Wheel of the Year: Beltane (May Day)

Wheel of the Year: Beltane (May Day) April 30, 2021

Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash


Contemporary Paganism is deeply rooted in a European past. For all of us who have some European heritage, those ancestors were pagan before the introduction of Christianity. Although modern Pagans draw on many non-European sources including the ancient beliefs and practices from Egyptian, Roman and Greek, Asian, Native American and African cultures, the native religions of pre-Christian Europe are our own heritage.

In this series, I will use the Wheel of the Year used by many modern Pagans to explore seasonal practices that you can incorporate into your life. I am using the generic descriptions of the seasons as if they apply to everyone. I know they don’t. If you don’t live in North America or Europe, or if you live in certain areas of the United States, some of these descriptions of the seasons won’t make sense to you. Feel free to adjust my suggestions based on your own environment.

“Celtic Wheel of the Year Plaque” by dragonoak is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Beltane (May 1)

Beltane is the celebration of the coming summer in all its fertility. It’s halfway between the first day of spring, the Equinox, and the summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. In most parts of the Northern hemisphere, the promise of spring and summer are beginning to be realized. Now is a time of fertility and growth, love is in the air. These changes are echoed in the cycle of life around us. The crops, flowers, and trees are growing ever more verdant. Early flowers such as daffodils and tulips may be blooming as are flowering trees such as the cherry trees in the U.S. capital. Daylight is growing with earlier sunrises and later sunsets. And although many parts of the country may have a late snowstorm, the days and nights are noticeably warmer.

In the cycle of the God and the Goddess, this is the time of their fullness. The young God conceived or born in the darkness of the Winter Solstice has come into his manhood and has moved from the Divine Youth to the fully realized Consort. We celebrate with a phallic maypole wrapped in colorful ribbons. The Goddess, too, is changing. This is the Season where she will take the God as her mate and move from Maiden to Mother.

This is a time to plan for things that need time to germinate and grow, it is a time to celebrate and revel in our sexuality. We can bring fertility to ourselves and to the earth. There are many aspects and customs of Beltane that could be explored and celebrated.

Beltane Rituals

Many communities save their yule tree, strip its dry branches and plant it in the earth to become their May Pole, but any tall staff will work Dancing together friends can wrap the pole in colorful ribbons. Don’t worry too much about having the right steps or the perfect wrap. This is a time for spontaneity and fun.

The dew of May Day or the first rain of the month are supposed to have magical qualities. Greet the dawn and wash your face in the dew to bless yourself with strength and beauty. Or collect the water, filter it, and use it to seep healing herbs for the coming days.

Living in the high desert, dew may be scarce, and the first rains may not come until July. Substitute a healing bath to wash away the dust of the past and prepare yourself for the blessings of this season. Bring in some spring-blooming flowers and fresh or dried herbs. Let your body soak while your mind considers how you will use the fertility of this season. You might not choose to plant a garden, but now is a good time to prepare for any new endeavor.

When I was growing up, we made May baskets and hung them on our neighbors’ doors. The baskets might hold flowers, candy or other trinkets. What a great way to share the abundance of the season.

This is the time to celebrate the Sacred Marriage between the God and the Goddess. As more and more of us emerge from our time of quarantine, how will we manifest those relationships we’ve missed or the new relationships we want to develop? These don’t have to be sexual relationship, but this could be the season to re-connect with family and friends. Like the God and the Goddess dancing around each other, drawn together but unsure of themselves, we may also be both drawn to other and apprehensive after our long separation. We may need to be like the new buds cautiously re-engaging. Similar to the May Pole dancers, we may dance toward and away from each other as we negotiate our new environment.

Your Turn

How will you celebrate this time of year? What are you planting for the coming warm months? Are you planning a garden or another new project? And how are you ritualizing your re-connection? Are you like the birds singing and dancing from branch or more like the daffodils, slowly unfurling your leaves and opening your flowers? Let us know in the comments.

About Dr. Mary Ann Clark
Dr. Mary Ann Clark is a self-initiated Pagan who has been a CUUPS member in congregations in Texas and Arizona. She is the Coordinator of her local CUUPS chapter. Holding a PhD in Religious Studies from Rice University, she has taught comparative religion at the University of Houston and Yavapai College, in Prescott, Arizona. In her retirement, she has reinvented herself as an author of speculative fiction. You can read more about the author here.
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