How to Celebrate Beltane

Bird Woman Performer at the Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh
Bird Woman Performer at the Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh. theasis / Getty Images

With roots in the British Isles, Beltane is a celebration that falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It honors spring at its peak and the coming summer. If the spring has been a fruitful one, usually the rains have produced rich and fertile earth with verdant green woodlands. Beltane celebrates the new life that will emerge during this seasonal transition.

Festivities for the event begin on or near the last night of April and continue through May 1. Observed for centuries in Europe, the celebration is now embraced by pagans, who light bonfires, dance, and perform rituals on the occasion. There is no shortage of ways to observe Beltane, and some pagans also mark the event by paying tribute to their agrarian ancestors who celebrated Beltane centuries earlier.

Beltane History

Children Dancing Around Maypole
Gideon Mendel / Getty Images

A variety of cultures have celebrated Beltane, or May Day, over the centuries. The ancient Romans observed Floralia, a celebration for their goddess of flowers, around this time. This is a period to honor the many deities associated with Beltane, such as gods of the forest, goddesses of passion and motherhood, and a number of agricultural deities around the world. Gods like Cernunnos and Artemis, and the mythical figure of the Green Man, all factor into the colorful history of Beltane. In addition, numerous legends and lore exist about how to become more fertile during this time—and that doesn't just apply to people, but to the land itself. 

Beltane Magic

Green Man & May Queen
Maisna / Getty Images

Beltane is a good time to practice fertility magic in hopes of producing an abundant crop by the time the harvest rolls around. Don't forget that the garden can be one of the most magical places in your life. Start thinking about how to plan, create, and grow your magical garden, as well as ways to create specialty gardens, herb plots, and more!

A Beltane Altar

Beltane Altar
Use symbols of the season to decorate your Beltane altar. Patti Wigington

Set up an altar honoring the Beltane season using rich greens and colors reflecting the spring flowers. Incorporate a candle signifying the Beltane fire. Fertility symbols from nature, such as horns, seeds, and flowers, as well as a mother goddess symbol, can round out the altar.

Rituals and Ceremonies

Beltrane ritual
theasis/Getty Images

Consider practicing different rituals during Beltane and adapt them so they can be used by a single practitioner or a small group. For example, you can honor the sacred feminine with a goddess ritual or hold a family abundance rite to celebrate the bond you have with your relatives. Or, if you are alone, you can perform the Beltane planting ritual for solitaries to get into the spirit of the season.

Beltane Prayers

Detail from the Celtic Gundestrop Cauldron, 3rd century.
Print Collector/Getty Images / Getty Images

If you are a planning a special ceremony, the "Beltane Blessing" to the horned god Cernunnos is an appropriate prayer to recite. You may also want to say prayers to Mother Earth, gods and spirits of the forest, and the May Queen, otherwise known as the goddess Flora. You can repeat prayers that have already been written or try penning your own to give the words a personal touch.

Perform a Maypole Dance

Norfolk, Holt Hall. Children dressed as fairies dance around a maypole at the annual Fairy Fair.
Will Gray / Getty Images

The maypole dance is a time-honored tradition long celebrated by people all over the world, from Western Europe to South Asia and Latin America. Consider hosting your own maypole dance in which a pole is decorated to represent a living tree and fertility. Men go one way, women go the other way, and each holds a ribbon sheathing the pole.

Ritual Sex and the Great Rite

Couple kissing on bed
Tom Merton / Getty Images

In some (although not all) traditions of paganism, sacred sex is part of spiritual practice, and Beltane is a time when some people perform the Great Rite or ritual intercourse. Many pagans find that such sex is a way to raise energy, create magical power, or find a sense of spiritual communion with a partner.

The Bale Fire of Beltane

May Queen and Green Man at the Beltane Fire Festival
theasis / Getty Images

The Beltane bonfire ritual goes back to early Ireland when the community would light a giant bonfire during the event and share burning logs with which to light their home. It is likely that the word "Beltane" is a reference to the "bale" fire. Similarly in Germany, during Beltane, German Pagans celebrate Walpurgisnacht, a giant bonfire celebrated much like May Day.

Handfastings and Weddings

Wedding In the Woods
Jupiterimages / Stockbyte / Getty Images

Handfastings and weddings are popular during Beltane. Decide if you want a ceremonial handfasting, a symbolic joining of the hands to represent your union with your partner, or if you want to get official with a marriage certificate. Since late spring and summer are also the most popular times to get married for non-pagans, planning a ceremony well in advance of Beltane is encouraged.

Welcome Faeries to Your Garden

Mixed border planted with alcea (hollyhock), rosmarinus officinalis (rosmary)in the retirement garden, hampton court
Stephen Robson / Getty Images

In pagan and Wiccan traditions, it is believed that the veil between earth and the faerie world grows thin on Beltane. Plenty of faerie lore also links Beltane to the mischievous fae. Plant flowers, herbs, and sacred plants of the Beltane season to welcome faeries to your garden. Butterflies are mystical and magical and tied to the fae world, too.

​Crafts and Creations

Altar Maypole
Patti Wigington

As Beltane approaches, you can decorate your home with a number of easy craft projects. Start celebrating a bit early with fun floral crowns and a maypole altar centerpiece. You can do some meditative braiding or make some faerie-size furniture for your garden.

Celebrating Beltane With Children

Children dancing round a maypole
Cecilia Cartner / Getty Images

The history of Beltane may seem a bit scandalous since fertility is often celebrated with bawdy jokes and sexual imagery, but Beltane can be celebrated by everyone, young and old, and in a number of ways. If you're raising little pagans, try these fun ways to embrace the Beltane season with your kids. The family abundance ritual is a good place to start.

Beltane Recipes & Cooking

Make this cake to celebrate Beltane and the spirit of the forest. Patti Wigington

No pagan celebration is really complete without a meal to go along with it. For Beltane, celebrate with foods that honor fertility of the earth. Bake a Green Man cake to celebrate the lusty fertility god of the woodlands, mix up a light early summer salad, and stick some traditional Scottish oatcakes in the oven.