Beltane is both the most complicated and the easiest holiday to celebrate.
For my family it is usually overshadowed by the folk traditions of my husband’s village in South Bohemia. There the entire village gathers on the green and builds a 100-foot maypole and a monstrous bonfire, In which they burn scarecrows that they call "witches." Then everyone gets drunk.
It’s fun and very simple. There are no words spoken by the mayor or anyone else. Ostensibly there is no meaning to this holiday. If asked, some of the older people in the village will tell you that the witches burned on the bonfire are not meant to symbolize real witches, such as people who are outcast in the village. Rather they symbolize “the witch of winter.” But that is the end of any meaning ascribed to the day.
And that is where it gets complicated for me.
I haven't truly had the chance to celebrate Beltane in any other way, so while I know about the deeper symbols of the day in different cultures, I have no set ritual, no songs and very little tradition--except attending the village festival--attached to it.
This year a friend and I decided to introduce our children to a more Pagan-oriented Beltane. Before the festival we will build our own small maypole in the yard. We will gather in a circle for a small ritual, give flowers from the garden as offerings to our deities and the Good Neighbors, sing a song or two, eat colorful candy made with natural food coloring, dance around the maypole and have a picnic lunch with a small fire.
During my preparations for this celebration, I have found that it is more difficult than I thought to express the essence of Beltane. Ironically the darker holidays, such as Samhain or Imbolc seem to have more easily defined themes.
It is easy to say that Beltane is about joy, passion, love, fertility, expression and life. But it is harder to define exactly what these things mean. Almost any song of joy and love might be appropriate for the holiday but that also means that none seems to be essentially fitting. And for our purposes, the songs need to be simple enough for both kids and adults to sing without a lot of preparation.
I have several Pagan chants that seem appropriate and my kids are working on the melodies on the piano. There is one called Hoof and Horn, about the rebirth of all life. The earthy lyrics, reminiscent of the Green Man make me think specifically of Beltane, though it could be used during any part of the year.
We decided to include the Ancient Mother chant and Everlasting Sea with lyrics adapted to work as a song for calling the elements and four directions.
I love you like the wind.
Ever-singing wind. Ever-singing wind.
I love you like the sun.
Ever-shining sun. Ever-shining sun.
I love you like the sea.
Everlasting sea. Everlasting sea.
I love you like the earth.
Ever-turning earth. Ever-turning earth.
These are still general though. We often use the melodies of other songs and put our own seasonal lyrics to them. It isn’t usually a terrible challenge. But this holiday does not lend itself so well to deep thoughts. Beltane is all sensual and sensory, all experience and action with few words.
It is challenging to put the instinctual, active, earthy, physical essence of Beltane into words. In the end. I chose the melody of Scarborough Fair but used seasonal lyrics.
Are you going to the Beltane fair?
Dancing, fire, ribbons and wine.
Laugh your heart full when you get there,
for 'tis the goodness of the springtime
I'm wishing you a joyful and peaceful spring.