Beltane, one of the four fire festivals of the Pagan Wheel of the Year, is right around the corner. Whether you’ll be celebrating it as a Solitary, with your family, or with your QuaranTeam, chances are whatever those celebratory activities were that you’ve participated in pre-COVID19 are going to look and feel a little different this year.
But two aspects can remain the same: fire and food.
Back in the day, Beltane marked the time the cattle were driven from their winter shelters back to the pastures for the summer. You can read more about the various rituals, blessings and celebrations associated with this ramp-up of the growing season in any number of places, but for this article I’m just going to touch on a couple of simple ways to bring some Beltane energy to your at-home, shelter-in-place celebration.
Historically, two bonfires were set ablaze, a symbol of purification and protection for the cattle driven between them (there’s more to it than this vast simplification; check out one of the links above for more detailed information). At home we can reconstruct this with some creativity and willingness to adapt.
Use your outdoor fire pit (if you have one) or light up your outdoor grill or hibachi. If you have some incense or some herbs (dried or fresh), add those to the flames. Use what you have on hand rather than feeling like you have to make a special trip to the grocery store to buy particular supplies.
Write words or draw symbols that represent the personal growth or projects you’d like to nurture during the coming growing season on pieces of paper, and pass them through the fire’s smoke, speaking a short intention for each as you do so. It doesn’t have to be fancy or long; sincerity of purpose is key here.
Burn the slips of paper in the fire and send them and the intentions you put into them out into the Universe as smoke.
If you’re not able to light a fire outside, you can use candles to represent the ancient bonfires. Anoint your candles in an essential oil if you have some; otherwise, olive oil is always a great choice for anointing oil. Don’t have that? Simply rub your hands over the wax, imparting some of your own body’s oils onto the candles.
While you’re anointing the candles concentrate on those projects or aspects of personal growth you’d like to nurture during the coming growing season. Center yourself for a few moments and visualize what that growth might look like, then light the candles and set them apart from each other, either on a table or on the floor of a large room.
Think of a short verse you can chant as you pass between the candles. Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy or long. It only needs to be heartfelt and sincere. It doesn’t even need to rhyme if you don’t want it to. It could be something as straightforward as “May the intentions and projects I seek to nurture bloom and grow”.
If you’ve set the candles on the floor, pass between them three times (moving in the same direction; circle back to the right), first walking, then moving a little more quickly, then moving more quickly still, repeating your chant. After you’ve made your third pass through the candles, spend a few minutes doing a little happy dance in celebration of the growth you’re expecting.
If you’ve set the candles on the table, write words or draw symbols that represent the personal growth or projects you’d like to nurture during the coming growing season on pieces of paper, then pass those pieces of papers between the candles three times (going away from you, circling your hand to the right to pass again), speaking whatever simple chant you’ve created. Carefully burn the small pieces of paper in the candles’ flames (be sure to have a fire-safe container in which to let the paper burn out).
You can do another variation if you have young children who’d like to participate. Ask them to bring their stuffed animals and have them set the animals up in a group to one side of the two lighted candles (NOTE: if you want to be absolutely safe, use electric tea candles). Share some of the history of Beltane with them, and then help them “drive the cattle” through the lighted candles to their “summer pastures”.
If you want to get really into it, help them build a little town on the side of the candles where their “cattle” are starting out, representing the winter quarters of the animals. On the other “pasture” side of the candles, help them arrange representations of trees, bushes, flowers etc. for their “cattle” to enjoy once they are driven through the candles.
Oatcakes are one of the foods traditionally associated with Beltane celebrations. You can find any of several recipes online. I used one from Epicurious, with some variations. You can also make vegan oatcakes. Even if your Beltane celebration this year doesn’t look remotely like what you’ve enjoyed in the past (and will again in the future), making and eating these little snacks can be a way you mark this fire festival while sheltering in place.
In all honesty, my non-Pagan husband sampled one of the oatcakes as they were cooling and remarked that if I could add some pecans and raisins it wouldn’t taste half bad. “Then it would be a COOKIE!” I told him, “and it’s an OATCAKE!”
But, really, aren’t things already stressful enough? Why not an oatmeal cookie if you’d rather make that?
If you want to keep with tradition, offer a bit of your oatcake (or cookie) to the flames. If you’re using candles inside, offer a small crumb so as not to extinguish the wick. Burying a small piece of oatcake either outside or in a potted plant is also an option. Be sure to offer your spoken thanks as you offer your oatcake.
Wishing all who celebrate it a blessed Beltane! May your projects and intentions be nurtured and grow abundantly!