Holidays and holy days are better with friends and family. But many Pagans maintain solitary practices. Even if you work with a group, sometimes you can’t be with them for one reason or another. And sometimes your group meets on a convenient day but you feel the need to celebrate on the exact day. Whatever the reason, many Pagans will be celebrating Beltane by themselves.
Beltane is without question the most difficult high day for a solitary celebration. Many of the traditional activities (such as the Maypole Dance) are focused around community, while the themes of fertility and sexuality suggest a partner. Still, Beltane need not become the Pagan equivalent of Valentine’s Day for single people – there are things that can be done and done well as a solitary.
This ritual maintains the same basic liturgical structure as previous solitary rituals, but it makes some changes. Most notably it does not cast a circle – this ritual works best if the area around the altar is not separated from the processional route. If you feel you must cast a circle you can do so after the procession, but it’s not necessary for this ritual.
This ritual invites and honors Cernunnos, Lord of the Animals and Lord of the Hunt. You are, of course, free to invite another deity instead, but if you do, please give careful thought to Who and why.
Beltane is one of the four Fire Festivals – the main working is passing between two fires for purification and protection. This is a tradition from the days when herds and flocks would be driven from Winter pens to Summer pastures.
This ritual should be done at night. The Ideally it will be done outdoors, using two fire pits. I don’t have one fire pit, much less two, so I used tiki torches. If you don’t have torches, or if you have to do this ritual indoors, use the largest candles you can get.
Set the two fires at the edge of your main ritual area. Then set candles on either side of the processional route. Make the approach as long as you can, even if you don’t have enough candles to light the entire path.
Follow basic fire safety rules, something we candle, torch, and cauldron loving Pagans should know by heart. If you look closely, you’ll see the candles on the ground are in glass jars. Don’t put tea candles on carpet or grass – use electric candles if necessary. The last thing you want is to have to tell the fire department “well, I was doing this ritual for protection, and I caught the curtains on fire…”
Set a main altar with a candle (preferably green) for Cernunnos and other candles for lighting, as needed. If you have a statue or other physical representation of Cernunnos then use it – if you don’t, the candle will work just fine. You’ll need food and drink for offerings and sharing – I used wine, but mead would be ideal, and beer, juice, or even water are perfectly acceptable.
Set elemental representations (incense, red candle, water, and salt) on the altar and candles in the quarters. If you have a living plant available, it makes a nice addition. You may remember this pot from the Ostara ritual – the moonflowers have sprouted and are growing nicely.
If you look at the altar picture you’ll see that none of the candles are new. If a special working calls for new candles then use them, otherwise use what you’ve got.
Put a bell at the beginning of your processional route, not on the altar.
Do whatever gets you in a ritual frame of mind. Take a bath, listen to music, wash your hands, change your clothes. I rarely “robe up” for solitary ritual, but I do like to wear some of my Pagan jewelry. Given the purification and protection nature of this ritual, some form of ritual cleansing is advised.
Light the Fire candle on the altar, the reading candles, and the incense. Light the two fires and the approach candles. Do a final check to make sure everything is in place.
Approach the beginning of your processional route and pause for a moment of silent meditation. Ground and center using whatever method you find most effective. Then ring the bell three times.
Say “I come to this place and this time to celebrate the holy day of Beltane.”
Set the bell down and begin to walk slowly toward the main altar and the two fires. As you walk, listen for the voice of Nature, of the Gods, or of your inner self.
Passing Between the Fires
When you reach the two fires, stop and stand between them. See their light, feel their heat, smell their smoke. If you’re using small flames or no flames, visualize two large bonfires on either side.
Feel the cold of Winter giving way to the warmth of Summer. Feel the stale air freshened by the winds of Spring.
What else has stayed in your life past its season? See and feel it loosened by the holy flames and carried away by the sacred smoke.
When the time is right, look ahead to the altar. See the candles burning, the plant growing, the feast prepared. Move past the fires and stand in front of the altar. Pause for a moment – know that you have left things behind, but do not contemplate them just yet.Now move to the East and light the quarter candle. Say “Spirits of the East, Spirits of Air, I call to you. Come into this circle, I ask, and share your wisdom. On this sacred night of Beltane, welcome Air!”
