Beltane: The Green Man Reigns

Deven Rue's Green Man
artwork © Deven Rue

We have come upon one of the most recognized holidays of the pagan world. Beltane, celebrated on the eve of May 1st and throughout the day, is a widely recognized fertility holiday. 

This time of year heralds the summer, and welcomes the growth of crops and birth of animals that are essential to survival as the wheel turns. We celebrate the fertility of the goddess as she conceives of the god, and we celebrate the god’s journey to manhood as the sun begins its reign.

Celebrated in many cultures for hundreds of years, it is difficult to track the beginnings of some of the May Day traditions. Many modern pagans have molded many different traditions from the various cultures that have celebrated this time of year into one.

Regardless of the origins of these traditions, you’ll see many bonfires, cauldrons, and may poles during this holiday. Each is a representation of the fertility and growth that have begun as the sun grows in power. 

The may pole, an obviously phallic symbol representing the god, is adorned with flowers and greens in full bloom.  Ribbons are tied to the top, and dancers dance them around the pole, weaving them down until they’re knotted together at the bottom. 

The cauldron is used in ritual as a symbol of transformation that represents the goddess. She is celebrated during this holiday as having conceived of the god once again and is now growing his seed in her belly. 

The bonfire (also known as the bale fire, or bel fire – for which the holiday may be named) is used in different ways in many traditions. Almost always another symbol of fertility, many may dance around it, gathering and celebrating the fertility of the season. Some traditions include taking a stick of the fire home to light your hearth fire, to ensure abundance for the coming summer and harvests. In other traditions two fires were lit, and cattle and livestock were driven between them in hopes that it would bring good fortune to the herds and farmers. 

At this time of year, you may also see the Green Man (pictured above) here and there. He is adorned with greenery, and is a symbol of the god coming into his strength.

A very small number of traditions practice the “Great Rite”, which is a physical consummation of the holiday between devoted members of the coven.

Beltane is opposite Samhain on the wheel of the year, and it is believed that the veil between this world and the next is thin, as it is during Samhain. Many cultures believe that communication with spirits of the otherworld is possible at this time. And you’ll find that, especially during this holiday, tales abound of mischievous faeries taking unsuspecting humans into their world to be lost forever. 

Traditions of Beltane are varied, but it all really comes down to one thing that we have always looked to in order to keep the wheel turning: fertility. Celebrating the green that surrounds us, and putting forth positive energies in hopes for a healthy and abundant harvest ahead.

P.S. If you love the Green Man art I have posted here, please check out Deven Rue’s web site! She is super talented, and creates gorgeous artwork (as you can see). My personal favorite – her pyrography (that is, burning wood, leather, and even paper) is stunning, but it is certainly not the full extent of her beautiful work!

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