Beltane is the counterpoint to the festival of Samhain. Where Samhain is the start of the season of darkness, sleep and death, Beltane begins the season of light, life and activity. Like Samhain, Beltane is a time when the veil between worlds is thin and magick fills the air.
According to some, this is the time the faerie folk return from their winter homes and on Beltane Eve, the Queen of the Faeries roves about the land on her white horse, tempting people away to the land of the Fae. Legend says that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane night, you may hear the bells on the Queen’s horse, or actually see the Queen Herself. If you hide your face, She will pass you by, but if you look at Her, She may spirit you away.
It is at Beltane that the marriage of the God and the Goddess is celebrated. They come together in a sacred union, and the Goddess conceives, ensuring that the Wheel will turn once more. The Great Rite is held at this time, re-enacting and celebrating this union.
Dancing around the Maypole is another popular tradition, staged around the world. In many pagan traditions, the maypole is rife with sexual symbolism.
- By emulating the marriage of the God and Goddess, a couple honours them and their joining would be blessed.
- May is the month to celebrate the marriage of the God and Goddess, and all honours should be theirs alone. So by entering into a legal and permanent marriage at this time, a couple would essentially be stealing their thunder.
How to Dance the Maypole
- In advance, dig a hole at least 3-4 feet deep, to keep the pole upright during the dance.
- Cut a pole between 15-20 feet long. If you’ve cut a tree for Yule, you can save the trunk for the Maypole. If you’re cutting a tree, make sure you’ve asked permission beforehand and leave an offering of thanks. (If you don't wish to cut a tree, a large wooden pole, metal pole or even a length of PVC pipe can be used.)
- You’ll need lots and lots of ribbon. Use cloth ribbon if possible. The inexpensive paper ribbon will rip and tear as it is woven around the pole. The ribbon with the wire structure will bunch up and it won’t look as nice. Each length of ribbon should be about 2-3 inches wide and twice as long as the above ground portion of the pole. You will need equal numbers of ribbons of at least two colours; depending on the number of dancers (at least 6-8 are recommended. The colours of the ribbons depend on the preference. Traditionally, red and white are used, representing the God and Goddess. Some use colours befitting the season; green for the forest, golden for the sun. Let your instincts lead you to the colours that are appropriate for your Maypole.
- Attach the ribbons to the top of the pole; you can put in an eyelet and tie the ribbons to that, or affix them with tacks, nails, glue, etc. You can also make a couple of crosscuts at the top of the pole, tie a knot at the end of the ribbon and then thread the ribbon into the cut. The knot will prevent it from sliding back out.
- Once the ribbons are attached, you can also slide a flower wreath on top. (Tradition says the wreath should be made on Beltane morning from May flowers gathered fresh from the fields.) It must be somewhat bigger than the pole, and will hang suspended by the ribbons. As the ribbons are wound, the wreath will be lowered until it sits at the bottom of the pole.
- Raise the pole until it is vertical, slide it into the hole and pack dirt around the base so it will hold steady during the dance.
Group 1 will start in the inner circle, group 2 on the outer. Hold the ribbon in the hand closest to the pole. As you move around the circle, pass first on the left, then the right, then the left again, weaving in and out. If you are passing on the outside, hold the ribbon up so the inner person can pass under it. Keep going around and around until everyone runs out of ribbon, then knot all the ribbons at the bottom.