Beltaine Ritual: The Pleasure of Sensuality

Bealtaine, otherwise known as May Day, is the Gaelic festival celebrating the return of Summer usually falling on May 1st or halfway between the Spring and Summer Equinoxes. It is a joyful time to celebrate life, growth, love, and fertility of the landscape as we bear witness to life unfurling. We invite you to create your own Beltaine Ritual as a way to honor this threshold crossing in your own life as you invoke your energy into fullness of expression. The energy of Beltaine is delightful, arousing, and invites you to soften into pleasure, to express your love for the world uniquely through the gift of your essence. Orienting to this seasonal shift is a powerful way to reclaim your ancestral connection to radical joy and embodied aliveness.

In this blog post you will find:

  1. Introduction: A Personal Reflection

  2. What is Bealtaine?

  3. Overview: Wheel of the Year

  4. Nature's Collective Wisdom

  5. The Pleasure of Sensuality

  6. Bealtaine Ritual

Introduction: A Personal Reflection

Dear friend, can you feel it? The inner opening available to us now as the days lengthen and how the warming sun invites us to soften and expand toward the ever-increasing stream of light? How the flowers and the insects and the birds are showing us what it means to embrace this sensual time of the year with vibrant expressions of sweetness, song and jubilee?

It's incredible how quickly the landscape changes once the energy of Spring arrives. Every single day tiny miracles abound. I especially love watching tight buds slowly unfurl and expand into majestic light-catching leaves. The landscape has magically transformed from grey and barren to a sea of green teaming with life. Now as I step outside my door and go meandering through the woods, it's as though I'm entering a whole new world... and indeed I am!

As time spirals through the cycles of life/death/rebirth, who we are as we approach the height of Summer is not who we were this time last year. The same is true for place & landscape. Everything is shifting and changing as old versions of self get composted and digested into the greater wholeness of who we are becoming. As I witness the beauty of life all around me, I celebrate all past versions of myself that have led me to this moment of expansion.

For this reason, Bealtane is an opportunity to celebrate the wholeness of who we are and the cycle of growth that is currently underway. Nature reflects the vitality of life that inevitably arises after a time of dormancy and digestion. The energy of these early Summer days calls us to sing, dance, make love, create, and delight in the pleasure of our sensuous aliveness; to express our joy in bold new ways. It's a time of year that also reminds us to give thanks and to honor the beauty and gifts of our unique expression; how necessary we are as part of the vast web of life.

Bealtaine Prayer

The Bealtaine fire sends its flames to the Sun,
The promise of Summer warmth to come,
Hawthorn blossoms in radiant white,
And clarity grows in the quickening light,
Now it the time for action and life,
To fertilize plans and banish strife.
Take the leap across the Bealtaine fire,
And let the energies take you higher.
Author unknown

What is Bealtaine?

"For much of the course of human history the 1 st of May has been honored and celebrated with ceremonies and rituals of fire and heat, love and ecstasy, enacting the sacred union of the sun and earth whose fruits ripen and last the year long... Rituals of gratitude and celebration abound. There’s wild feasting, revelry, dancing, and stealing away in the dark to participate in the oldest fertility rite of all, without which life simply does not go on." - Hope Horton

Bealtaine is an old indigenous Gaelic festival celebrating the Summer's return and with it the fertility and vitality of LIFE. The early Celts divided their year into halves, Gam (winter) and Sam (summer). This cultural orientation has a resonance of meaning with dark/light, similar to that of yin and yang.

Bealtaine was the festival that marked the beginning of Summer, or the lighter half of the year. It was during this time when cattle were driven out to the pastures and rituals were performed to protect the animals, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers.

According to Mara Freeman in her book Kindling the Celtic Spirit...

"On Bealtaine Eve the druids and their successors assembled on high hills with a view of the rising sun. They came to raise the great fires that would bring the power of the sun to Earth and to sanctify and purify the whole community and their lifestock in readiness for the new cycle. Fire was an interface between the human race and the divine, in particular, elemental powers of the Upperworld who would determine the fate of the herds, the flocks, and the growing harvest. Sacrifical offerings were cast into the fire to gain their goodwill, borne skyward on flames like hands uplifted in prayer." [1]

Historically, this Sabbath was one of the most important festivals in the Wheel Of The Year (and continues to be) widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. There are different names, spellings and pronunciations depending on the language and culture one is orienting from:

Chart depicting festival names in different languages with pronunciations

Bealtaine is one of the four Gaelic fire festivals (also known as Sabbaths) —along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh. The word 'Bealtane' means "bright fire" and comes from Bel or Beal which is the Old Irish word for 'light'. The Celtic sun god, who was associated with healing, was called Belanus. The suffix 'taine' is a Gaelic word that means 'fire.' [2]

In Irish mythology events that mark the end of an old order and the beginning of a new frequently fall on Bealtaine. This is illustrated in a story about the Tuatha Dé Danann (a race of gods) who arrived in Ireland one Bealtaine riding through the air on dark clouds. According to Mara Freeman, another legend maintains that "Saint Patrick lit a fire on the Hill of Slane near Tara at Bealtaine to proclaim the triumph of Christianity over the old religion." [3]

Overview: Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of eight festivals (known as Sabbats) which includes four solar festivals (Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Fall Equinox) and four seasonal festivals (celebrating or marking a significant seasonal change). The symbol for the concept illustrates a circle divided into eight equal sections. Although this depiction is relatively new and was developed in the 1800's as part of the Neo-Pagan movement, it closely reflects the nature of the holy days that were celebrated by Celts thousands of years ago, even if these celebrations were known by another name now long lost.

Sadly much of the details of what took place in ancient Celtic culture has been lost, but what still remains is available to us from the source culture's of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Something that we are learning as people of the disapora who are reclaiming our cultural heritage is that it's critically important to be learning from and in direct relationship with the source culture, otherwise we are perpetuating cultural appropriation within our own cultural lineage which perpetuates colonial violence.

Under industrial growth society, we follow the concept of linear time, however in the past, when we lived in close relationship to nature, time was perceived as cyclical. The Wheel of the Year is a calendar focused on this cyclical journey of the seasons:

Orienting to Cyclical Time

If you are in the beginning stages of disentangling yourself from the death-grip of industrial growth society, shifting from linear time to cyclical time can seem quite foreign and unfamiliar at first. We become so used to perceiving time as a never-ending accumulation of one event after the other... a building of sorts, or perhaps you might visualize it as a straight line with a starting point and an ending (life/death). Be gentle with yourself as you begin to open your mind and body to your natural biorhythmic movement. Disorientation, dislocation and disassociation are all manifestations of the trauma of separation from nature.