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Pagan Holidays - Beltane, May Day, May 1

Updated on August 24, 2016
PatriciaJoy profile image

Previous Pagan editor at BellaOnline, massage therapist and Usui Reiki Level III practitioner. I love sharing articles on spiritual topics.

May Day Fire, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOhen.jpg
May Day Fire, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOhen.jpg | Source

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

Maypole Rites

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.

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

Raising the Maypole
Raising the Maypole | Source

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.

Bannock bread rounds
Bannock bread rounds | Source

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.

Serving Size

Serves: Approximately 14 depending on size.

Ingredients

  • 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
Cast your vote for Bannock Bread

May Day Celebrations

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Beltane: Springtime Rituals, Lore, & Celebration
Beltane: Springtime Rituals, Lore, & Celebration

In this installment of Llewellyn's Pagan holiday series, Raven Grimassi gives the background and shares current traditions for this special time.

 

Sources Consulted

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.

Happy Beltane! Comments welcome.

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