Wiccan Holidays: What is Beltane?

Updated on May 1, 2020
WiccanSage profile image

Sage has been celebrating the Wheel of the Year for 25+ years, and being a holiday junkie, she just can't get enough of the sabbats!

Beltane is Here!

Welcome, my friend! Join us—take a seat on the picnic blanket and toss your jacket aside.

Isn't it a beautiful day? Just breathe it all in—the shining sun, the blue skies, the lush grass. It just doesn't get any better than this, does it? Look at that lovely scene over there, of the dancers with their colorful ribbons weaving in and out around the pole. Cheerful, isn't it?

Me, I'm too tired to dance again. I danced around the bonfire till dawn. The heady scent of burning cedar and lavender is still in my hair. The drummers played that primal beat, and it just stirred my soul to make merry. You must join us for the sabbat feast! Have a cup of honey mead and toast with us—for it is now a time of celebration!

What are we celebrating? Why, the sabbat of Beltane, of course!

The Wiccan Wheel of the Year has come to a special place today. Nature is bursting with life as we transition into summer. The April showers have quenched the parched land to facilitate the greening, and the May flower buds are blooming on the branch. And, um… in case you haven’t noticed, the birds, the bees, all the animals, flowers, and even the people seem to be getting kind of frisky.


Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

Celebrating Beltane: Variations

Names/spellings of Holiday
Celtic - May 1st
Beltane; Beltain, Beltine, Beltaine, Bealtaine, Bealltainn, Boaltinn, Boaldyn
Marked the beginning of summer
Wicca - Eve of April 30th through May 1st
May Eve (original, Gardnarian); later, Beltane
Marks the beginning of summer, and the sexual union of God and Goddess
English/generic - May 1st
May Day
English name for Beltane traditions, most of which survived well into the Christianization of Europe
German - Night of April 30th
Believed to be the night when Witches came out to celebrate the coming of summer
Czech Republic - April 30th
pálení čarodějnic
Witches are burned in effigy (in the form of rags and brooms) to bring winter to an end
Estonia - April 30th through May
Volbriöö (eve of); Kevadpüha (day)
Witches were believed to gather to celebrate summer
Finland - April 30 through May 1
General merrymaking to celebrate the season; drinking, feasting, parades
Roman - May 2nd
Bona Dea
Bonfires in celebration of fertility Goddess
Roman - 3 day festival in early May
Honoring flower Goddess; celebrated with big orgies—and flowers!
Greek - Early May
The Goddess Athena was honored with spring cleaning" of her temple, feasting and prayers

Queen Guinevere's Maying


'Guinevere' by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson

For thus it chanced one morn when all the court,

Green-suited, but with plumes that mocked the may,

Had been, their wont, a-maying and returned,

That Modred still in green, all ear and eye,

Climbed to the high top of the garden-wall

To spy some secret scandal if he might...

History of Beltane

The Beltane that Wiccans celebrate today is rooted mostly in Celtic celebrations that marked the start of the summer season. It was one of the four Celtic annual festivals, which have been adopted into the Wiccan Wheel of the Year as the "Greater Sabbats."

Beltane marked the time of year when the livestock were driven to the summer pastures. Livestock was precious to the Celts because it ensured survival through the harsh winters. They were so precious that they rarely slaughtered livestock—they primarily used it for dairy production, and only secondarily for meat.

The biggest fear at this time of year were the sídhe— those fairy folk could be very troublesome indeed. People feared their livestock would be stolen or cursed with a plague. Rituals that emerged were designed to protect the livestock and appease the wee folk so that they would not be too mischievous. Druids would light big bonfires and parade the Celts paraded the animals between them on their way to pasture. The fires were sacred and meant to purify and protect them.

People would also leap the fires for prosperity and fertility, and cook their foods on the fires to bring blessings. They would douse out their own hearths and candles at home, and relight them with an ember brought from the sacred fires. This would enable them to carry that protective, purifying fire into the home to continue to bless them.

These rituals were also designed to connect with the power of the growing sun, to ensure a prosperous agricultural year. The growing crops were another essential element to a family’s winter survival.

Many customs in celebration of the summer season evolved out of these gatherings. People would make floral wreaths and garlands to deck the home, the trees and bushes. They would include ribbons, shells and other decorative items.

People would visit wells they thought holy and say their prayers into them. They'd then toss coins or strips of cloth into wells in exchange for good health. The first water drawn on Beltane morn was considered a particularly potent elixir, as was the morning dew. People believed washing with it would make them appear more youthful and attractive.

