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Second greatest of the Celtic Fire Festivals, Beltaine marks the changeover from Spring to Summer, from the Dark Half of the year to the Light. Traditionally a time for celebration and rejoicing, anyone who survived the dark days of Winter, when food was scarce and predators hungry, if they made it to Beltaine, was assured a bountiful Summer ahead. At Beltaine people would gather and great fires would be lit, amid much merry-making. By now the weather would be warming towards Summer, so on May Eve couples would go out into the Birch woods and make love under the stars, offering their own fertility as a prayer for the fertility of the land and the animals, to bring in a good harvest and thus see them through the next Winter.
In modern Pagan ritual, the focus of Beltaine is still on the bounty of nature, and a celebration of life and love and the passion of being alive. Now is the time to, as the ancients did, give and receive gifts of love in the woodlands, gather together and light fires in celebration of life and plenty.
A Simple Beltaine Rite
Note, this is a simple outline suggestion. The wording of each of the actual invocations and chants is left entirly up to those performing the ritual - we would suggest you gather together in advance and work these out in a form that you find both meaningful and beautiful. Remember, this is the work of the Gods, so you should put both your heart and your soul into it! Don't worry, though, if elaborate poetry or fancy phrasing is not your thing - a simple yet pure rite is every bit as beautiful as a complex and elaborate one requiring dozens of participants and a small orchestra for backing. It's also less likely to go wrong!
First, chose a place where you feel at home and won't be disturbed. Each participant should bring some food and drink, plus things like candles, incense, any ritual tools you want to use, etc. Traditionally, you should have some earth, or stone, for the North, incense for the East, a candle or small fire of twigs in a little pot for the South, and a bowl of water for the East.
Casting the Circle
Then, cast your circle. Invoke each of the quarters, North, East, South and West, all the while visualising the circle forming about you, creating a little bit of "sacred space" for you to work in.
Calling to the God and Goddess
Once the circle is complete, call to the God and Goddess to come and join you.
At this point, you've done the "basics", you've created your circle, and invoked the powers and gods, now you need to celebrate the actual festival itself. As all of nature is in full flow around you at Beltaine, it can be a good idea to go for a wild, happy, spontaneous working. Dance, sing, leap around the circle, play instruments, if there are more than one of you, hug each other, lock arms and swing each other round. The idea is to celebrate the flowering and growing of all things, in fact, to "be wild, be free!". If you do decide to do this, it helps to cast your circle wide to give space to move in, and make sure any candles or lamps you are using are firmly fixed and not likely to be knockled over or set anyone's costume on fire.
The Simple Feast
Once your celebration is done, throw yourselves down on the ground and rest safe in the Earth's embrace. Share out the food you have all brought, and spend time just relaxing and enjoying yourselves. Once everyone has eaten and drunk their fill, assuming you're working outdoors, cast some of the left-overs into the woods for the wild things to eat. If you're indoors, you can gather any spare food in a bag and place it for the wildlife later on.
Opening the Circle
Once this "simple feast" is done, stand up and gather again, and then open the circle, blessing and thanking the God, Goddess, and the powers of the four elements for being there and helping.
On through the night!
That's the end of the formal ritual, however you may now choose to go out into the woodland and scatter more food, or, depending on the weather and phase of the moon, wander amongtst the trees and admire the beauty of nature. Alternatively, if you have a suitable location, build and light a great Beltaine fire and then dance and sing round it, through the night, and watch the Dawn of the first summer day break as the flames finally die down in the morning. Be careful not to do this where there is a risk of starting a forest fire, though!
The ancient way
If you are a couple or group, and all of you are happy about the idea, you can even do as out ancestors did and make love in the forest - though make sure you have privacy for this, and that all participants are freely willing. Those who mis-use pagan belief for their own gratificatuion will come to a sticky end, as the gods have ways of looking after their own.
All across the barren land
Oh Great Horned God
In Winter's cloak we've sheltered long
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