From sunset on the 30th of April to sunset on the 1st of May, Beltane is celebrated. Recognized as the first day of Summer in Celtic traditions, it is a time for celebration of rebirth and abundance.
Activities and rituals historically practiced for Beltane varied according to community, but among the most common were dancing around the Maypole, lighting of Beltane fires, the cleansing of the home, and seeing to the protection of the home since Beltane, like Samhain (or Samhuinn) is a time when veils between worlds are thinned.
As with other Pagan celebrations, the observances of many communities changed or ceased with growing Christian influences, though certain practices like the Maypole survived. Recent history has seen a resurgence in celebration of this holy day, not only as a way to celebrate the end of winter, but in recognition of its Pagan roots and importance in the Pagan calendars.
One of the largest public celebrations of Beltane occurs annually in Edinburgh, Scotland. Organized and executed by the Beltane Fire Society (the first incarnation of which was begun in 1988 by Angus Farquhar), the festival incorporates Beltane traditions like mummery, the presidency of a May Queen and King and, most importantly, the Beltane fire. And while the Beltane Fire Festival performances and activities tell the story of the death and rebirth of the Green Man and the victory of summer over winter, the proprietors of the festival explain that it is more a matter of catharsis, the much needed mass acknowledgment of humanity coming through another grand winter into a time where they can grow themselves, work on goals, and make the most of good weather before winter comes again, than a wholly religious observation.
For those of us who cannot be in Edinburgh this Beltane, here is provided a list of the Beltane Fire Society’s cast of characters and what they represent in the context of their celebration.
MAY QUEEN: Purity, Strength, Energy of the Earth
HORNED GOD: Winter aspect of the Green Man
GREEN MAN: The Green Man represents the life that grows on earth
BLUE MEN: Procession’s Guides and Guards, Collective Wisdom
WHITE WARRIOR WOMEN: Guardians of the queen, four of who are the Four Handmaidens of the May Queen, also represent Order
RED MEN: Imps, servants to the Green Man, Chaos