As such Beltane symbolises the coming together of male and female energies and celebrates the sacred marriage of the Goddess (land) with the God who represents the life force. It is a festival of union, and a traditional time for Pagan marriages or handfastings, where a couple pledge to remain together for at least a year and a day. This is where the expression ‘tying the knot’ derives from.
So, this is certainly a time of growth and burgeoning fertility. People and animals alike feel full of energy and the ‘joys of Spring’ and a sense of passion and zest for life is restored. Trees are abundant with the first vivid green leaves and vibrant flowers flourish all around us.
There are several traditions associated with Beltane. The first of these is ‘leaping the Bel-fire’. Young men and women would jump it to secure husbands/wives. Others jumped for luck, good health or safe journeys. Cattle were driven through the ashes or between two fires to ensure a good supply of milk and to banish winter infections. Fire represents life, warmth and transformation and is the way the sun comes to earth, so fires symbolise good fortune and change.
The Maypole is the most well known representation of Beltane. It is obviously a phallic symbol, but also the circular steps of the dancers, weaving the ribbons trailing from the top of the pole also suggest the spiral of life. This riotous good fun helped to get May off to a good start.
There are still Maypoles in the English countryside – the tallest can be seen at Paganhill in Gloucestershire.
So this is very definitely a festival with a strong connection to excitement, desire and sensuality. The colourful spring flowers and trees adorned with blossom announce the arrival of creativity, fertility, life and promise!