Celebrate the Fertility of Spring on Beltane

Bird Woman Performer at the Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh
Bird Woman Performer at the Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh. theasis / Getty Images

April's showers have yielded rich and fertile earth, and as the land turns green, Beltane celebrates the coming new life and growth. Observed on May 1st in the Northern Hemisphere (or October 31−November 1 in the Southern Hemisphere), festivities typically begin the evening before on the last night of April.

With its roots in European traditions, Beltane is observed by many of today's Pagans as a time for lighting a bonfire, dancing, and performing rituals. This time of year has been celebrated in many ways, and there are a number of related festivals during the Beltane season. The ancient Romans observed Floralia this month, and the ancient Norse festival for Eyvind Kelda fell around May Day as well.

One common theme you'll see at Beltane is that of welcoming the abundance of the fertile earth. The history may occasionally seem a bit scandalous–after all, fertility is often celebrated with bawdy jokes and sexual imagery–but Beltane can be celebrated by everyone, young and old, and in a number of ways.

Beltane History

Children Dancing Around Maypole
Gideon Mendel / Getty Images

Beltane, or May Day, has been celebrated by many cultures over many centuries. There is a wide variety of legends and lore about ways to become more fertile during this time–and that doesn't just apply to people, but to the land itself. The Maypole itself, which is probably the best known symbol of this sabbat, has a rich history.

This is a time to honor the many deities associated with Beltane, such as gods of the forest, goddesses of passion and motherhood, and a number of agricultural deities around the world. Gods like Cernunnos and Artemis, and the mythical figure of the Green Man, all factor into the colorful history of Beltane.

Beltane Magic

Green Man & May Queen
Maisna / Getty Images

Beltane is a season of fertility and fire, and we often see this reflected in the themes of magical workings during this time of year. This is a good time to do some fertility magic so that you will have an abundant crop by the time the harvest rolls around. In some (although not all) traditions of Paganism, sacred sex is part of spiritual practice, and Beltane is a time when some people celebrate with what is called the Great Rite. Finally, don't forget that the garden can be one of the most magical places in your life. Start thinking about how to plan, create, and grow your magical garden, as well as ways to create specialty gardens, herb plots, and more!

A Beltane Altar

Beltane Altar
Use symbols of the season to decorate your Beltane altar. Patti Wigington

Set up an altar honoring the Beltane season using rich greens and colors reflecting the spring flowers. Incorporate a candle signifying the Beltane fire. Fertility symbols from nature like horns, seeds, and flowers, and a mother goddess symbol can round out the altar.

Rituals and Ceremonies

Beltrane ritual
theasis/Getty Images

There are many different ways you can celebrate Beltane, but the focus is nearly always on fertility. It's the time when the Earth mother opens up to the fertility god, and their union brings about healthy livestock, strong crops, and new life all around.

Think about trying a few rituals. These can be adapted for either a solitary practitioner or a small group, with just a little planning ahead. For example, you can honor the sacred feminine with a goddess ritual. You can hold a family abundance rite to celebrate what you have with your family. Or, if you are alone, you can perform the Beltane planting ritual for solitaries, which will get you into the spirit of the season.

Beltane Prayers

Detail from the Celtic Gundestrop Cauldron, 3rd century.
Print Collector/Getty Images / Getty Images

If you are a planning a special ceremony, some appropriate prayers include the "Beltane Blessing," a prayer to the horned god Cernunnos, as well as prayers to Mother Earth, gods and spirits of the forest, and the May Queen

Celebrate Beltane With a Maypole Dance

Norfolk, Holt Hall. Children dressed as fairies dance around a maypole at the annual Fairy Fair.
Will Gray / Getty Images

The Maypole dance is a time-honored tradition. Consider hosting your own Maypole dance.  Men go one way, women go the other way, and each holds a ribbon sheathing the Maypole, another symbol of fertility.

Ritual Sex and the Great Rite

Couple kissing on bed
Tom Merton / Getty Images

Beltane is a time of passion and fertility, so for many people, it's a time for ritual sex. For most, it is a way to raise energy, create magical power, or find a sense of spiritual communion with a partner.

The Bale Fire of Beltane

May Queen and Green Man at the Beltane Fire Festival
theasis / Getty Images

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. It is likely that the word "Beltane" is a reference to the "bale" fire. Similarly in Germany, during Beltane, German Pagans celebrate Walpurgisnacht, a giant bonfire celebrated much like May Day.

Handfastings and Weddings

Wedding In the Woods
Jupiterimages / Stockbyte / Getty Images

Handfastings and weddings are popular during Beltane, the traditional season of fertility. Decide if you want a ceremonial handfasting or if you want to get official with a marriage certificate. Either way, there are a few dos and don'ts with planning your perfect way to tie the knot.

Welcome Faeries to Your Garden

Mixed border planted with alcea (hollyhock), rosmarinus officinalis (rosmary)in the retirement garden, hampton court
Stephen Robson / Getty Images

In Pagan and Wiccan traditions, it is believed that on Beltane the veil between earth and the faerie world is thin. There is plenty of faerie lore that makes the connection between Beltane and the mischievous fae. Plant flowers, herbs, and sacred plants of the Beltane season welcome faeries to your garden, like rosemary or mugwort. Butterflies are mystical and magical and tied to the fae world, too.

​Crafts and Creations

Altar Maypole
Patti Wigington

As Beltane approaches, you can decorate your home (and keep your kids entertained) with a number of easy craft projects. Start celebrating a bit early with fun floral crowns and a Maypole altar centerpiece. You can do some meditative braiding or make some faerie-size furniture for your garden.

Celebrating Beltane with Children

Children dancing round a maypole
Cecilia Cartner / Getty Images

If you're raising little Pagans, try these fun ways to embrace the Beltane season with your kids. The Family Abundance Ritual is a good place to start. Children love the Maypole and wrapping it with ribbon, too. Get the children involved with simple crafts like decorating the house or making floral wreaths.

Beltane Recipes & Cooking

Make this cake to celebrate Beltane and the spirit of the forest. Patti Wigington

No Pagan celebration is really complete without a meal to go along with it. For Beltane, celebrate with foods that honor fertility of the earth. Bake a Green Man cake to celebrate the lusty fertility god of the woodlands, mix up a light early summer salad, and stick some traditional Scottish oatcakes in the oven.