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What is Bealtaine?

Blossoming pink flower on the branch, overlaid with purple and the following title: What is Bealtaine? & nature's wisdom

Bealtaine (Irish), also called May Day, is a 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.

In this blog post you will find:


Dear friend, can you feel it? The inner opening available to us now as the days lengthen and 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 leaf buds slowly unfurl and expand into majestic light-catchers. 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.

What is Bealtaine?

"For much of the course of human history the 1st 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 along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lúnasa. 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]

The Wheel of the Year

Nature's Arc of Change

Nature's Arc of Change is a map we created combining ancient Celtic wisdom (wheel of the year), astrology, and the life cycle of plants to illustrate the spiraling movement of time. It is divided into eight equal sections, demarcated by seasonal thresholds, which the Celts honored accordingly:

Quarter Festivals

  1. Winter Solstice: Dec. 21

  2. Spring Equinox: Mar. 19

  3. Summer Solstice: Jun. 20

  4. Fall Equinox: Sep. 22

Cross-Quarter Festivals:

  1. Imbolc: early spring

  2. Bealtaine: early summer

  3. Lunasa: early autumn

  4. Samhain: early winter

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 traditions and folkways 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.

Here are some great places to start for those interested in learning from Irish Source Culture:

Orienting to Cyclical Time

Under industrial growth society / colonial capitalism, we follow the concept of linear time which commodifies experience as something to accumulate. Time's passage is marked by hallmark holidays which serve to maintain consumption patterns pillaging the planet. They provide the masses with a false sense of belonging yet ultimately keep us in cycles of dysregulation and addiction. Read more about the Holiday Trauma Vortex here.


This disorientation propels us toward unchecked accumulation, productivity, urgency and external growth while ignoring the necessity to counter such movement toward greater harmony. It's a mode of being that dissociates us from the web of life by cutting us off from embodied wisdom rooted in natural rhythms. The cost of our collective forgetting manifests as disconnection and unwellness in our personal, social, political and ecological contexts.

In the past however, when our ancestors lived more communally and in closer relationship to nature, time was seen as cyclical.  Life was steeped in place-based relationality, experience was informed by seasonal rhythms, knowledge was shaped by encounters with more-than-human-kin, and intuition was strengthened through embodied conversations with the natural world. People recognized the inherent ebb and flow of life and honored Nature's Arc of Change (life/death/rebirth) because they participated intimately in the dance of the seasons through agriculture.

Orienting to nature's rhythmic arc of change supports us to be in right relationship with the wider web of our ecological belonging

Make Nature Connection a Practice

If you are in the beginning stages of untangling 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 events. Be gentle with yourself as you learn to reorient your bodymind toward nature's biomorphic field. Disorientation, dislocation and disembodiment are all manifestations of the wound of separation from nature.

Beginning to make the shift toward nature's cycles will take time. The best thing you can do to support this shift is to spend more time immersed in nature. Whatever you're doing in your life now, simply add 10-15 min of intentional time in nature to your day. Make this time slow and mindful, or in stillness as you take in your surroundings while staying connected to your inner landscape.

NOTE: Although we orient toward the Celtic tradition, Indigenous and folk cultures from around the world all share very similar earth-based orientations that are informed by the unique bioregions in which they have arisen. It's important to name these differentiations and to recognize that we aren't all having the same experiences. Learn to pay attention to the messages and wisdom arising from the unique bioregion where you reside.

The Message of Bealtaine

The Pleasure of Sensuality

If the message of Spring Equinox is about breaking free from what is confining, then Bealtaine is about claiming freedom and taking it into the realms of embodied fulfillment and ecstacy.

Through the turning of the wheel, nature teaches us that the basic pattern of life is one of oscillation and contrast; a pulsating dance and tension between polarities. The rhythm of creation throbs with erotic life force energy and it is through this dynamic of hide and seek that we experience the pleasure of aliveness. The energy of Spring is arousing and builds as the days lengthen and the warming light penetrates Earth. We too are being aroused as light penetrates our bodies and this happens through our senses.

Here we are given the opportunity to join in on the seasonal frolicking and to commune with the vitality of life. It's all about releasing your inhibitions, letting go of the things that hold you back, and allowing yourself to express what comes naturally!

Sounds simple, no?

Well it's not surprising that this seasonal initiation can bring up a lot of for people. Under the ongoing traumatic influence of industrial growth society, we constantly have to reckon with systems of oppression that are imbedded within the cultural fabric of racial capitalism (and how we internalize it). This means that for many of us, it often doesn't feel safe enough to access pleasure. So it's no wonder that accessing freedom can prove to be a challenge. But that is exactly what we must do. Our divinity is entangled with the flesh of who we are, so coming back to our bodies, awakening our senses and giving ourselves permission to prioritize safety and what feels good is how we access the flowing nectar of life.

As earthen creatures, vitality is our birthright and we experience this through the pleasure of aliveness and the sensuality of being ensouled matter. When Christianity took hold, certain elements of the old religion were overlaid with new concepts, while others were entirely suppressed and demonized, in particular the wild earth, the sensuous body, sexual vitality and the power of embodying erotic energy. Audre Lorde proclaimed this in her influential essay, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power ...

"In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives." [4]

This is what Bealtaine evokes! Coming into wholeness means embracing our wildness, becoming untamed, and expressing the fullness of our erotic nature. We are perfectly designed to receive pleasure and enjoyment from the ecological ebb and flow of life. Under the death-grip of industrial growth society however (and with a repressive history that reaches back to the middle ages), many of our bodies carry trauma which block us from receiving the most subtle sensational pleasures. Fear creates constriction and limits our capacity to experience aliveness.

Spring arouses us while early summer lures us out from hiding, drawing us into the lovemaking that is life itself! When we are receptive to the power of the erotic we have an increased capacity to shape change and ride the waves of oscillation with greater ease and ecstasy.

White flower blossoms overlaid with journal prompts

Bealtaine Journal Prompts

The following journal prompts relate to the theme of pleasure, sensuality and aliveness. Explore your relationship to this seasonal energy by reflecting on these questions:

  • How does my body like to experience pleasure? When do I feel most alive?

  • How does my pleasure and vitality serve to disrupt systems of oppression?

  • What gets in the way of prioritizing the cultivation of my erotic power?

  • What beliefs or attitude do I hold around sexuality? Sensuality? How are they different?

  • What does nature reveal to me about pleasure, rhythm and relationship?


The seasonal energy of Bealtaine is arousing and invites you to delight in your sensuous expression, soften into pleasure, express your love for the world, follow your curiosities/attractions, reclaim what sets you free, what brings you joy, and what supports your vitality.

By embracing the seasonal is a powerful way to reclaim your ancestral connection to radical joy and embodied aliveness. Leaning into the invitations that nature brings will help you to THRIVE during this time.


Did you like this post?

We'd love to hear from you!

  • How are you celebrating Bealtaine or May Day?

  • What miracles are you bearing witness to?

  • How is nature teaching you?

Leave a comment below :)

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