power of fertility upon the lands, and those who seek it, purify our minds and our bodies, and celebrate the beginning of summer with feasting and revelry!

We begin by casting a sacred circle, to provide a safe place from the wandering Fae and their mischief

East 

Look to the East, the direction of the rising sun, the moment of awakening, and the time for daily reflection. The spirits of air shall be our guide to find inspiration, original thought, and motivation to move purposefully into the coming day. For each of us holds our own truths safely within our hearts, and each decision and every action we make, comes with the conviction that it will propel us to spiritual growth, focused consciousness, and an overwhelming desire to seek understanding.  <light yellow candle>

South

Now turn to the South, the direction of the midday sun, the pivotal time of the day, when we pause in our toils to rejuvenate and marvel at the many blessings we have been given. The spirits of fire are never far from our thoughts, as we see the developments of the fields, flora, and fauna. With wonderous gaze, each moment is filled with the glorious bounty of nature. As we invest our energies with the land and the herds, we are energized knowing that these same energies will be returned to us in greater volumes, when the leaves begin to fall and the bounties of the land are collected.  <light red candle>

West

Now I bid you, turn your gaze to the West, the direction of the setting sun, and the time of collective satisfaction resonating across our existence. The spirits of water are always evident as we toil each day. The sweat on our brows, the refreshing drink after a long day, and the comforting joy at the periodic sprinkling of rains across the fields. It surrounds us, is a part of us, and binds all things together in a magnificent web of transformative beauty.   <light blue candle>

North

Finally, we look to the North, the direction of the night sky, to bring our circle to it’s completion. Underneath the ethereal light of the moon and the stars, the spirits of earth are peeking out from behind the trees and from hidden spaces behind the boulders. We welcome in those who only seek to share the secret ways of connecting with the powerful planetary energies and help to advance the harmony between humankind and the spirit world. Knowledge and understanding are important keys in our quest to thrive and live in a state of balance.  <light green candle>

Introduction – Lighting the Beltane Fires

Beltane loosely translates as ‘Bright Fire.” It’s etymology from ‘Bel,’ derived from Belinus the Celtic God of Fire and Sun and ‘tene’ the Gaelic word that means fire. On the eve of Beltane, our ancestors would build two large fires, just as we have done here tonight, but not light them. They would use the nine sacred woods, in honor of summer. These are Birch, Holly, Hazel, Rowan, Ash, Alder, Hawthorn, Willow, and Oak. These coincide with the first nine months of the Celtic Sacred Tree calendar, which began on December 24th, each year. At the onset of the ritual, all other fires in the village were extinguished and the first Beltane fire (the Tein-eigen or neid fire) was struck using only friction. Once the fire was going, it would be used to light all the other fires, as a way to connect the community, and then the festivities would begin.

<At this point, you may engage in a friction fire starting method (some methods are listed at the end of this ritual) or choose a simulated alternate method to start your fires>

Beltane History

Our Celtic ancestors held the belief that the sun was imprisoned during winter, yet freed during the summer, To honor this event, they feasted and celebrated, with fire as the central focus of the day. With the return of the sun, came new growth, new birth, free flowing water, and their ability to plant crops and reap the benefits of the forest. It was a time when fertility returned to the world. With a fertile land, livestock would have ample sustenance, allowing them to grow fat and healthy, producing offspring, milk, and meat for their tables. Beltane was a key time, when purification rituals were performed, using the smoke from the balefires, to make sure nothing interfered with the foundational beginning of the summer season.

After the sacred words and incantations were delivered by the Druids, the tribal herds were ritually driven between them, so as to purify and protect them in the upcoming year, with the villagers following. Once the herds were dutifully blessed, the opportunity was presented for any member of the community to leap over the Beltane fire. There were many reasons for taking the leap. The younger boys and girls would leap over for luck, so that they could find a good spouse. Those who were visiting or expected to take a journey who jump over to assure their safety. Pregnant women jumped the fire to facilitate an easy delivery and healthy offspring. Married couples, both young and old, would jump over holding hands, to show their commitment for one another. Other reasons are for purification, fertility, and personal cleansing. At the end of the night, villagers would carry rowan twigs around the balefires three times, then hang the bundle over their hearth to bless their homes.

Beltane

Purification Ritual

The sacred smoke of the Beltane balefire’s are a great source of purification, and healing. As you walk slowly between the two fires, allow the smoke to fill your space, and purify your spirit. Release the weight of winter and those things which no longer serve you. Set you soul free to gather in the light and energize your soul.

<the ritual leader should speak this incantation as the community passes in the space between the two fires>

We call upon the Gods & Goddesses, the ancestors, and all the Fae who have gathered on the outskirts of this circle.
As we pass through the sacred smoke of these balefires, we gather blessings and layers of protection.
As the smoke fills this sacred circle, we embrace the protective power of the Gods and Goddesses.
Each soul shall be filled with the great light and warmth of the returning sun.
Each body shall be purged of all sorrows, fear, shame, and unhappiness.
Every hearth shall be lit with the first flames of this new season.
Every beast, man, woman, and child shall be purified, with the weights of heaviness lifted from them.
Each individual path shall be illuminated and the protections shall be carried forth.

