It’s that time of year again when celebrating the return of Spring occupies pagan minds. In Europe and the western hemisphere, indeed all around the globe, many festivals are based on Beltane, the ancient Irish fire festival.
Two need-fires were lighted on Beltane among the Gael, between which they drove their cattle for purification and good luck. Bel = bala = blaze; tane = teni = warm.*
At this time of year too the stubble in the fields was burned to kill off vermin and crop diseases.
An alternative timing is based on the end of seeding. Scheduling depends on your distance from the north pole or, in the southern hemisphere, from the south pole.
All this means that the dates of celebration vary from place to place. Which date is the appropriate occasion in modern life, when so few people in North America live truly rural lives?
In the past we Frosts, as Wiccans, have simply assumed Celtic tradition and have said, “Celebrate on the full moon nearest 1 May.” However, on reflection such an assumption may not be valid. Is full moon indeed the most fitting time? Since Beltane is a fire festival, it might just as appropriately be scheduled by the apparent movement of the sun.
When Gavin lived in a Tantric house in the Punjab, its residents emphatically suggested that the full moon was not the right time for any festival; because, as they rightly observed, the delay in the tides caused by the hysteresis effect meant that the forces were at their highest level three days after the full moon crossed the zenith.
One way would be to celebrate when the sun is crossing the zenith on the day of new moon, because that is one of the times when the moon’s influence would be maximized. Another way would be to do the festival at dawn. This is recalled in other religions’ dawn festivals at their Easter/ Ishtar/ Astarte/ Eostre observances. (Note here the cluster of goddess names and their clear relationship to our word estrogen. ” In your estrogen bonnet, with all the frills upon it …”) Wiccan groups might prefer to do it at sunset, in case getting up at the crack of dawn is anathema to them.
The Roman church held to its normal plagiaristic pattern, usurping the original Beltane and labeling it a saint’s day: Saint Joseph the Worker was declared the patron of workers. From that beginning, Mayday on the Roman calendar became a day to honor workers, especially celebrated in communist nations.
So we hope that we have summarized at least some of the choices. We encourage Wiccans to keep these in mind when you’re picking your date for the celebration of Beltane. As you may know, we Frosts have habitually used the moon calendar. Remembering that Christian Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after spring equinox**, let’s follow that pattern and say we could celebrate at sunset on the first weekend after the full moon nearest to May 1.
It behooves all Wiccans to make their own decision as to when and how they will observe this most ancient of festivals. What say you?
* Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Oxford Clarendon Press
** Yvonne has to count forward, not backward, so she says: Start with spring equinox. Find the next full moon. Never mind the Roman calendar’s “Sun”-day.