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April 30 (Mayday is celebrated on the first of May) Northern Hemisphere / October 31 (Mayday is celebrated on the first day of November) Southern Hemisphere.
Beltane is one of the Greater Wiccan Sabbats and is usually celebrated on May 1st, but can be on the night of April 30th, depending on your tradition. Beltane is the time of the sacred marriage which honors the fertility of the Earth; it represents the divine union of the Lord and Lady.
This sabbath is primarily a fertility festival with Nature enchantments and offerings to wildlings and Elementals. The powers of elves and fairies are growing and will reach their height at Summer Solstice. A time of great Magic, it is good for all divinations and for establishing a woodland or garden shrine. The house guardians should be honored at this time.
Beltane is the second most important sabbath in the Witches' calendar after Samhain. Again, it is an intercalary day when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thin. But whereas Samhain is a time for greeting and celebrating those who have gone before, Beltane is a time when more mischievous spirits may take advantage. For this reason the results of divinations performed at Beltane should always be approached cautiously, for the Gods also enjoy a sense of humour! Similarly, be very careful of working Magic at this time, for the phrase 'Be careful what you wish for' is even more appropriate around Beltane. Many a Witch has found a wish being granted very literally and has received what they asked for as opposed to what they wanted.
This is the festival of the fire God Bel. Bel has been worshipped under many names in all parts of the world for thousands of years; Bel, Beli, Balar, Balor, Belenus, Baal, and Belial. Traditionally, Beltane would be the night on which the old hearth fires were extinguished and the new were kindled from the Bel fire. These fires were placed on the top of hills and produced a chain of beacons which ran across the land. Cattle would be driven between the fires and people would leap over them to ensure fertility for the coming season. In Britain, the tradition of hilltop fires has seen something of a revival lately, although not necessarily associated with Beltane. Fire beacons were lit at the passing of Princess Diana and to mark the Millennium celebrations.
Now the Goddess takes on her robes of Mother, the God descends to reign beside his Queen and the marriage of the Goddess and the god is celebrated. It is said that throughout the spring the God has pursued his mate until at Beltane she allows him to catch her! You can see remnants of this tale in the choosing of a May Queen to rule over May Day. Traditionally, she would then select her consort for the day, although this part of the festivities is often neglected now.
Because of the marriage of the Goddess and the God, this sabbath is also a major fertility festival. In times past, the Maypole would be central to the Beltane celebrations - a tall pole surmounted by a circlet of flowers which would descend as the ribbons were wound tight by the dancers. This symbol of sexual union would be hard to mistake. Those who had not yet found a partner would seek one at the Beltane rites, wearing green to announce their intentions. They would then spend the night in the woods consummating their new-found love. This is in part the reason why it is considered unlucky to bring the flower of the May tree into the house at this time - after all, if you spent your night in the woods gathering flowers, you had obviously been unlucky in your search for a mate! No wonder, then, that the Puritans abolished the holiday in an attempt to stop the celebrating of Beltane!
Beltane is a common time for Witches to Handfast. A handfasting is the Wiccan form of wedding. Unlike its Christian counterpart, both parties approach the ceremony as equals (neither is 'given away'), they write their own vows and make their promises directly to each other, not through an intermediary, although a Priestess and/or Priest may assist them in the ceremony. Many of the phrases and traditions used for weddings of all denominations have their roots in this older form of union. 'Tying the knot' and 'getting hitched' are references to the part of a Handfasting where the couple's hands are literally tied together with a gold and silver cord whilst they make their promises. 'Jumping the broom' (a phrase less well known today than 30 years ago) refers to the point at which the couple join hands and leap over the broomstick (which itself is a symbol of the union of male and female) to signify their leap from one life (that of being single) to another (that of being married). Handfasting need not be for life; there are in fact three periods of time for which your vows may stand: a year and a day, a life-time and for all time. Obviously both parties must be in agreement as to the term of their joining.
Central to the celebrations of Beltane is the Great Rite. Most often celebrated symbolically, this is the ritual form of the union between the Goddess and the God. The Goddess is represented by the Chalice or Cup full of wine and the God is represent by the Athame (the Witches' knife). In full ritual with a Coven, or partnership, the Goddess is invoked into the High Priestess and the God is invoked into the High Priest. The High Priest will hold the chalice high in front of the group, telling them to behold the symbol of the Goddess. He will then kneel in front of the High Priestess, who will hold the Athame and likewise tell them to behold the symbol of the God. Then she will lower the blade of the Athame into the wine, whilst both will speak of the joining of Goddess and God from which all life flows. The Great Rite actual is generally reserved for ritual between partners or for certain kinds of initiation, where it may in fact be performed in token rather than in full.
At first it appears from this that you cannot celebrate the Great Rite alone, but this is not so. The words of the invocation make it clear that the Chalice and Athame themselves represent the Goddess and the God, so that their union can be celebrated by any Witch, whether in company or when working Solitary.
The following form of the Great Rite is one suitable for a Witch working on their own. It has been shortened and slightly simplified from the more formal Great Rite as conducted by a Coven. However, as with all ritual and Magic, if your intent is true, then your simple rite will be just as powerful as a more complex form.
The main themes of this sabbath are the fire festival of Bel and its associated fertility rites. The Goddess takes on her role of Mother, the God descends to rule beside his Queen and so the celebration of this union of fertility takes place through the Great Rite.
By far the most obvious way of celebrating Beltane in a traditional way is to perform the Great Rite. For this you will need a Chalice of wine and an Athame. As in preceding rituals, you will need to find a time and a place where you will be undisturbed.
Ask for the support of the elements and then visualise the Goddess in her robes of Mother, warm and caring, strong and full of grace, and ask her to be present at your rite. Visualise the God as a young man full of strength and energy and ask him also to be with you.
Take your Chalice and hold it in both hands in front of you at eye level. Focus on the image of the Goddess and say, 'Behold the Chalice, symbol of the Goddess, the Great Mother who brings fruitfulness and knowledge to all'.
Put the Chalice down and take your Athame. Hold this in both hands in front of you, blade pointing upwards, also at eye level, and, focusing on the image of the God, say, 'Behold the Athame, symbol of the God, the All Father who brings energy and strength to all'.
Then change the position of your Athame so that you are holding it blade downwards in your right, or strong, hand, take the Chalice in the other hand and, lowering the blade into the wine, say, 'Joined in union together, they bring life to all'.
Kiss the handle of your Athame, say, 'Blessed Be', and then put it down.
Next take a sip of your wine whilst meditating on the roles of the Goddess and the God at this time of year.
After you have finished, remember to thank the elements and the Goddess and the God. Any remaining wine can be drunk as part of your feasting or, if you prefer, you may take it outside and pour it on the ground as a libation.
* If you are fortunate, you may well find a May Day celebration taking place near you,
perhaps Maypole dancing, Morris dancing or a May fair, in which case it is worth
attending, for however watered down our old traditions might be, they still contain the seeds of the old ways. Beltane was always a time when the whole community would join together to celebrate the onset of summer and being with others reminds us of the continuity of our beliefs.
* Flowers, berries and foliage form a major part of the decorations for every sabbath. At this time of year it is traditional for the young to wear chaplets (circular crowns) of flowers. You may not feel inclined to go out wearing one, but it evokes the sentiments of the season to make one as an indoor decoration. As you do not have to fit it to your head, it can be of any size, and if you don't feel confident enough to start from scratch, most florists sell circles woven from wood or cane for a reasonable cost and you can re-use these at every sabbath if you wish. Decorate your chaplet with white for the departing Maiden, red for the ascending Mother and a good strong bright green for the God as a youth.
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