Move clockwise to the South. Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the South, Spirits of Fire, I call to you. Come into this circle, I ask, and share your inspiration. On this sacred night of Beltane, welcome Fire!”
Move clockwise to the West. Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the West, Spirits of Water, I call to you. Come into this circle, I ask, and share your love. On this sacred night of Beltane, welcome Water!”
Move clockwise to the North. Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the North, Spirits of Earth, I call to you. Come into this circle, I ask, and share your stability. On this sacred night of Beltane, welcome Earth!”
Move clockwise back to the East, then return to the main altar.
Say “Spirits of the land, spirits of this place, you who were here long before me, I invite you into this circle. Join this celebration of Beltane, I ask, and accept this offering of food and drink, given in hospitality and in love.”
Raise the bread and wine in offering, then crumble the bread and pour the wine onto the ground. If you’re working indoors, use an offering bowl.
“Land spirits – hail and welcome!”
Say “Ancestors of blood and ancestors of spirit, you whose child I am and on whose foundations I build, because of you I have life. Join this circle, I ask, and add your blessings to this rite. Accept this offering of food and drink, given in hospitality and in love.”
Raise the bread and wine in offering, then crumble the bread and pour the wine onto the ground.
“Blessed ancestors – hail and welcome!”
Light the green candle on the altar and say “Cernunnos, Lord of the Animals and Lord of the Hunt, I ask You to join this circle and bless me with Your presence. Great Hunter and Hunted, be welcome here. Teach me what I must learn, so I can join You in the Great Work of this time and place.
Cernunnos, Horned God, hear me as I call to You. I thank You for the animals: those that bring signs and omens, those that inspire us with their beauty and power, and those that accompany us through life. Hunter and Hunted, let me run with You through the forest, wild and free.
Please accept this offering of food and drink, given in hospitality and in love.”
Raise the bread and wine in offering, then crumble the bread and pour the wine onto the ground.
“Cernunnos – hail and welcome!”
Looking Back on Winter
Move clockwise around the altar to stand in front of the two fires, but do not retrace your steps and do not stand between the fires again. Instead, simply look back along the processional route, and beyond. Let your focus fade into the night.
See the season you have left behind: the cold, the snow, the dreary days spent indoors because getting out was too dangerous. That is past and Beltane is here, bringing with it the warmth of Summer.
What else have you left behind? Illnesses? Difficult or even abusive situations? Confusion over direction and values?
What fears used to paralyze you that you now stride past with determination?
See how far you’ve come!
Say “I leave Winter behind and move forward into the work of Summer.”
Don’t rush this part. Give yourself time to feel the changes, not just think about them. When you’re ready, turn around and face the altar. Eat some of the bread and drink some of the wine. Give thanks for the blessings you have received.
Say “Cernunnos, Lord of the Animals and Lord of the Hunt, I thank You for your presence and Your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.
Say “Ancestors of blood and ancestors of spirit, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.
Say “Spirits of the land, spirits of this place, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.
Say “Spirits of the North, West, South, and East, Spirits of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”
Leave the altar area by a different route and return to the spot where you began. Do not pass back through the fires (hint: if you’re working indoors or in a tight area, don’t put the two fires in a doorway).
Pick up the bell and ring it three times.
Say “This rite of Beltane is complete. Hail and farewell.”
Take a breath. Drink some water. Hug a tree. Do something to reorient yourself in the ordinary world.
If you have outdoor lights, turn them on. If not, make sure you have a flashlight or other light source. Extinguish the candles and the incense, extinguish the two fires, then begin to pick up and put away. Depending on your fires, you may need to let things cool before you take it down.
If you did the ritual indoors, dispose of the offerings in an appropriate manner. I prefer to deposit them outdoors in an inconspicuous place where they’ll be eaten by wild creatures. Depending on where you are, you may need to do something else.
You may wish to write about your experience in your journal, particularly if your experience was strong. Focus on recording the experience, not on your interpretation of the experience. You have the rest of your life to figure out what it all means, but you have only a short time before your recollection of the events begins to fade.
May your Beltane be blessed, and may your life and your work prosper as we embrace the coming Summer!