This blog post is one of a series of three posts that explore the Pagan and Wiccan historic perspective and modern approach to the three spring sabbats and how well-suited they are for a beautiful spring wedding or handfasting.
The festival of Beltane is more commonly known as May Day these days. Beltane is a Fire Festival. It is still very popular with many people. Originally a Gaelic tradition, Beltane is observed by Pagan and Wiccan followers as a time for lighting a bonfire, dancing, and performing rituals Beltane means ‘fire of Bel’ or some say ‘bright fire’.
Bel is the ancient Celtic God of light and he is often referred to as the bright and shining one. The Gaelic word ‘teine’ means fire. Together they make ‘Bright Fire’, or ‘Goodly Fire’ and traditionally bonfires were lit at sundown on the 30th of April to honor the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the light of the Sun to return and nurture the emerging future harvest.
This is the beginning of the ‘lighted half’ of the year when the Sun begins to set later in the evening and the temperatures grow warmer. To our ancestors Beltane was the coming of summer and fertility. Nature is in bloom and the earth is full of fecundity and life.
Handfastings traditionally occur at this time because, according to the ancient story of the God and Goddess, they were Handfasted at this time. It was ancient tradition for handfasting vows to be made for a trial period of a year and a day. After living together for this time, the couple will then either choose to renew their vows or part company.
The trial period in a handfasting is still often practiced these days for couples who want to get to know one another more deeply before finally tying the knot. Many modern Pagans understand, as apparently our ancient ancestors did, you cannot truly know someone until you have lived with them.
Therefore, there is no shame if you decide that you do not get along well with your chosen partner and you would prefer not to take the relationship any further.
The Beltane celebrations would consist of feasts and bonfires were lit throughout the countryside. Participants would jump through the fires to invoke protection throughout the year. They also believed that the fires had healing properties.
The Celts would also drive their cattle between the fires to keep them in good health and to protect them. The fires themselves represent the returning light.
Beltane is the spring counterpart to Samhain. While in the autumn, everything is dying, in spring it comes alive, glorious and bursting free from the earth. Beltane is one of the four Celtic fire festivals marking the quarter points in the year. For Pagans, fire has sacred purifying qualities – it cleanses and rejuvenates both land and people.
Pagan/Wiccan Wheel of the Year
The Beltane bonfire ritual goes back to early Ireland on Beltane when the community would light a giant bonfire and share the fire to light their home. The fire would pass on through the land.
The colors of Beltane are green, red and white/silver. Green represents growth, abundance and fertility. Red represents strength, vitality, passion and vibrancy. White represents cleansing and clearing and the power to disperse negativity.
The Maypole dance is a time-honored tradition and can easily be worked into a wedding. Beltane is about fertility, sex, passion and life and they have a rich history. With men going one way, and women going the other, each person holds a ribbon attached at the top which sheaths the Maypole in a colorful pattern as they dance round and round, weaving ribbons as they go. The May Pole is of course a phallic symbol.
The circling and weaving in and out around the maypole is like a meditation all its own. The dance is a sort of rhythmic ecstasy that transports the dancer into a sort of life-affirming mindfulness. Indeed, it is a good time to rediscover your own sensuality. Hosting your own Maypole dance could be a very fun and unique way to engage guests at your Beltane wedding or handfasting.
Spring is the time for renewed hopes and dreams. So If you are planning a spring wedding or handfasting of your own, the season is sure to inspire!