The word "Beltane" means "bright" or "brilliant fire," and has been said to refer to the bonfire lit by a presiding Druid in honor of the proto-Celtic god variously known as Bel, Beli, Balar, Balor or Belenus. It has been suggested that Bel is the Brythonic Celt equivalent to the Goidelic Celt god Cernunnos.
The first of the two Celtic fire festivals, Beltane is a celebration of the return of life and fertility to the world and was celebrated on or around April 30, though in modern times it is celebrated on May 1, May Day.
Beltane sometimes is referred to as Cetsamhain which means "opposite Samhain." Beltane is the final of the spring fertility festivals and the second major Celtic festival. Beltane and its counterpart Samhain divide the year into its two primary seasons, Winter and Summer.
Here are some ways you can celebrate Beltane:
- Arise at dawn 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 with knots and nets.
- If you live near water, make a garland or posy of spring flowers and cast it into stream, lake or river to bless the water spirits.
- Prepare a May basket by filling it with flowers and goodwill, then give it to one in need of caring, such as a shut-in or elderly friend.
- Beltane is one of the three "spirit-nights" of the year when the faeries can be seen. At dusk, twist a rowan sprig into a ring and look through it, and you may see them.
- Make a wish as you jump a bonfire or candle flame for good luck—but make sure you tie up long skirts first!
- Make a May bowl —wine or punch in which the flowers of sweet woodruff or other fragrant blossoms are soaked—and drink with the one you love.
- Celebrants sometimes jump over broomsticks, especially at Handfastings which are very common during this season, or dance around May Poles, as both of these are symbols of fertility.
- Traditional activities include blowing horns, and gathering flowers. Solitary Practitioners might consider the weaving together of ribbons as an alternative to creating and dancing around the May Pole.
- Many like to celebrate Beltaine by decorating their homes and themselves with fresh flower garlands, or by stringing up greenery around their homes and places of work.
- Sending flowers to loved ones, planting new gardens, cleaning out the cupboards and general spring cleaning are all traditional Beltaine gestures.
- Plaiting and weaving straw, creating things with wicker, making baskets and fabrics are traditional arts for this turn in the Wheel of the Year.