<once the congregation has passed, offer those who wish, the opportunity to leap across the fire. Use caution, give very clear directions, and manage the proceeding in an orderly way to prevent accidents. It is always a good plan to have a fire extinguisher or water source close at hand, just in case>

The ancient tradition of jumping over the fire is now at hand. The reason why you make the leap is a personal decision and it’s not necessary to share it with the group. As you take the leap, keep those thoughts in mind and nothing else. This is the moment to use your intention to manifest your desires into reality.

<Proceed with caution, and allow people as much time as they wish, including those who wish to jump multiple times.>

Fertility Blessing

Beltane was a wonderful time of community sharing and togetherness, but it was also a time of fertility, which led to the rise of couples doing their part to ensure the lands were sufficiently fertile, by sympathetic magic. Couples would lay together in the fields and forest around the villages, a practice called ‘a-maying.’ The sexual energy of Beltane was intense, and almost everyone childbearing age would participate. It was considered a day when the sacred bond of marriage was temporarily put on hold, and one-night stands were commonplace. It was also a time when Handfastings took place. Some considered it a marriage, while others saw it as a test period, which lasted for a year and a day. After the time expired, the couple could finalize the marriage or they could go their separate ways, with no dishonor, shame, or repercussions from their families or the rest of the tribe.

Whatever you choose to do this night, the decision is yours and your alone. Yet, while we still stand here as a community, let us spread the love in our hearts in the traditions of our ancestors, by sharing in a fertility blessing.

<ask everyone to join hands, and have someone hold the flower wreath high overhead, so that all may see it>

There is no better symbol than the flower
For it is the embodiment of life itself
It breaks forth from the fertile earth
Reaches high towards the blazing sun
Then bursts forth with the passion of life
It freely shares an immense beauty with all
Fills the land with hope, faith, and purity
Yet, never once asks for anything in return
It gives freely, and keeps on giving
Each day opening once again with renewal
Each night closing with pure joy deep inside
As we celebrate Beltane, we celebrate life
From shoreline, to sea, and shoreline again
Mountaintops and canyons, grasslands and forests
We are like the flowers in the meadows
Our blessings are given to these lands
Safeguarding those who reside in them
Our blessings to the crops, herds, and fodder
So that no evil shall cross their paths
Our blessings to the forage and all that grows wild
Each shall share in that which is provided
Our blessings for water and the gentle rains
The great cycle of life shall persevere
Protect our flanks when we toil
Guard our homes and our pastures
Keep the balance between the worlds
Nourish the youth, both in mind and body
And may the sun forever shine upon us

Feasting and Frolicking

<Take time to share food & drinks, but inform everyone that the protective circle is still open and everyone should remain within its confines until the ceremony is close>

beltane

Closing the Beltane Circle

As all great things must come to an end, so must this Beltane ritual. Tomorrow, we go forth into a new day, filled with the hope, joy, and excitement of a new season. With purity in our hearts, and clarity in our minds, we set foot on fertile ground and welcome the open pastures.

North

Once again we look to the North, but not with a sense of closure. For the spirits of Earth shall linger in our minds and certainly await us on the landscapes and pastures. Our relationship has been strengthened and our commitment renewed. We seek that which shall be given freely, and in return, we give freely of that which we seek.  <extinguish green candle>

West

Now to the West, for the great time of contemplation. The spirits of Water are never far from our thoughts, especially now as we begin this new season. Yet with our confidence restored and our connection with the natural world energized, we carry no worry. For trust gives us faith, and faith gives us courage, and courage enhances our trust.  <extinguish blue candle>

South

As we gaze in the South, it is the light of the sun that the spirits of Fire foster in our minds. New light, wonderous light, and the warmth that accompanies that light shall be our anchor, our guide, and our beacon of promise. Nothing shall stand in our paths as we commune with the never-ending cycle of growth, fertility, and constant renewal. The great wheel is always turning, and the light is always shining, and even when it is on the opposite side of the circle, we can feel it’s presence. <extinguish red candle>

East 

And for our final act on this Beltane, we turn our eyes to the East, and bare our faces to the gentle winds from the spirits of Air. The breeze never lets us forget that life moves in mysterious ways, yet if we stay the course and ride the wind, there is always a pathway to rise to greater and greater heights and spiritual growth. As we grow, we seek more knowledge, and with more knowledge we not only rise higher, but we feel compelled to reach out and pull those around us upward as well.  <extinguish yellow candle>

Now go, take a flame from the fires and return them to your own homes, relight your hearth fires, and take rest knowing that the protective smoke and flames shall be your companion.

Additional References

The Sacred Tree Calendar of the Celtic People

7 Methods of Primitive Fire Starting

Bannocks Recipe

Bonnach or Bannocks come in many forms, depending on the locality. They can be cakes, shortbreads, flatbreads, or skillet bread, with the only commonality is that no yeast or eggs are used.

A simple recipe is as follows: 3 cups flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 ½ cups water, ¼ cup melted butter

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Add the water and butter and then mix by hand until everything is combined well, knead the mixture on a floured surface for 5 minutes, separate and pat into flat circles about one inch thick (think biscuit sized) – Preheat oven to 350 degrees, then bake for 25-30 minutes (keeping an eye on them for the last ten, as some ovens tend to cook faster than others)

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