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.)
Ostara is one of the eight major sabbats or holy days of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year or calendar and is one of the four Lesser Feasts. It is celebrated on the vernal equinox, which is around March 20-21st in the northern hemisphere, and around September 21-22 in the southern hemisphere. This year it falls on the 20th where I live in the northern hemisphere.
The word for this festival come from the name of the Teutonic goddess of spring and the dawn. It is more traditionally spelled ‘Oestre’, or ‘Oestare’, though neo-pagans today usually use the ‘Ostara’ spelling found here. It is from this root that Christianity later derived its word for ‘Easter’, and many of the customs we associate with that holiday today.
As there are three harvests, the first beginning at Lughnassadh after Midsummer, continuing through Mabon and culminating at Samhain, there are also three fertility festivals on the Wheel. Ostara is the second, with Imbolg being the first, and Beltane being the grande finale of the saga.
The vernal equinox physically demonstrates a balance of light and dark in the day, and this theme of balance returning is evident in our celebration, along with the knowledge that the pendulum is about to swing in the other direction, bringing more light and growth in the months to come.
The young God, who was reborn at Yule and grew to a budding youth at Imbolg, is now a young man. The Goddess and God are both youthful and vibrant with Their potential, and budding fertility.
Symbols of fertility abound on this day, eggs being one of the most potent symbols. Eggs are painted in vibrant colours, or inscribed with messages to manifest in the coming months. The hare or rabbit are other obvious symbols of fertility, representing Oestare’s more well-known familiars.
The altar is often decorated with budding flowers, eggs, seasonal fruits and other symbols of renewal. Seeds for planting may be blessed on this day and formal Ostara rituals and pageantry are practised by many covens and solitaries.
It is a time of growth and expectation.
First published on Suite101.com on 20 March 2006. (Unfortunately.)
Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of the First Harvest, by Anna Franklin
Llewellyn Publications, 0738700940, 216 pp. (+ appendices, glossary, bibliography and index), 2003
In a pleasant change from the average Pagan book, the authors of this work admit that there is very little documentation, folklore, or anything known for sure about this festival, or even when it was held. It was, apparently, a fairly regional celebration (Britain, Ireland, Gaul and possibly northern Spain).
A number of associated festivals and observances are explored, as well as traditions (both Pagan and Christian) which grew up around this time of year. There is no attempt made to assert primacy for any of these. They are simply presented to the reader as information to be enjoyed.
During discussions of the representation of the vegetation gods, there are constant references to the use of corn as a symbol, without making any mention of the fact that, in much of the ancient world, corn was synonymous with grain in general, and did not necessarily refer to corn as it is commonly seen today. Thus, when “an ear of corn” is referred to, it may be more accurate to think of a “head of wheat.”
This book is moderately “padded” by the restatement of the same information several times in various places; but, as many people tend to “browse” through books of this type, this “padding” serves the useful purpose of increasing the likelihood of that information sticking in the reader’s mind.
Several short lists of deities appropriate to various celebrations occurring at this time of year appear in Chapter Four. While these lists are quite limited, they do serve as a starting point for ongoing investigations. Suggestions for food and games appear in later chapters.
Chapter Five is dedicated to basic magics associated with this festival. Instructions are included for the construction of several different forms of corn dollies. The examples they offer use “corn” in its generic sense, since wheat stalks are the basis of these dollies.
There are sample spells for friendship and love, as well as practical advice on making a staff. There is a recipe for Vervain Lustral Water on page 97 about which I have some reservations. My uncertainty is about the amount of vervain – the conversion from U.S. to Imperial measurement just doesn’t seem right to me. Interpretations of some omens are included as well as suggestions of stones to be used in household protection.
There are nine pages of incense recipes for a variety of deities from a number of cultures. If you can’t find one you like out of this bunch, you’re not trying. I would recommend making a small bit of each of them (and burning them), so that you can see which works best for you. Don’t be afraid to tinker with the proportions, if you are so inspired.
Paul provides insights into the dyeing of fabrics, including some plants as source material and instructions in basic dyeing techniques.
Chapter Six consists of games and competitions to liven up your Lammas gathering. With a couple of exceptions all of them are quite enjoyable ways to divert yourself and your guests.
