In modern times, May 1st has been officially deemed to be the feast of Bealtaine. However, the precise date falls halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.
This year Bealtaine technically falls on May
5th (2023 update: May 6th), so you still have time to mark and celebrate this life-affirming turning point in our calendar.
The festival hails from the ancient Celtic traditions, where May marked the beginning of the light half of the year. Pronounced be-yowl-tan-eh, and anglicized as ‘Beltane,’ ‘Bealtaine’ is the Irish word for the month of May.
The festival marks a time of reawakening to celebrate growth and new life that is blossoming throughout nature.
Mark it with Fire
Bealtaine is one of the four fire festivals. In Ireland, a great fire was lit on the Hill of Uisneach (Ish-nuc), and upon seeing it in the distance, other fires were lit for miles around.
The word itself means blazing fire or mouth (béal, pronounced bale) of fire (tine, pronounced tin-eh), and the ancient celebrations centered around a large bonfire.
For many of us nowadays, lighting such a fire is not possible. If not, then in its place, you can light a candle to honor this particular event. As you gaze into the flame, set an intention around what you’d like to release (burn away) and what you’d like to welcome in its place. The energy of the fire can help to illuminate that intention.
A fading tradition that I’ve only come to know and practice over the last decade is the gifting of flowers to the fairy folk on the eve of Bealtaine. The evening before Bealtaine, flowers are left on doorsteps or window-sills in the hope that the fae will be kind to the home’s inhabitants for the rest of the year.
It is no longer widely practiced throughout the country. That is possibly due to the festival being absorbed into Catholic church practices that made the new religion more palatable to our ancestors.
May 1st became known as the feast day of Our Lady, and instead of offering flowers to the fairies, they were instead offered to the Virgin Mary. This was a familiar practice to me as a child, as we placed flowers upon altars to Our Lady.
And while the tradition of placing flowers on doorsteps and window sills continued in some parts of the country, it was now done as a gift to Mary rather than to the fairies.
Create a Spring Altar
Speaking of flowers and candles, you could create a spring altar to mark and celebrate the month ahead. You don’t need to place any religious deities on this unless they are meaningful to you.
Instead, place a candle and light it daily to energize the altar. Place a few fresh flowers – there’s no need for extravagant bunches. Keep it simple, regularly picking a small handful of wildflowers if possible, to maintain freshness on your altar. But be mindful of the bees too, and only take a few with each cutting.
Also, place symbols of nature that are meaningful to you, possibly an oracle card drawn to give you guidance for the coming day, week, or month. And write out your intention for the month, or the remainder of the year, and place it on your altar too.
Engaging with the altar daily through lighting your candle and reaffirming your intentions will help to keep you in a mindful space about what you intend to create in your life over the coming months.
Another of the ancient traditions was to wash your face in the morning dew at dawn on the morning of Bealtaine. Benefitting from the vitality of the spring droplets, the practice was said to bring health and beauty for the rest of the year.
Again, this is not always possible for everyone nowadays. But if you are blessed with a garden where the morning dew collects, rising a little earlier on May 5th to perform this small ritual would be a wonderful way to start this special day.
And if not, the other rituals mentioned above are all doable in some form.
Wishing you all a blessed Bealtaine.