This day marks the battle between the May Queen and the Queen of the Winter.
Ancient Pagans used to decorate themselves with greenery and flowers during Beltane, thus creating the tradition of Jack in the Green.
The Beltane festival was a Celtic celebration of renewal. The night of 30 April was considered either the awakening of troublesome spirits in the spring or the last chance for the dark forces of the winter months to trouble the living. The Germanic version of this celebration, the night before May Day, was known as Hexennacht(Witches Night) when witches had unusually potent powers and rituals.
Celebrations of Beltane began the night before 1 May and went all through the next day, and an important aspect of ‘Beltane Eve’ celebrations was protection from evil or mischievous spirits which were either waking up from their winter’s sleep or looking for one last chance to cause trouble before going to rest for the summer. These entities were known by many names but, generally, were referred to as those of ‘the third way’ – neither of heaven or hell – such as sprites, fairies, satyrs, and leprechauns.
Refered to as a “second Halloween”, today, people in various European and Scandinavian nations dress up as witches or supernatural creatures on 30 April and go house-to-house asking for treats. If no treats are given, a trick is played such as hurling toilet paper around the yard or leaving assorted unpleasant ‘gifts’ on a person’s doorstep. Effigies of the past year are created, infused by people’s words or notes stuffed or pinned on it representing anyone’s disappointments, bad memories, or misfortune, and then burned in bonfires.
With nature enchantments and offerings to wildlings and Elementals, the return of full-blown fertility is now very evident. The powers of elves and fairies are growing and will reach their height at Summer Solstice.
Beltane is a time in which the boundary between our world and the faerie realm is thin.
The entity known as the Green Man, strongly related to Cernunnos, is often found in the legends and lore of the British Isles, and is a masculine face covered in leaves and shrubbery. In some parts of England, a Green Man is carried through town in a wicker cage as the townsfolk welcome the beginning of summer.
Traditionally, Beltane festivities began days before May 1st or “May Day,” when villagers traveled into the woods to gather the nine sacred woods needed to build the Beltane bonfires. According to the 13th century Irish poem called, “Song of the Forest Trees” the nine sacred woods are: Rowan – the wizard’s tree; Briar – burn him that is so keen and green; Oak – fiercest heat giver of all timber; Alder – very battle-witch of all woods; Holly – burn it green, burn it dry; Elder – him that furnishes horses to the armies of the Sidhe burn; Birch – burn up most sure the stalks that bear the constant pads; Aspen – burn, be it late or early; and the Yew which is singled out as being sacred to the feast.
Beltane is the night when the queen of the fairies will ride out on her white steed to entice humans away to Faeryland. If you hear the bells of the Fairy Queen’s horse, you are advised to look away, so she will pass you by; look at the Queen and your sense alone will not hold you back! Bannocks were also sometimes left for the Fairies, in hopes of winning their favor on this night.
This is a spirit time, when forces beyond our everyday world may still make themselves felt. Faery rades, or ‘rides’, are when the spirits of the Celtic Otherworlds and the spirits of nature; trees and rivers and storms, and the ancient ancestors, are all said to be able to roam freely and this is common at this time of year.
Like its dark sister, Samhain (or Halloween) at the opposite point of the year, Beltane is a time when, according to our folktales and oral lore, fate seems to make itself known, and can divert us from our preconceived plans and ideas. This leaves a trace of the spirits across our consciousness and changes us forever.
Festival of Bona Dea (May 1)
Bona Dea had two annual festivals, one in the spring, on May 1, which would be held at her temple, and a winter one held in December.
She also had a secret festival, attended only by women, that took place over the night of the 3rd and 4th of May (and/or December). It was held during the Faunalia, and was referred to as the sacra opertum, (“the secret or hidden sacrifice”): at this ritual sacrifices were made for the benefit of all the people of Rome, something proper to the realm of a mother or Earth Goddess who is concerned with the well-being of all of Her children. On this night the festival was held in the house of the consul (the chief elected official), and no men were allowed. This taboo extended even to paintings or statues of men, which were required to be covered during the rites.
Coming into your power is where you find magic in everyday occurrence. It does not matter when or how you begin or to recognize your potential. What is important is that as you discover your potential, you also learn to harness and proceed.
Bona Dea’s symbol is the snake, a frequent creature of global mythologies. It is a symbol that many find confronting, but its relevance lies in its ability to survive. To shed its skin and have new life.
Later Roman scholars connected her to the goddess Fauna.
Fauna is a Goddess of the wild sexuality of women, an expression of the Life Force, and also of fertility.
She brings prophecy through dreams and the voices of the wild places, and her association with dreams and nightmares connects to humanity’s dark and untamed nature.
Bona Dea’s is the only known festival in which women could gather at night, drink strong wine and perform a blood sacrifice.
A Pagan Martyr:
May 6 is the day of Eyvind Kelve in Norse celebrations. Eyvind Kelve was a pagan martyr who was tortured and drowned on the orders of King Olaf Tryggvason for refusing to give up his pagan beliefs. A week later, Norwegians celebrate the Festival of the Midnight Sun, which pays tribute to the Norse sun goddess. This festival marks the beginning of ten straight weeks without darkness.