For the purpose of your magical escapades, the theme is definitely blossoming and liveliness. Use as many flower parts as possible in spells and rituals, and go outside frequently to get closer to nature. Energies emphasized by this month include creativity, inventiveness, fertility, health, and metaphysically “spring cleaning” any area of your life or sacred space.
Bring me my drum and bring me my cymbal,
Bring forth the sustrum, bring forth the timbal.
Dance now for Hathor, celebrate beauty,
dance in Her honor, sing for our lady.
May gets its name from the Roman goddess Maia, who embodies the earth’s renewal during spring. Next to New Year’s Eve, May Day was among the most popular holidays in the old world, marking the time when the sun’s warmth and nature’s fertility began appearing in the land. Later, well over one hundred nations chose to celebrate Labor Day on May 1, giving everyone a much-needed rest from winter’s tasks.
The Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and said to be the mother of Hermes, gave the name to this month. Some form of this goddess’s name was known to people from Ireland to as far away as India. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer and honored her at the Ambarvalia, a family festival for purification and protection of farm land.
In the Celtic cultures, May was called Mai or Maj, a month of sexual freedom. Green was worn during this month to honor the Earth Mother. May 1 was the Celtic festival of Beltane, a festival celebrating fertility of all things. Cattle were drivien through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility. In Wales, Creiddylad was connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.
The Sheila Na Gig is still seen carved in the decorations of many Irish churches. This goddess figure is a grotesque, often emaciated, woman shown squatting and holding wide her private parts. Many Irish still know her as the protector of the poor and hang old clothes on hawthorn bushes on May 4th. This is believed to avert poverty. It is possible that the Australian term “Sheila,” used as a name for any woman, refers to this ancient deity and her carvings.
Bona Dea, the Roman Good Goddess, had her festival on the night between may 2nd and 3rd. No men were allowed to attend.
The Roman festival of Lemuria was to placate and remember the Lemures, or the wandering spirits of the dead. Each family performed its own private ceremonies, which ended with taking gifts to the graves. For those who had died and had no graves, the head of the household walked barefoot through the house, casting nine black beans behind him.
The Greeks had a special festival for the god Pan during May. Pan was a wild looking deity, half man, half goat. As a token of his frequent sexual adventures, he was shown with an erect penis. Pan invented the syrinx, or pan-pipes, made out of reeds. Originally, he was not an oppressor of women, but their loving companion.
May 19-28 was the solemn Greek festival called Kallyntaria and Plynteria. This was devoted to the cleaning and freshening of sacred statures and temples. The statues, small enough to be moved, were taken to a nearby river or lake and washed until clean. This was serious business with no singing or merry-making.
At the end of the month was a Roman celebration honoring the Underworld Queen Prosperina and her consort Pluto. Proserpina ruled over the resting place of the shades (souls), but her kingdom was connected with more than death. Pluto was also known as the deity of hidden wealth.
In Finland, May 1 was celebrated as Rowan Witch Day, a time of honoring the goddess Rauni, who was associated with the mountain ash or rowan. Twigs and branches of the rowan were, and still are, used as protection against evil in this part of the world. Some sources list Rauni as a god.
The Slavonic-Russian cultures had a similar, but longer, festival celebrating merriment, rivers, and well-being. This occured between May 25 and June 25. Originally it honored the goddess Lada, who later was changed to the god Lado.
Mugwort was a sacred herb in China and Europe. As part of the celebration on May 5, the Chinese made dolls out of the leaves. They hung these dolls above gates and doors to repel negative influences and entities.
In Tibet, an old Nature festival for the beginning of Summer and the rain deities became a celebration of Buddha’s death and his attainment of Buddha-hood. The attainment festival occurred on May 8, while celebration of Buddha’s death was on May 15. Deceased relatives were prayed for at this time.
The Incas held Aymoray Quilla or Hatun Cazqui, which was the Great Cultivation.
From: Moon Magick
In Germany, Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning witches´ night), the night from April 30 (May eve), is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg (the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany) hold revels with their Gods, and await the arrival of Spring.
In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane fires is still kept alive, to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived christianized custom around Easter called “Easter fires”.
In rural parts of southern Germany it is part of popular youth culture to go out on Walburgisnacht to play pranks on other people, like messing up someone’s garden, hiding stuff or spraying messages on other people’s property. Sometimes these pranks go too far and may result in serious willful damage to property or bodily injury.
Walpurgis (sw: Valborg) is one of the main holidays during the year in both Sweden and Finland, alongside Christmas and Midsummer. The forms of celebration in Sweden vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which began in Uppland during the 18th century. An older tradition from Southern Sweden was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight, which were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task is to be paid in eggs.
