A celebration of spring, the third and culminating fertility festival, and one of the eight major festivals in the Wheel of the Year.
The third fertility festival, after Imbolg and Ostara, Beltane is one of the four Greater Sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It’s opposite on the Wheel is Samhain, the third harvest. In the northern hemisphere we observe this day on April 30th through May 1st, and in the southern hemisphere, on October 31st through November 1st. As at Samhain, at Beltane the veils between the worlds are said to be thin. Though where Samhain is a celebration of Death, at Beltane we celebrate Life renewed.
There are a variety of spellings for this holiday, depending on which regional variation of Galic is used. It is also known as Beltain, Bealtaine, Bealtainn, among others. Beltane roughly translates to ‘bright fire’, ‘shining fire’, or ‘Bel’s fire’.
Fire plays an important part in Beltane celebrations as it is symbolic of the Sun God’s growing strength and warmth of the season. Fire is a sacred representation of purity and healing, and Wiccans traditionally jump through the fire, or dance around it.
Beltane marks the true end of winter: summer has now begun in earnest. Trees and bushes sprout new leaves, flowers and fruit blossoms bloom, crops are new and the pleasures of the Earth seem bountiful again. Life has again returned to the Earth.
The Young God has grown into manhood, and the Goddess is fertile, to be ripe with his fruit. Handfastings are popular at Beltane, in sympathy of the union of the Goddess and God as queen and consort.
Of course, one of the more well known traditions is the Maypole dance. The Maypole is representative of the phallus and the sacred union between Earth and Sky, the pole standing between the worlds. As the sexual union of the Goddess and God are played out at this time, so do couples fertilize the fields with their sacred unions at this time, ensuring the fecundity of the Earth, and bountiful harvests to come.
The altar is often decorated with local blossoms and flowers from asked plants.
It is a time to celebrate the fruitfulness of the Earth, and productivity in your life.
First published on Suite101.com on 1 May 2006. (Unfortunately.)
2 February NH
31 July SH
First Full Moon in Aquarius
Some etymologists believe the word ‘Imbolc’ comes from the Gaelic Oi-melc, ewe’s milk. A variation of the spelling, ‘Imbolg’ is also common. This festival is especially sacred to Brigid, which is why it is also called ‘Brigantia’. Among Christians, it is known as ‘Candlemas’, a festival of candles.
This festival is dedicated both to the Goddess and the God, celebrating the light returning once again to the land.
The Goddess is seen as being Mother, as she has recently given birth to the Sun God, and is nurturing Her young Son. In some traditions the Goddess is seen as dwelling in the Underworld during the cold, harsh winter times as the Earth is barren. Near Imbolc, however, the Earth is beginning to show signs that the winter is receeding. Therefore the Goddess is also seen as Maiden, young as the growing year.
In many traditions, Yule is the time when the God is reborn anew, the day of the longest night of the year. After this, the daylight hours start getting longer, until the peak at Litha. Around Imbolc it becomes more noticible that the days are indeed lengthening and the Sun rises earlier.
Neo-pagans today celebrate Imbolc in various ways. In some traditions the Goddess is invited to leave the Underworld and live again in the Middle World, or Nature is called back. Sometimes invited by invocation, by one person or many in a coven ceremony, sometimes by lighting candles, or bonfires, or chanting, dancing, leaving offerings, lighting candles, etc.
The Celtic Goddess Brigid (Bride) is often invoked at Imbolc. She is seen as being a ‘Fire Goddess’ and is therefore very appropriate when considering that this is a festival to celebrate the return of the Sun. For those who favour a Roman pantheon Vesta is also suitable.
Popular themes for this time of year include ‘Reawakening’, ‘Purification’ and ‘Initation’. Imbolc is a favourite time for initation among many covens, or if already initiated, Reaffirmations to the Goddess and the God.
31 October NH
30 April SH
First Full Moon in Scorpio
Most people are more familiar with Samhain than some of the other Wiccan and neo-pagan festivals because of customs associated with Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night in England.
Samhain is often seen as the old Celtic New Year, though it is not certain that this was the start of the New Year in all Celtic areas. It may seem strange that this season of death be considered the new year, for this is the time when the harvest is over, this is the season of rusty leaves, grey mists and an ever-increasing bite in the air is present. Life is fading, sleeping or dying. However, in ending cycles one can create new ones. In this time of death one becomes aware that new life will come, from under this frost bitten land. When outer life decays it is the inner strength that must become stronger to persevere.
The God is true Lord of the Underworld at this time, and the Goddess is the Wise Crone. They are both old and clothed in Mystery. This is a time of death, leading then to rebirth once more at Yule.
The Goddess is present as Crone and Wisewoman. Her time of fruits and harvest is complete. Now She offers secrets of the inner realm, of wisdom and magickal power. Within Her glimmers the light of the Maiden, for She is also seen as Lady of Life-in-Death, as Mother too, for she carries the Sun God in the secrecy of Her womb.
The God, having been cut down with the corn of Lammas and Mabon, is making the final journey into darkness and is with present as Lord of the Underworld.
The veil between this world and the spirit world is thin at this time, and it is traditional to ask the beloved dead to be with us – but they are asked, never commanded or summoned.
The God’s descent is honoured by identifying with the way life is retreating, and by allowing what must die in our lives to do so. The Crone is honoured by seeking Her wisdom.
It is a time of coming to terms with death, not only the death of the body, but the death of other things that have ceased over the year, such as relationships, jobs, hobbies, material wealth.
Samhain takes place during Scorpio, which is ruled by the element water. Water transforms and changes, and during Samhain it is a good time to meditate and wash away the pains and sorrows that have taken place during the course of the year.
The theme of this festival is ‘descent’ – descent into our own Underworld, our inner minds – facing our fears, discovering latent talents.