As we get closer to the first of May, every part of me detects a shift in energy. This pivotal time of year goes by many different names, and call it whatever you like, but things are changing.
Themes of this season are the sun and fire, flowers and blossoming, and awakening. Everything in nature is bursting into life (especially pollen, amirite?) and the days are becoming longer and brighter.
Beltane is a time to show gratitude to the Universe (and god(s)/goddess(es) if you prefer) for bringing us out of the dark cold season into a new one full of light. This is the half-way point between one Samhain to the next. Because of this, some of us also call it Hexennacht, a time for waking the witch.
So of course my song for this entry is Kate Bush “Waking the Witch.”
Beltane is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals- along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh- and is held on 1 May. This first day of summer is known as Lá Bealtaine inIrish, Là Bealltainn in Scottish, and Laa Boaltinn in Manx.
Since pre-Christian times Beltane has been celebrated alongside the Floralia and Walpurgisnacht festivals with a focus on fire rituals.
Jumping and dancing over fire or passing between two flames was practiced in part to purify a person and their animals of bad energy and illness.
People also offered pieces of bannock cakes or caudles to the gods and goddesses to earn blessings, health, and happiness in the coming season.
As time passed, Beltane became secularized and is widely celebrated around the world by those with Gaelic ancestry or who participate in Pagan, Wiccan, and other spiritual traditions. Each festival showcases wild costumes, Gaelic/Celtic music, food, and plenty of traditional fire dances.
On the 28th of April, the Floralia festival begins and is dedicated to Roman goddess Flora, who is known to protect flowers and blossoms.
The First of May is also called May Day and is celebrated with the wildly popular maypole dances and Queen of May crowning ceremony in conjunction with Floralia.
Walpurgisnacht is a centuries-old tradition, observed from 30 April until 1 May or longer. Massive feasts and bonfires were held in Germania each year to honour Saint Walpurgia as she defended the Christians from illnesses, parasites, pests, and… witches.
Ancient Germanic people held prayer-athons because they believed a coven of powerful witches met up each year in the nearby Harz Mountains for Hexennacht at the exact same time as Walpurgisnacht in order to plot black magic against them.
Those witches who allegedly met up in the mountains were probably just doing the same things as the paranoid Christians of Walpurgisnacht, and what most modern witches enjoy doing today- stuffing their faces, socializing, spending time in ritual/prayer, seeking growth and spiritual lessons, and asking the Universe for what they need.
But indulge me for a moment in some witchlore.
One of my favourite examples of imagery for Walpurgisnacht/Hexennacht comes from the Russian tv serial adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita. Voland (the Devil) charms Margarita (a new witch) into his hypnotic underworld. He awakens her to magick, earthly delights, and self-possesion.
The NSFW video below shows Margarita after she discovers Voland’s magical potion and gains the power to fly, landing in an ethereal ritual where she is greeted by faeries, witches, and a Pan-like creature.
In this subsequent NSFW scene, Margarita has been crowned Queen of the Walpurgisnacht Ball but is feeling anxious about what will happen while guests dance in the fire:
If you’re interested in more of Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita, check out my blog Cowardice is the Most Terrible of Vices: Bulgakov’s Moscow.
Feeling festive and want to know how to celebrate?
1. Bake some bannock, oatmeal cookies, or oatmeal-crumble desserts with fresh fruit
2. Get really creative with a Beltane caudle. Think of it as egg-nog’s (literally hot) cousin, as this caudle recipe suggests.
3. Host a bonfire/cookout or join someone else’s
4. Wear bright, colourful clothing with floral designs and accessories
5. Search for local Irish/Gaelic schools, Pagan Meet-ups, Poi spinning troupes, or other organisations that match your interests and can help you learn/grow/blossom.
6. Plant bulbs, herbs, or other appropriate seasonal flowers and commit to nurturing them, especially as they establish roots
7. Spend the night in ritual or prayer. Ask for help forming new healthy habits and for help with blossoming as a person.
8. Create a mediation altar to keep this imagery fresh in your mind for a while, or until the next Sabbat, Lughnasadh.
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