Today in Finland, Walpurgis Night (Vapunaatto) is, along with New Year’s Eve, the biggest carnival-style festivity that takes place in the streets of Finland’s towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. The student traditions are also one of the main characteristics of “Vappu“. From the end of the 19th century, “Fin de Siècle“, and onwards, this traditional upper class feast has been co-opted by students attending university, already having received their student cap. Many people who have graduated from lukio wear the cap.
One tradition is drinking sima, whose alcohol content varies. Fixtures include the capping of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biannually alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku. Both are sophomoric; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages such as sardine-cans and milk cartons. The festivities also include a picnic on May 1st, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner.
The Finnish tradition is also a shadowing of the Soviet Era May Day parade. Starting with the parties of the left, the whole of the Finnish political scene has nominated Vappu as the day to go out on stumps and agitate. This does not only include right-wing parties, but also others like the church have followed suit, marching and making speeches.
In Sweden it is only the labor and socialist parties which use May 1 for political activities, while others observe the traditional festivities. The laborers who were active in the 1970’s still party on the first of May. They arrange carnivals and the radio plays their old songs that workers liked to listen to. The labor spirit lies most in the capital of Finland, Helsinki.
The First of May is also a day for everything fun and crazy: children and families gather in market places to celebrate the first day of the spring and the coming summer. There are balloons and joy, people drink their first beers outside, there are clowns and masks and a lot of fun. The first of May includes colorful streamers, funny and silly things and sun. The first of May means the beginning of the spring for many people in Finland.
Traditionally May 1st is celebrated by a picnic in a park (Kaivopuisto in the case of Helsinki). For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with good food and sparkling wine. Some people, however, arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white table cloths, silver candelabras, classical music and lavish food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, and some hard-core party goers continue the celebrations of the previous evening without sleeping in between. Some Student organisations have traditional areas where they camp every year and they usually send someone to reserve the spot early on. As with other Vappu traditions, the picnic includes student caps, sima, streamers and balloons
The tradition which is most widespread throughout the country is probably singing songs of spring. Most of the songs are from the 19th century and were spread by students’ spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, like Uppsala and Lund where both current and graduated students gather at events that take up most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30, or “sista April” (“The last day of April”) as many people call it. There are also newer student traditions like the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers in Gothenburg. In Sweden, Valborg is especially notorious because of the excessive amounts of alcohol people consume on that day.
Found at: Nation Master
Here’s how they celebrate Beltane in Edinburgh!
First organized in the 1980’s, the Beltane Fire Festival has become a popular festival in Edinburgh. Here we have photos of the Beltane Fire Society celebrating Spring and the coming of summer. This lively procession celebrates the ending of winter and is a revival of the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane which is the Gaelic name for the month of May. More about Beltane can be found here: Beltane
Oats and oat cakes are still used today in Beltane celebrations, especially in Scotland where the tradition originated. Therefore, oats have been widely accepted as a very appropriate Beltane food, good for fertility and luck. This recipe for Farls, was popular in northern Ireland and Scotland, incorporating the ever-popular potatoes as well (with the oats!). Best of all, it’s gluten free!
- 3 cups real mashed potatoes
- 2 cups dry oats
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Pinch of pepper
- Pinch of rosemary (optional)
Soak the oats in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes. (Use the amount of water your oats package tells you to use as if for cooking.) Drain the oats if there is extra water at the end of their soaking, then mix the potatoes and other ingredients into the bowl. Knead it together until a dough forms. If it’s still too moist, add flour until it can be picked up and shaped. Form into round patties. Fry in hot vegetable oil until lightly browned and serve immediately.
They seem to cook best if you put them in the pan and don’t smush them down with the spatula on their first side. When you flip them over, that’s when you can smush them down a little, because they’ve got a cooked surface that won’t get stuck to your spatula.
Yield: 8 servings
The serpent or snake is a symbol of May because of its ancient association with fertility. This association dates back to the earliest Pagan religions, and though later religions cropped up casting the serpent in a deceitful role, the Earth religions still honor the snake as a blessed creature this time of year. Its way of slithering along the body of the Earth made it an obvious phallic symbol, and May Day is full of such symbols (the maypole being the most well-known one).
The holiday of Beltane comes on the first of May and encourages those who celebrate life to greet spring’s bounty with festivities, and that of course always involves food. This snake-shaped cake, incorporating appropriate seasonal ingredients, is a wonderful addition to a party table.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- The zest of one orange
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup butter
- 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons honey, boiling
- 1/2 cup strong espresso coffee
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup amaretto or rum
- /3 cup wild cherry or raspberry jam
- Garnish: 4 coffee beans and some candied orange peel, in slices
Preheat the oven to 400º F. Mix the sugar, spices, zest, soda, and salt into the flour in a bowl. Cut in the butter until little pebbles form. Pour in the honey, coffee, and liqueur, and mix in the egg. Mix the batter until everything is evenly distributed and you have a nice soft dough. Let it cool.