Maypoles became such a common factor that they’re a prime symbol of the season. The Maypole is the ultimate phallic symbol—plunged into the hole of the earth and topped with a floral wreath. People tie ribbons to it and dance around it, weaving the ribbons together.

By the Middle Ages, in many areas of Northern Europe, the Eve of Beltane was thought to be a sabbat for Witches to meet and celebrate the coming of summer. It wasn't actually—they were just good, old-fashioned Pagan customs. But Christians feared them, and rumors grew.

As Christianity spread, particularly Protestantism, these customs drew more and more criticism and were outlawed in many places. Such celebrations nearly died out altogether. Thankfully, the Pagan revival, with Wicca at the forefront, brought them back. Now, even non-Pagans revel in May Day-style celebrations at this time of year.

A Beltane Bonfire


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Wican Beltane Celebrations

In Wicca, Beltane is certainly rooted in the Celtic festivals but we have also borrowed from other traditions and made it our own. These types of spring rites were nearly universally held in Pagan cultures throughout the northern hemisphere in April and May.

Samhain is at the opposite end of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, and we see the two holidays as complementary—one celebrates life, the other death. Thus, these are the two absolute biggest holidays in our religion. For many solitaries, it’s too big a day to spend alone—a lot of Wiccans (and many Pagans in general) will head out to local group gatherings, camp outs or at least host parties for open-minded friends. Group rituals, feasting and maypole dances are fairly common at this time of year, usually on weekends nearest the holiday itself.

In Wiccan lore, this is the time when the God and Goddess are united. She becomes pregnant with His seed (which makes it possible for Him to be reborn later at the Winter Solstice). Some treat this as Their wedding day. With this, traditionally, Wiccans don’t hold weddings at Beltane—some consider it ‘bad luck’ to compete with God and Goddess.

But it does make Beltane a time for celebrating unions— when two or more separate things join together to form a new and more complete whole. It’s not uncommon for lovers to spend part of their Beltane in private celebrations, but making love isn't the only union found at these fertility rites. You'll also see a lot of weaving going on. It may be weaving ribbons on a maypole, weaving floral wreaths crowns for your head, or weaving magical charms (such as this Witches Ladder spell). Weaving is symbolic for sacred unions—when separate things are brought together to create a new and more balanced whole.

Maypole Dancing on Village Green


May Day in America

Public domain
Public domain | Source

Have a Blessed Beltane

Beltane has long been one of my favorite times of the year. When I lived in New York City, I looked forward to the huge, annual Pagan celebrations in Central Park— it was always amazing! Since moving from New York (many long year ago, now), I've spent many a Beltane at Pagan camp-outs at local state parks and nature preserves, where we danced into the wee hours of the morning around blazing bonfires to the beat of a dozen pounding drums.

There is an energy about this day that is palpable and powerful, which makes it a prime time for works of constructive magic. It's a time we should stop and recognize that we're all strands on the web of life, and everything in nature—from the sprouting seed to humankind to the Gods themselves—is connected.

Whether you’re spending it out with the Pagan community, or having a quiet, private celebration at home, I wish you a blessed Beltane!

One of My Favorite Beltane Chants

Free the Heart / Powerful Song
Free the Heart / Powerful Song
My hubby is a drummer, and if you have a drummer and a May pole on Beltane-- you've got some party! This is a really powerful chant, one of my favorite to use when romping around the pole. They don't get to it in the song sample, but the chant segues into "strand by strand, hand over hand, thread by thread, we weave our web." Beltane perfection!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      Yep, it's an old celebration and we can only speculate why the Celts observed it as they were largely oral traditions until the onset of Christianization of the culture. We can speculate that it was mainly due to the start of the annual agricultural cycle, which would make sense in Central to Northern Europe in May. But many things about the ancient Pagan Celts will remain a mystery. Thanks for your comment Writer Fox!

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 

      6 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Interesting facts about the Celtic Beltane festival! It's odd that no one seems to know why the Celts first started celebrating this holiday. Apparently they celebrated it long before they got to Britain.

