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This holiday is a fertility holiday. Crops are blessed for the coming year, and dancing around the phallic may-pole is a tradition still carried on today by some people. This holiday represents the sacred union of the Goddess and God. Fertility bursts forth from the shell that once contained it and the greenery of the Earth is fast returning in full-force.
Beltane, Bealtaine (Celtic & Caledonii), Mayday, Walburgal (Teutonic), Rudemas (Mexican Craft), Festival of Tana (Strega) occurs on May 1st (Mayday is celebrated on the first of May), falling opposite Samhain in the wheel of the year. Beltane marks the start of summer, and is a time for feasting, merry-making, celebration, and joy. It is a time to look outward and forward to the future, and to prepare for the warm summer months ahead. It is also a time for love and union, representing the Divine Union of the Goddess and the God. Beltane is the time of the sacred marriage which honors the fertility of the Earth; it represents the divine union of the Lord and Lady.
The celebration of May Day, complete with May pole and dancing maidens, stretches back into Pagan antiquity. All of the elements of a good May Day celebration, from the May Queen on her white horse to the hawthorn wreath that crowns the May pole, are full of good old-fashioned Pagan symbolism. The May Queen herself was once a representative of the Norse goddess Freya. Freya was a golden-haired goddess of magic, love, fertility, war, and poetry.
Celebrations include weaving a web of life around the Maypole and leaping the Beltane fire for luck. Wiccan handfastings are common at this festival. This is a time of self-discovery, love, union and developing your potential for personal growth. The rituals may be quite erotic in nature, symbolizing the union of deity and of the newly impregnated Goddess. It is another fertility Sabbat, and the Great Rite may also be a part of the ritual. Dancing around the Maypole may be a part of the festivities. The original Maypole was a pine tree which had been previously decorated for Yule. It was then stripped of all but its uppermost branches, creating a phallic symbol. It was strung with white ribbons (symbolizing the Goddess) and red ribbons (symbolizing the God).
As a goddess of love, Freya's reputation was unparalleled. She made love to all the male members of the Nordic pantheon, as well as a whole group of dwarfish craftsmen who had created Her magical golden necklace-the Brisingamen. However, She did not limit Her sexual exploits to gods and dwarves. She also indulged Herself with giants, the souls of slain heroes, and mortal men.
Freya taught Her followers seidr. Seidr was a magical discipline that combined sex magic, yoga, divination, and healing. Women practitioners were called seidhkoma and male practitioners were called seidmadhr and dressed as women. There are similar disciplines called Siddhi in Hindu, sidh in Gaelic, and sikr by Sufis.
Freya was a fearsome warrior. The Nordic saying "Freya's sword is short" meant that size isn't everything. A skilled warrior like Freya with a short sword could easily outmaneuver any big dolt with a broadsword. However, it was Freya's prowess as a lover, not a fighter, that was celebrated on May Day. The May Queen rode a white horse, and by her side her consort rode a black steed. One of Freya's titles, godiva (goddess), took on a life of its own 'as the story of Lady Godiva, who rode naked through the centre of town on a white horse.
The May Queen's consort was originally the god Frey, a love god. He rode a golden boar or a black horse and His name meant "lord" just as Freya's meant "lady." May Day, or Beltane, is the holiday that falls exactly opposite Halloween, or Samhain. Like the other Pagan cross-quarter holidays (Imbolc, Lammas, and Samhain), its astrological date and calendar date no longer correspond. Astrologically, Beltane occurs during the. peak of the month of Taurus (15 degrees), which generally falls around May 4 or 5. Taurus is an earth sign that represents the abundance and exuberance of spring. It is the perfect time of year for dancing, feasting, and frolicking in the bushes.
Of all the features of May Day it is the May pole that has survived most prominently. Now often constructed of slender saplings or even PVC pipe, the May pole was once felled from deep in the wood and dragged into the centre of town by groaning beasts of burden. The monumental length and girth of it was adorned with flowers, herbs, garlands, ribbons, and bright paint. Thrust into the ready earth, its phallic fertility symbolism was lost, on no one, least of all the church, which repeatedly, tried and failed to completely obliterate the custom. What has vanished are the fertility rites that accompanied the raising of the Beltane May pole and that once continued unabashed and unashamed throughout the entire month of May. Marriage vows were considered to be in abeyance and enthusiastic promiscuity was the duty of every pious worshipper.
Once the May pole had been raised, men and women danced around it in opposite directions and wove ribbons and garlands; together in order to symbolize the potent energies streaming into the fertile lap of the Lady. The hawthorn wreath at the top of the May pole symbolized the labia of the Great Goddess.
Then the bonfire or balefire was lit, and all couples wishing to conceive would leap over it hand in hand. The balefire itself was once a sacrificial flame with roots in the Nordic myth of Balder. With the May pole erect and the bonfire blazing, the Queen and King of the May would go into the freshly plowed fields and imbue the soil with their blessings of fertility. All the other celebrants would split off into the surrounding countryside and do their part to ensure the abundance of the harvest. Though we live in a time when pretty much anything goes between consenting adults, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, not to mention what the neighbors would say, makes celebrating Beltane the old fashioned way rather impractical.
Beltane is thought by Wiccans to be derived from a word meaning "balefire". It is traditional to take home a smoldering piece of the Beltane bonfire to bring blessings to your home during the coming summer months. It is also believed that the smoke from a Beltane bonfire is the best to use for ritual purification of tools, jewelry, etc. As the weather heats up and the plant world burgeons, an exuberant mood prevails. Folk dance around the Maypole, emblem of fertility (the name "May" comes from a Norse word meaning "to shoot out new growth").
May 1st was the midpoint of a five-day Roman festival to Flora, Goddess of Flowers. The name "Beltaine" means "Bel's Fires"; in Celtic lands, cattle were driven between bonfires to bless them, and people leaped the fires for luck. The association in Germany of May Eve with Witches' gatherings is a memory of pre-Christian tradition. "Wild" water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) is collected as a basis for healing drinks and potions for the year to come. However, I am sure the Lady and Her Lord understand and will accept whatever humble offerings we can give in this modem prudish age. Besides, there's still a lot to be said for dancing I round a may pole in the sunshine and feasting for hours in the company of friends and loved ones next to the warmth of the Beltane fire.