Beltane and the Festival of Fire

The ancient Celtic festival of Beltane is celebrated today and tomorrow and is held to honour life, fertility and conception. With Irish and Scottish origins, the name Beltane comes from Bel, the god known as the bright one and tane, meaning fire. The Pagan fire festival is one of eight festivals held throughout the year in accordance with the Pagan Wheel or calendar and four of these festivals are Celtic in origin, including that of Beltane.

Pagan belief sees Beltane as the marriage of a goddess – the sun – and Bel, the god. The celebrations saw all fires in the community being put out and a new one being centrally lit in honour of Beltane. People would jump the fire in order to purify and cleanse themselves and encourage fertility. And it wasn’t just people that the Pagans believed would benefit from these fires; their animals would be driven through the smoke for purifying and protection from disease.

The celebrations didn’t end there. Just as the Maypole, its ribbons and the dance which the people wove around it represented the union between earth and sky, so couples would form unions through handfasting or jumping the broomstick. Handfasting, a literal tying together of two people, bonded the two for a year and a day, after which they could decide to stay together forever or part without recrimination, symbolized by the untying of the bond. Jumping the broomstick as a method of betrothal was used by couples who either couldn’t afford or didn’t want a church wedding and was recognized as a legal form of marriage. The broomstick itself represented a threshold, a new beginning for each couple.

If you want to celebrate Beltane but don’t want to start a fire or dance round a Maypole, perhaps you could honour it with some cakes and a tankard (or glass!) of mead – traditional servings at a Beltane festival.