Beltane is the festival of the Sacred Marriage, and is the time of the year when sexuality and fertility are recognised and most revered.
This is the festival of the Great Rite – of sexual union between Goddess and God. Beltane is the most popular time for Witches to be handfasted. Sacred to Beltane is the Apple tree, and in Australia the jarrah replaces the oak as the sacred tree of this time.
At Beltane, the Maypole is a common fixture. Ribbons of yellow, red, blue and green representing the four elements are woven around a solid central staff or pole. The key to a successful maypole is to have an even number of participants, or the weave will not work. Every alternate weaver should hold the end of a ribbon (the other end of which is attached to the top of the central staff), and move deosil and widdershins respectively, moving first outside and then inside as they pass one another. The pattern will build as the pole is woven. In Australia, a fun alternative to a traditional Maypole is to use the ubiquituous Hills Hoist! A traditional hoist works perfectly well as a staff for the maypole, and lends an element of fun to the proceedings!
The Maypole is, of course, a phallic symbol (representative of the male sexual organ). The ribbons attached to the Maypole were traditionally red and white, representing blood and semen, in times past. Nowadays, many modern Witches use a variety of colored ribbons – most often the four colours representing the four elements – Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
At Beltane, Beltane fires, or bonfires, are lit, and it is traditional to leap the fire for luck, especially for young couples and newlyweds. In Australia, the Beltane fire is often held in a cauldron, to prevent the fire getting out of hand.
When building a Beltane Fire, it is sensible to check for overhanging branches, and keep a fire extinguisher or blanket / bucket of water close to hand. Beltane is a time of excess, and even the flames seem to be aware of this!
Other festivities at Beltane (apart from the traditional nighttime fun of lovers!) include bobbing for apples, and sharing in seasonal fruit. As the season of fertility, symbols of fertility are good to place on your altar, and candles in the fresh, pastel colours of spring.
Beltane is a great time for new beginnings, and an excellent time to start a coven, or initiate new members. Consider this time for naming ceremonies and handfastings, as well as new beginnings generally.
Beltane is celebrated on the 31st of October in the Southern hemisphere, and on 30 May in the North. It is also known as Mayday (English), Bealtinne (Scottish), the Festival of Tana (Italy/Latin), and Walburga (Teutonic).