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      Thanks so much MizBejabbers, and thank you for sharing. The Pagan revival has done a lot to bring back the old ways and it's nice to see them flourishing. That's a favorite chant of mine, too. I appreciate your comments and votes.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      6 years ago from Beautiful South

      This is a beautiful hub and very well done. You deserve an HOTD. I’m not wiccan but I have my own personal beliefs that encourage me to study other people’s beliefs. My ancestors centuries ago were Druids and Wiccans of the British Isles. The more I learn, the madder I get about the Paulines and the Roman Catholics taking away all that real beauty from us and substituting salvation by blood and gore. I think Mother Earth is sacred and that she is fighting a hard battle for her very life. I think it started with the church in Rome and spread like a cancer, blighting the land. Maybe we need to bring back some of these customs, like Beltane and Samhain, in earnest to pull in the healing energies help her. I loved the chant and your photos. Voted up +++

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      6 years ago from New Jersey

      The one time I participated in a May Pole was fabulous. I should really do it again.

      Excellent hub. And congratulations on your Hub of the Day :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I haven't thought about May 1st as May Day in years. Thank you for this enlightening article. I especially liked the chart that made the information clear to compare. Your photo selections and addition of music made this a great experience for the reader. Congratulations on HOTD.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      6 years ago from West By God

      Loved this hub and all the information in it. I am half welsh and half german. I tend to be going to my welsh roots though and love all this information. I am not sure what to do with it all but I do believe that thins happen for reasons and sometimes we just don't know why or when this will be used later...until later comes.

    • AuniceReed profile image

      Aunice Yvonne Reed 

      6 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you so much! Great hub with lots of info.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      6 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Interesting. I loved your way with words, your descriptions, particularly in the first part of the hub. Nice piece of writing. Congrats on HOTD!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      6 years ago from Chicago Area

      Loved this hub when you first published it a couple weeks back. Congrats on Hub of the Day! Well deserved.

      It's a cold, rainy May Day here in Chicago. But we'll be celebrating anyway! :)

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      Thanks Baby_Boomer and Flourish Anyway! Glad you enjoyed!

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      I didn't even know until I logged on and opened my comments, and saw this. Thank you! Another hub goal checked off my list, lol.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on HOTD! This was well done and very interesting. Terrific job!

    • Baby-Boomer-58 profile image

      Alex Finn 

      6 years ago

      Coming into winter here, but you captured the joy of springtime and I learned a lot. Voted up, and congrats on hotd.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      6 years ago from USA

      Very interesting hub! Congrats on your HOTD!!

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      Thanks Alicia; I always loved dancing around the Maypole. Such a fun holiday. I appreciate your comments, thanks for stopping by.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I enjoyed this hub very much. It reminded me of the May Day celebrations that I experienced as a child. The fun always involved dancing around a maypole. Thanks for sharing the information about Beltane. It sounds like such a happy sabbat!

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      Thanks Heidi, I'm glad you found something interesting. I appreciate your comments & your votes, thanks for stopping by.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      6 years ago from Chicago Area

      I knew about May Day celebrations and such, but was unfamiliar with this holiday. Thanks for the great info. Voted up and beautiful. Happy Beltane!

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      It is so true, Dolores, I remember when I lived up North especially it was the time you could really start getting out after the long winter, and it was totally enchanting to me. The promise of new beginnings, just beautiful. Thanks for stopping by!

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      That is a hell I could deal with, lol. Dancing around a bonfire for eternity wouldn't be bad. I do love the rich history and nature in its glory at this time of year, thanks CM, I appreciate your comments!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I enjoyed reading about Beltane. What a wonderful time of year, the time when we can set out plants with no fear of frost damage. The time of year for dining outdoors, and taking long walks in local parks; the time of year for fairs and fun. We used to go to a local fair where they set up a May pole. Such a lovely ritual! Such a wonderful time of the year!

    • CMHypno profile image


      6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Very interesting hub Wiccan Sage. May in the UK is usually a beautiful month with the first real warmth in the sun. Even in medieval times Beltane was largely tolerated, if not officially condoned, by the Church as one night where people could let off steam and celebrate after a long hard winter. Many babies were probably Beltane eve babies back then! But along came the Puritans who tried to suck the joy out of everything and good old Oliver Cromwell banned May Poles. Maybe hell for people with that mindset is being eternally made to sit by a roaring bonfire with a cup of ale in their hands being forced to watch people enjoying themselves until they just let go and join in?

    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      6 years ago

      Thanks so much, Grand Old Lady, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      6 years ago from Philippines

      Very interesting, especially the symbolism about the maypole and weaving. This hub is filled with information.


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