May Eve is also known by the name Beltane. It is believed that “Beltane” is derived from the Irish Gaelic word “Beeltaine”, meaning Bel fire. That is, a fire lit to honour the Celtic god Bel. Bel fires were lit at sun down on April 30th (or the Celtic equivalent) on the tallest beacon hill in the area. The reason for lighting these fires comes from a belief that the Tuatha De Danann would light great bonfires at this time of year to bring in a summer filled with good harvest, prosperity and hope. It is also believed that Druids lit these fires, and village people drove their cattle between them to purify them and bring good luck.
For modern Wiccans, May Eve is a celebration of the fertility of the Lord and Lady. It is the time of year when the two come together in sexual intercourse, and the Lord’s seed is planted in the Lady, just as we plant seeds in the earth. Wiccans also recognize some of the older traditions of May Eve/May Day, such as the May Fire and the Maypole. This ritual includes both.
Firstly, the May Fire. As already mentioned, it is believed to be Druid tradition, and was used for the blessing of cattle. In this ritual you will build a small fire (space permitting, a candle or tiny fire in a cauldron may be more appropriate), and leap over it in hopes of bring luck for the coming season. The ritual also includes a May Pole, which is believed by many to be a giant phallic symbol. This belief is probably aided by the fact that as the men and women pass they are to give each other a kiss.
- Early evening (approximately 7:30 pm) – group gathers in the ritual space, preferable outside, weather permitting, to set up ritual area (see below for suggestions)
- Sunset (approximately 8:20pm) – group leader begins ritual
- Ritual Outline
- Circle is opened through normal means
- Group leader gives speech on the meaning of May Eve/Beltane
- Group performs rite to honour the Lord and Lady on this holiday
- A group craft is created
- Circle is released
- Ritual Outline
- Preceding the ritual – a small feast is held to celebrate the Sabbat which includes foods currently available in the area
- usual working tools (these are up to the individual)
- potted spring plants (hyacinths, daffodils or tulips would be lovely; have enough to decorate your space)
- a small cauldron with items to make a fire
- ribbons, etc. for a May Pole, preferable in pastel spring colours
- music appropriate for the May Pole dancing
- several cut blooms, wicker baskets, and ribbons for the craft
The altar and ritual area should be decorated by the group. Potted plants, like tulips, should be included as a way to draw in the fertility of the season. If the ritual is held outside (assuming the temperature has managed to say above freezing), it would be ideal to hold the ritual on grass, possibly in an area carpeted with spring flowers. (Just a note: there are often plenty of dandelions around this time of year, which is a clear indication of fertility. Feel free to hold your rite surrounded by them. Remember, a weed is just a flower with bad press!)
When the group is ready, the ritual would start with the usual Circle opening. (For example, I like the one I have on my website: Circle Casting. It important to me state the name of the Sabbat in the opening of the Circle. For example, as the leader finishes casting the Circle, he/she would say: Today is the day we celebrate May Eve. We have cast my Circle so we might celebrate with the Lord and Lady on this day.
Once the Circle is cast and the group has settled, sitting on the group if is doesn’t freeze their bottoms, the group leader will give a speech about the meaning of May Eve. See the introduction to this essay for an example.
Once the speech/lesson is complete, the highest priest stands before the altar and says the following:
Today is the day I know my Lord. Today is the day I take in His seed so that he might live again when the cold grasp of winter is on the land. But today is not the day to think of such dark and sad things; today is the day to revel in the light and in happiness.
The high priest comes up and gently kisses the high priestess in the cheek. She shrieks in delight and dances away from him. The whole coven stands up at this point and begins to fashion the May Pole.
[This can be a very difficult thing, depending on the area where the ritual is being held. Obviously a large pole cannot be placed in the ground at a public park, or indoors. Some thought may need to be given on how to accomplish this. I have heard suggested that for an indoor ritual a hook can be affixed to the ceiling and ribbons tied to it. The result is not as pretty as a traditional May Pole, but it is still a fun activity.]
As the coven dances around the May Pole, preferably to music of some sort, the high priest and priestess, acting as the Lord and Lady, chase each other around the Circle. Once the coven has finished creating the May Pole, the Lord catches the Lady and gives her a passionate kiss [use your judgement here, based on their relationship].
The high priest says:
I have caught my Lady and I will know her love. Today is the day I lay in Her arms, and know the boundless join of love.
The high priestess picks up the chalice from the altar, and the high priest picks up his athame. He plunges his athame into the chalice, performing the symbolic Great Rite. The coven then lets up a great cheer, hug each other and perhaps exchanging a few kisses.
The high priest says:
Now is the time to share Our love and luck. Let us create a May Fire!
A few coven members help to clear away the May Pole (depending on how it was created), while another coven member places the cauldron in the middle of the Circle, assuring that there is enough room to jump over it, and gets it ready to be lit.
The high priestess takes up one of the candles from the altar and stands behind the cauldron. She says:
The Bel Fire was once a symbol of luck to all the people who could see it shining on a far away hill. It was believed that luck would come to anyone who could jump over such a fire. Today we will share in the love and luck of the Lord and Lady by jumping over the fire that we light in their honour.
She bends down and lights a fire in the cauldron with her candle. She then invites them to jump over the cauldron while holding one of their fondest wishes in their mind.
Once all of the participants have jumped over the fire, she asks everyone to sit down before the altar. The cauldron is left burning, but only if this is safe.
The high priestess says:
Another May Day tradition is to create a May basket to give to someone who is in need of happiness, luck or healing. Tonight we will each create such a basket for you to gift to someone tomorrow.
The coven members then choose a small wicker basket, fill them with the cut flowers, and decorate them with ribbons. The high priestess may suggest that they keep the recipient of the basket secret, since it may be that some of the members are making baskets for themselves.
Suggestions for cut flowers include:
- blue bell – gratitude
- daffodils – regard or respect
- heather (white) – protection
- ivy – friendship
- lily-of-the-valley – purity, humility
- peony – healing
- roses – love
- statice – sympathy
- tulips – love
Ribbon colours can also be used to reinforce the message sent:
- red – confidence, courage, vitality
- pink – love
- brown – order, convention
- orange – endurance
- yellow – joy, happiness
- green – well being, fertility
- blue – peace
- purple – magic
- indigo – meditation or contemplation
- white – purity
- black – stability
- grey – sympathy
One everyone is finished creating the May baskets, it is time for the releasing of the Circle. Again, this should be the one the group is most comfortable with. For my Circle releasing, see Releasing a Circle.
The feast should be presented in a manner similar to picnic, in order to keep the gathering feeling intimate. The food eaten should be items that are in season in the area. In Southern Ontario, that would include: asparagus (how very phallic!), carrots (seeing a trend?), cucumbers (wink, wink), lettuce, mushrooms, onions, greenhouse peppers, radishes, rutabaga, bean sprouts, and greenhouse tomatoes. Just think of the wonderful salad that could be made! As for fruits, the following should also be available this time of year: several varieties of apples and rhubarb. Strawberries are also in abundance at markets this time of year, but they often come from quite far south. Since they are such a sensual fruit, I think that it is very appropriate to include them in a May Eve feast. I’ve heard that strawberry and rhubarb pie is quite tasty. (Produce Availability in Ontario)