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Beltane is one of the eight Sabbats that we celebrate. This holiday has some of the tratitions from the Gaelic Bealtaine traditions with lighting bonfires. It also has a bit of resemblance to the German May Day celebrations for our May Pole traditions. On Beltane we celebrate the beginning of summer, fertility, passion, and ritual with bonfires and May Pole dancing. It's a day to honor life. The name Beltane translates to "bright fire", the "bale-fire". On the evening of Beltane the Celts would build a fire from nine sacred woods: birch, oak, rowan, willow, hawthorn, hazel, apple, grapevine and fir.
"Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them fast and burn them slow.
Birch wood in the fire goes to represent what the Lady knows.
Oak in the forest, towers with might in the fire it brings the God's insight.
Rowan is a tree of power causing life and magick to flower.
Willows at the waterside stand ready to help us to the Summerland.
Hawthorn is burned to purify and to draw faerie to your eye.
Hazel-the tree of wisdom and learning-adds its strength to the bright fire burning.
White are the flowers of Apple tree that brings us fruits of fertility.
Grapes grow upon the vine giving us both joy and wine.
Fir does mark the evergreen to represent immortality seen.
But - Elder is the Lady's tree burn it not or cursed you'll be."
- From the Wiccan Rede
This is a time where the veils between the worlds are thinnest. In ancient times, on the night before Beltane they would put Rowan Branches on the windows and doors for protection during this time from any unwanted spirits that may come through the veil.
It is said that it is the night that the fairies return to us. Legend has it that the Queen of the Fae rides back on the night before Beltane on her white horse and tries to attract people back to Faeryland with her. It is said that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane Eve, you may catch a glimpse of her or hear her bells.
On the night before Beltane the young people in the town would go out at midnight to gather flowers. They would come back from this all night event dressed in flowers, leaving flowers on doorsteps and blessing the crops in exchange for food. It's a bit similar to trick-or-treating on Samhain. Because of the passion associated on this night it was not uncommon for many a young maiden to come back pregnant after this evening.
Perhaps one of the most well known Beltane customs is that of the Maypole. The Maypole use to be made of the communal pine tree where all the branches were trimmed off. It then moved to a tree that was driven into the ground. The tree represents the world center and Tree of life. It also is a phallic symbol. Red and white ribbons were attached to the top of the pole. The White Ribbons represented the Goddess and the Red Ribbons represented the God. Traditionally there would be 8 dancers, one for each Sabbat, paired into couples. The men held the red ribbons and the women the white ribbons. They then would weave together a representation of the birth canal by moving in circles around the pole, weaving under each other's interlocked upheld arms in mock sexual union. Beltane circles were once constructed with the Maypole at the center and a balefire at a distance at one or all four cardinal points. Because of the sexual connotations, Parliament made Maypoles illegal in Europe in 1644 but they came back with the Restoration and a 134 foot maypole was erected in the Strand in London.
Love and Blessings,