The Beltane bonfire is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The fire was more than a big pile of logs and some flame. It was a place where the entire community gathered around -- a place of music and magic and dancing and lovemaking. It was customary to light the fire on May Eve (the last night of April) and allow it to burn until the sun went down on May 1. The bonfire was lit with a bundle made from nine different types of wood and wrapped with colorful ribbons. Once the fire was blazing, a piece of smoldering wood was taken to each home in the village, to ensure fertility throughout the summer months.
This was typically the time of year when fairs and markets were held, and as most country villages had a common or a green of some sort, there was always room for merriment. Depending on where you live, you might not have enough space for a big bonfire or dancing -- and that's okay. Just make do with what you have. An alternative to a large bonfire might be a small fire bowl (they're usually available at discount stores and home improvement chains) or even a tabletop brazier. If you're in an apartment and space is at a premium, consider building your fire in a small cauldron or other heat resistant bowl.
Beltane is the spring counterpart to Samhain. While in the autumn, everything is dying, in spring it comes alive, glorious and bursting free from the earth. Beltane is about fertility and sex and passion and life. This ceremony is designed for a group, and includes a symbolic union of the May Queen and the King of the Forest. Depending on the relationship between the people playing these roles, you can get as lusty as you like. If you're doing a family-oriented Beltane celebration, you may choose instead to keep things fairly tame.
For this ritual you'll need the following:
- A bonfire -- set it up ahead of time, and designate someone to be in charge of lighting and tending it
- A May Queen -- if possible, select a woman to play this part who is still within her childbearing years
- A King of the Forest -- any adult man can play this role, but it's even better if he's someone who is actually partnered with the woman playing the May Queen
- Drums and other noisemakers
- Optional: a crown of flowers for each of the females present
- Optional: a headdress of antlers for each of the males present
First, have the group circle around the fire, with the May Queen and the King of the Forest on opposite sides. The High Priest (HP) or High Priestess (HPs) should welcome everyone with something like this:Beltane is here! It is a time when the earth is fertile and full.
Long ago, our ancestors planted their fields at Beltane.
The fields that lay fallow for months are now warm and waiting.
The soil that was dormant for the winter now begs us to plant our seeds.
The earth is awakening and ripe, and this is a season of love and passion.
It is a season of fire.
At this point, the fire starter should begin lighting the bonfire. The HP or HPS continues:As our fires grow, lighting up the night sky, the fire within us grows stronger.
It is the fire of lust and passion, knowing that like the earth, we too are fertile.
Tonight, the God emerges from the forest. He is known by many names --
he is Pan, Herne, Cernunnos, the Green Man. He is the God of the Forest.
Tonight is the night he will chase and capture the maiden.
She is the Queen of the May, Aphrodite, Venus, Cerridwen.
She is the Goddess of fields and flowers, she is Mother Earth herself.
- As the HP introduces the God of the Forest and the May Queen, they should each step forward into the circle. The HP says: Bring fertility to the land! Let the hunt begin!
At this point, the May Queen and the God of the Forest begin the chase, traveling sunwise around the circle, weaving in and out of the other participants. Remember, the May Queen wants to make love to the God of the Forest. This is a fun chase, a joyful courtship, not a mock rape; make sure both parties understand this and prepare accordingly. She can even allow him to get close to her, pretending she's ready to join him… and then slipping away at the last second. They should travel the circle three times in the chase, and finally stop at a point in front of the bonfire -- hopefully, it will be burning well by now.
While the God of the Forest is pursuing his lady love, everyone else in the circle starts drumming. Start of slowly -- after all, a courtship can take some time to get started. As the couple begins to speed up, increase the tempo of the music. If you'd like to chant instead of or in addition to drumming, go ahead. There are many popular traditional chants in Wicca and Paganism, and nearly all sound good when you sing them with a group. When the May Queen and the God of the Forest finally complete their three-times journey of the circle, the drums should stop abruptly.
The HP says:Fire and passion, love and life, brought together as one.
At this point, the May Queen says to the God of the Forest:I am the earth, the womb of all creation.
Within me, new life grows each year.
Water is my blood, air my breath, and fire is my spirit.
I give you honor, and shall create new life with you.
The God of the Forest replies to her, saying:I am the rutting stag, the seed, the energy of life.
I am the mighty oak that grows in the forest.
I give you honor, and shall create new life with you.
The couple kisses, long and passionate. If they're feeling really lusty, they can fall to the ground and roll around for a while -- feel free to cover them with a blanket if you like. This kiss (or more) is the symbolic union of the male and female spirit, the great rite between man and woman. Once the embrace is broken, the HP calls out:The earth is once more growing new life within! We shall be blessed with abundance this year!
Everyone else in the circle claps and cheers -- after all, you've just guaranteed that your village will have hearty crops and strong livestock this year! Celebrate by dancing around the bonfire, drumming and singing. When you are ready, end the ritual.
- * Note: if you have a woman in your group who is trying to conceive, she is absolutely the best choice for the role of May Queen. Her partner or lover may act the part of the God of the Forest, or another man may stand in as a symbolic consort.
What You Need
- A bonfire
- A couple willing to play the parts of May Queen and God of the Forest
- Drums and noisemakers