It is the start of May, commonly recognized as, ” May Day”. Most of us likely just think of the day as a time for school children to put on pageants involving dancing around may poles, and dressing up like flowers….however there is quite the history behind the date and celebration. Beltane is an ancient Celtic holiday with pagan and wiccan roots. It was a time to ring in the start of summer with rituals and celebrations meant to encourage growth, fertility, and protection from harm for the crops and herd animals. It typically was a time to gather, feast, and yes, dance around fires with painted naked bodies. Through history and various locations, there have been a wide range of rituals and ceremonies to mark the event. Perhaps the most brow-raising practices were those that involved ritual copulation—tying in with blessing the land with fertility. Often the “physical” ritual was performed by a man and woman selected to represent the gods, with the man adorned with stag antlers ( The Stag King).
Fire and flowers alike played large roles in Beltane festivities. Flowers were gathered to bedeck mantles, doors, floors, and even placed around the necks of animals. Some of the flowers were said to represent fire, which truly was a large focus in the celebrations. Typically all that naked dancing was done around, and in between large bonfires for which a large variety of practices involving food and animals were also performed.
It is interesting to see how things alter and change over time. Really, the way most celebrate and think of “May Day” in today’s modern age could be considered a highly diluted, almost Disney-ized version of the original bawdy, wild celebration. There are still many who gather to revive old traditions ( as can be seen through a google search that results in many pictures of nude, happy people waving torches ), and to celebrate the special type of rebirth that happens this time of year.
I myself have a fascination with this special day, and its colorful origins and practices. I have always been drawn to anything that has a hint of fairy and magic to it, and truly this celebration fits that bill. If anything it provides a fun excuse to invite friends for a fire-lit party in which they can adorn themselves with glitter and wings……though I would not really recommend reviving some of the um, more “intimate” aspects of the ancient traditions.
Wishing all a season of wonderful growth and blessing!