Beltaine, the Celtic Fire Festival

Beltaine, the Celtic Fire Festival, is part of an Introductory Course in Wicca for incarcerated Wiccans, their families and friends, and prison Chaplains. It has been written to provide a greater understanding of Wicca as a spiritual practice and religion for those who seek to understand it, either as an incarcerated Wiccan or as someone who cares about incarcerated Wiccans.

Beltaine, or May Eve as it’s also known, is the Celtic fire festival that is most often associated with fertility. It’s the time when the young God mates with the Goddess of the land in a sacred union that begets the fruits of the Earth. It is typically celebrated on May 1st, the Cross Quarter day that rests between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.

The feast of Beltaine celebrates the coming of Summer, and is the time when we honor the Green Man, consort of the Goddess, and ancient spirit of the Greenwood. Known as “Jack-in-the-Green” or “Robin,” he joins with Marian, his May Queen. On Beltaine-eve, some Wiccans take to the woods, to “bring in” the May-blossom at dawn. For our Celtic ancestors, this was a time of sexual license, so possible “bringing in the May'” was a euphemism for a more traditional activity of Beltaine. Traditionally, this was a time of many pagan handfastings.

Our Celtic ancestors drove cattle between two sacred fires on May 1st to protect them before sending them out to pasture. This was the “bel-tine,” the bright” fire, indicating that the god or goddess for which this celebration was named (Bel, Belenos, Beissama) had solar connections.

The sacred fire is still important to Wiccan Beltaine celebrations. lf outdoors, we light a small bonfire which the sprightly can leap to obtain a Beltaine blessing. Sometimes a broomstick is used instead, symbolizing the sacred conjunction of male (handle) and female (brush) and marking the threshold between Spring and Summer. As we cross it, we make promises to keep in the coming year.

Next: Litha, the Summer Solstice