Pagan Holidays - Beltane, May Day, May 1
Celebrating May Eve and May Day
Beltane marks samos or the light (summer) half of the year. Along with winter, it was one of the two major seasons of the ancient Celts. It is celebrated from April 30th (May Eve) to May 1st (May Day). Our modern celebration is a descendant of the Celtic fire festivals. In German tradition, this holiday was called Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night, also called Hexennacht which means Witches' Night.
Community bonfires, or Bel fires, were lit on hilltops in honor of the proto-Celtic god known by many names such as Bel, Bile, or Belenus. He was the "Bright One," a god of life and death, light and fire.
The ancients believed that driving cattle between two bonfires would bless them with good milk production and fertility. Likewise, bonfire jumping was thought to provide fertility for couples and singles who wanted to attract a spouse.
"Tongues of flame come jump with me
Ye purifying fires,
Join my joy, my playful glee
As we move yet higher."
~ Trish Telesco from A Victorian Grimoire
Traditional maypole celebrations hint at the ancient fertility aspect of this holiday and are believed to be of Northern European origin. This obvious symbol of male sexuality impregnating mother earth was at one time outlawed in an attempt to cleanse the celebration of its Pagan roots.
Modern Pagan will enact this symbology by dancing with ribbons around the maypole or with sacred tools such as the blade and chalice representing the phallus and womb. Some may practice an actual sexual ritual called the Great Rite also known as the sacred marriage.
Examples of Beltane Riutuals
- Beltane Sabbat Ritual Guide For Covens - WiccanWay.com Online Store
Celebrate the Beltane (May Day) Sabbat with this Beltane Sabbat Ritual Guide For Coven, available for free from the WiccanWay.com Online Store
- Beltane Rituals - ADF Neopagan Druidism
Neopagan Druids - ADF is an international organization devoted to creating a public tradition of Neopagan Druidry.
The Thinning of the Veil
May Eve was known as one of the spirit nights in Wales along with Samhain. It is a time when the spirits of the otherworld such as the fairies were very active. Because of this, it was also a fearful time for some. That fear was quickly relieved on May Day when the summer was carried in with much revelry. The thinning of the veil between the material and spiritual worlds at this time made it an auspicious time for witchcraft and divination.
Raising the Maypole
May Flowers and Jumping the Fire
The hawthorn tree was held sacred especially at this time of year and is also known as the May flower tree. Blossoms from the tree can be used in your own celebration. Depending on where you live, it may be too early for may flowers. Of course, a green wreath with blossoms from your area will do just as well.
Dancing the maypole and jumping bonfires are still traditions celebrated today. Even stepping over a single candle can bring you closer to this tradition of calling in the summer. Just be careful what you wish for as you step over that flame. For it is said that jumping the Beltane fire will surely grant your desires.
Beltane Bread Recipe
Bannock bread has become popular for Beltane rituals. It's easy to prepare and so versatile that it has been a camper's favorite for generations. As a fire festival associated with fertility, Beltane is celebrated outdoors by Pagans of different paths. This makes bannock bread a perfect treat to make over the campfire with a group of friends and family.
The recipe for the bread is believed to have originated in Scotland and traveled to North America with fur traders and adapted by Native Americans for their famous fry bread. It contains no yeast, and eggs are optional. This is one reason it's so popular in wilderness cooking.
There are numerous variations to the recipe. It can be made plain or sweet, with herbs or fruit. Different flours and oats can be used. A basic recipe consists of the following.
Serves: Approximately 14 depending on size.
- 4 cups flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 to 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
- 4 tablespoons oil or butter
- 1 -1/2 to 2 cups water
May Day Celebrations
- Mix the dry ingredients. The sugar is optional and should be left out if you are serving this with a dinner meal like chili or stew. Add the oil, then the water until you have bread dough consistency.
- Roll the dough onto a floured surface and knead 10-20 times. In the meantime, start heating oil in a skillet on medium heat. Use enough oil to liberally cover the pan. Break the dough into tennis ball size pieces and flatten to between 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. You will need to experiment with this especially if you are cooking over a campfire. If the dough is too thin, it will burn. If it's too thick, it will be doughy inside.
- Place the dough pieces in the pan and fry on one side approximately 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Flip and do the same for the other side. These cook quickly, so watch carefully. Place on paper towel to drain excess oil, then serve hot.
- The picture above is from a halved batch of this recipe and made seven bannocks. I added honey instead of sugar and sprinkled cinnamon sugar on them for a breakfast treat. Some recipes call for keeping the dough in one piece and frying it in the pan that way. The beauty of this dish is that it isn't a science, and you can be creative.
- Bannock bread can be made into buns and quick pizza crusts. Milk can be used instead of water. You could add herbs like rosemary or basil with cheese and serve with Italian food. Add dried fruits like raisins and drizzle with maple syrup or honey for a sweet treat. This quick bread is an excellent way to celebrate the bounty of the earth at Beltane or any of the Sabbats.
More Beltane Recipes
- Recipe: May Wine with Sweet Woodruff
Celebrate the start to May with this old-fashioned recipe for May Wine, which features hints of the herb sweet woodruff and organic strawberries. This delicious drink has long been enjoyed on May Day and was one of many charming traditions
- Beltane Recipes| My Moonlit Path
Merry Meet!Â Hope that you are having a good week so far.Â We had big thunderstorms come thru here yesterday;Hail, thunder, lightning..very dark all day long.Â Today a glorious sunrise but cold out.Â Then it rained a bit again..and yes, … Continu
- Beltane Recipes
Recipes from Green Haven Tradition.
In this installment of Llewellyn's Pagan holiday series, Raven Grimassi gives the background and shares current traditions for this special time.
Beltane Coloring Pages and Other Activities
Alwynn and Brinley Rees. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. Thames and Hudson, 1961.
Janet and Stewart Farrar. A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook. Phoenix Publishing, Inc., 1981.
Munn, Richard. Bannock 101. 2006. April 2009.