Turn it out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Roll one half into an 18-inch rope. Make a deep trough down the center and fill it with jam. Seal it by bringing the edges up over the jam and pressing the seam together. Then flip it seam-side-down onto a parchment-paper-covered baking sheet. Arrange the snake in a circle, but don’t press the ends together. Make one end tapered like the end of a snake’s tail, and make the other end triangular like a snake’s head.
Press in coffee beans for eyes and orange rind for scales if desired. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough and bake them for 30 minutes.
Yield: 2 snake cakes.
Source: Beltane, by Grimassi
This is a very crusty and somewhat dry bread that is incredibly delicious and almost pastry-like in its sweetness. It is ideal for May Day/Beltane celebrations.
- 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup real maple syrup
- ¼ cup warm water (105ºF-115ºF)
- 3 cups flour
- 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup shortening
Dissolve yeast in the water. Mix 1 ½ cups of the flour with the brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in shortening. Dissolve the syrup into the yeast mix too. Add yeast mix to the flour mix; stir. Add flour until dough is easy to handle. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 1 minute. Cover and let rise for 15 minutes. Form into round, place on cookie sheet. Let rise in a warm spot for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Slice pleasing image into bread top. Bake for 30 minutes. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped. Loaf can be brushed with syrup or butter during last 5 minutes of baking.
NOTE: Your bread will have trouble rising if the syrup is too cold! Warm up the syrup if it has been in the refrigerator, it should be room temperature or warmer.
Yield: 1 loaf
Source: A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook
Fritters are a nice variation on pancakes, and the bonus for this particular recipe is that they are sweet without any additions, requiring no syrup, sugar or jam. Many people have had fritters of various types, especially the popular apple variety. But . . . “elder flower” fritters? Yes, these actually contain elder flowers!
Flowers were a common ingredient in cooking during medieval times, which is where this recipe comes from (England, specifically). In this recipe’s case, the flowers mixed into the batter help add a kick and a minty taste.
Because of the elder flowers, these sweeties have been associated with faeries in folk myths. Because of that, they have been used at Pagan celebrations of Beltane, Litha, and Lughnasadh to help as a protection against the malevolent and mischievous fair folk, and sometimes these are even made at Samhain season as a symbol of keeping away bad spirits.
If you’ve never made a recipe incorporating flowers before, you might start with this one–you’ll be pleasantly surprised! (Read on after the directions for variations and notes.)
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons brandy
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups elder flowers, freshly picked and cleaned
Mix egg, rose water, honey, and brandy in a bowl, then stir in flour and cinnamon. Should be thick like pancake batter. (Add flour if it’s too thin, and add more brandy if it’s too thick.) Fold in the flowers. Fry like pancakes, OR drop by the teaspoonful into a deep-fat fryer until golden brown. Serve with orange water sprinkle and fresh lemon, or dip in sweet cream.
Yield: Fried like pancakes: About 10. Deep fat fryer: About 2 dozen.
Use for: Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, Samhain, The Floralia
Source: A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook
Note: In many areas it may be tough to find fresh elder flowers. If you order from somewhere or pick them yourself, make sure they are the Nigra variety because there is a kind you shouldn’t use due to high toxicity.
IF YOU CANNOT FIND ELDER FLOWERS or you are squeamish about eating flowers, there is a variation:
You can make this recipe by substituting very finely diced apples–about a cup’s worth–for the flowers, and adding a little fresh mint. If you do do this substitution I urge you to not neglect the mint, because with either elder flowers or with apple-and-mint, the minty taste is really what makes it so good.
- 1 cup sweet woodruff
- 2 bottles rose’ wine
- 4 dozen rose petal ice cubes
- 1 quart strawberries
- 1 quart chopped peaches
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup white rum
- 2 bottles champagne
- 1 bottle white wine
- 1 liter lemon-lime soda
Two weeks before serving: clean woodruff and pack into one bottle of wine. Cork and let sit.
The day before serving: make four dozen ice cubes by placing rose petals in the compartments before adding water. Freeze until solid.
Hull and wash the strawberries. Slice. Mix peaches and strawberries. Add sugar and rum. Marinate overnight.
An hour before serving: Strain woodruff out of wine and discard leaves. Mix champagne, all remaining wine, lemon-lime soda, and fruit in a large bowl. Stir.
Add ice cubes 15 minutes before serving. Serves 20.
Dancing with the Sun
by Jasmine Yalenorn