Chapter Seven includes recipes for body paints, and making stencils; as well as mask and shield making; and suggests ways to find your totem and power animals. The relaxation techniques and visualizations are pretty standard. There is a healthy amount of information given about a reasonably large group of animals. This part of the chapter is a valuable resource and should not be overlooked.
Chapter Eight consists of recipes for the Lammas/Lughnasa feast. All measurements are provided in American, Imperial, and metric quantities so, no matter what system you are used to using, you don’t need to make conversions.
Naturally, being a harvest feast, there are plenty of bread recipes, but no aspect of the feast – from the salad course to the dessert – is neglected. This chapter will enable you to plan a real harvest feast.
As in Midsummer, which I have previously reviewed, the final chapter is dedicated to ritual ideas from a variety of sources. The instructions for ritual preparations are fairly simple and standardized.
The “Lughnasa Calendar” in Appendix One runs from July 15th through August 25th, and includes many festivals [Greek, Chinese, Roman, Christian, and Nordic (among others)].
Appendix Two is simply a listing of alternate names for this festival.
Appendix Three provides a short list of symbols associated with, and appropriate for, Lammas; while Appendix Four gives some of the associated deities. The seventeen pages which make up Appendix Four should serve as a starting point for your own explorations.
Appendix Five gives the words (but not the music) for a few songs and chants relevant to Lammas, as well as a bit of their background.
The two page Glossary was hardly needed. It is too short to be of much help, and the terms have already been dealt with adequately in the text.
As with the other books in this series which I have read, it is a good source for general background on the holiday. It is NOT what I would consider a “must have” book, but it is well worth adding to the Coven library for basic information.
Midsummer: Magical Celebrations of the Summer Solstice, by Anna Franklin
Llewellyn Publications, 0738700525, 173 pp (+ appendices, glossary, bibliography and index), 2003
One of the books dealing with the Sabbat cycle, this book shares all the basics of that series.
First there is the mythic and historic background of the festival, drawn from a number of cultures and historical periods. We also get some basic divination forms which are traditionally used on this date. Ms. Franklin also includes instructions for making a set of runes and for interpreting Tarot and the runes as well as the use of playing cards and oghams.
She includes some basic lore on fairies, as well as gemstones, wand making and herbalism.
Spells are given, and their folklore and background explained. The roots of the folk magic which underlie many of our customs are explored and explained.
Chapter Five deals with traditional herbcraft and production of gargles, oils and teas. While by no means extensive, there is a good sampling of herbs and their uses. There is also a fairly extensive listing of incenses for various deities, Sabbats, etc., and a short list of oils. While not as thorough as Cunningham’s works, it is a good basic section which will give you a working foundation on which to build.
Chapter Six is devoted to recipes. The information given is fine, but there are some minor glitches. On page 136 Ms. Franklin says “Christians believe that the bread and wine is the transubstantiated flesh and blood of God.” While that is true of Catholics, it is not necessarily true for all branches of Christianity. It is, as such, an overly broad statement.
Chapter Seven is about rituals, both indoor and outdoor. The rituals are drawn from a variety of traditions, and the reader is sure to find inspiration in them. It also includes a suggested hand-fasting ritual. My only quibble with the basic instructions for setting up an altar is the same one I have with the majority of books which include such instructions: On page 144 she says “The Goddess image is placed on the left, and the God image on the right.” Is that as the officiator faces the altar or as the altar faces the circle (since the altar is placed in the north in this situation)?
All of the rituals included are designed for group involvement, but could be easily adapted for solitary use.
The appendices include animal totems appropriate for this time of year, ranging from bees to snakes to reindeer; a midsummer calendar; correspondences; deities of midsummer; and symbols of the sun.
The glossary is a bit thin (actually it is VERY thin), but the index and bibliography help to make up for this shortcoming.
This books gives a lot of good, basic information. If you have never done a Midsummer ritual, you will find inspiration here. If you have even wondered about some of the traditions associated with this time of the year, this book is an excellent starting point. It is easy to read and quite enjoyable. While it will not my “Required Reading” list for students, it would certainly be a nice addition to a coven library.