The first of May is Beltane or May Day, a time to celebrate the leaping fires of passion. Traditionally celebrated on April 30, (May eve), it marks the height of spring and the flowering of all life. Beltane is a festival of sensuality, sexuality, flowers and delight. It is a traditional time to make love, preferably outdoors.
Beltane is the time when fairies return from their winter rest, carefree and full of mischief and delight. On the night before Beltane, in times past, folks would place rowan branches at their windows and doors for protection. If you do not wish the fairies to visit, do the same! This is also a perfect time for night or predawn rituals to draw down power to promote fertility in body and mind.
At Beltane, the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon. The Pleiades is known as the seven sisters, and resembles a tiny dipper-shaped pattern of six moderately bright stars in the constellation of Taurus, near the shoulder. Watch for it low in the east-northeast sky, just a few minutes before sunrise.
There are many lovely old customs associated with this time. Here are some simple ideas for celebrating this wild red time of year:
- Make a garland or wreath of freshly picked flowers and wear it in your hair.
- Dress in bright colors, especially hot pink or crimson, the traditional colors of Beltane, or wear green all day (and nothing all night!)
- Hang fruits and baked goodies from trees and bushes for later feasting.
- Build a Beltane fire: leap over it to cleanse yourself, or state your desires and let the fire carry them upward.
- Leap over your garden rows (or house plants), sharing joyous energy.
- Make a ‘May gad’: peel a willow-wand and twine cowslips or other flowers around it.
- Throw a May Day party and feast on May wine and food till the dawn. Turn a broomstick into a maypole and see how many people you can get to dance round it.
- Make love in the woods, in your garden, outside – at night.
- Watch the sunrise. Pack a picnic breakfast, a blanket, and some sweaters; and head out before dawn. Unpack your picnic on a hill with an unobstructed view and enjoy the early morning rays as the sun peaks over the horizon.
- Make a flower feast! Freeze edible flowers in your ice cubes. Add edible flowers to your salad. Candy flowers to decorate your dessert.
- Make a May basket. Fill it with flowers, food, ribbons, and fun. Leave it on a doorstep of a lover or friend, or someone who cannot get outside, such as an invalid or elderly person.
- Make a daisy chain and cast it into one of the lakes to please the water spirits.
- Rise at dawn on May Day and wash in the morning dew: The woman who washes her face in it will be beautiful, the man who washes his hands will be skilled at knots and nets (always a useful skill for students).
- Twist a Rowan sprig into a ring and look through it- tonight is one of the three in the year when the uninitiated can see the faeries.
- Create a May Day altar with a mirror, a small maypole, a phallic shaped candle, a daisy chain and springtime flowers.
- Light a fire or candle on the top of a hill and make a wish as you jump over it (for authenticity, you can try this sky clad, it would also be amusing for any passing late-night dog walkers!)
- Perfume your house with delicate scent of woodruff, a tiny, star-like flower that blooms around this time in the Northern Hemisphere.
- Embrace the ones you love. Hugs and kisses all around.
Holidays are days made holy by the attention we pay them. Simple practices such as the ones listed above remind us that we too dance to the natural rhythms of the earth.