Beltane is one of the eight primary Pagan holidays, or sabbats as they are also known, that comprise the solar year.
Most people are aware of the four primary days marked by the Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. Fewer people are aware of the importance of the other four dates in the esoteric calendar.
Falling in between the other main festivals, these are celebrated by Pagans and Witches as Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
In Wicca, Beltane marks the point when the sun begins to grow in strength, flowers begin to bloom and the vitality of the land begins to rise again.
Beltane is generally celebrated from the 30th April through to the end of the 1st May. However, some cultures wait until the sun reaches the midway point of the zodiac sign of Taurus. This can be up to a few days later.
Fire has always played an important part in Beltane celebrations. It denotes the occult power of the primal energy of life. However, Beltane, its history and importance to occultists is quite varied and somewhat diverse.
In Beltane, Melanie Marquis presents her own perspective on this important time in the Wheel of the Year.
As a life-long practitioner of magick and founder of the United Witches global coven, she is well placed to reveal the myths, legends, rituals and invocations that take place at this particular time of the year.
Marquis begins her book by exploring the historical background of Beltane, its history and ancient myths.
Whilst the Celts honored the festival with ritual ceremony, original Mayday celebrations can be traced as far back as Ancient Rome.
More recent traditions connected to Mayday celebrations involve the raising of the Maypole around which young maidens danced—often interweaving colored ribbons as they went. This custom is still an important ritual in many villages all over the World.
The villagers often crown a May Queen—a young maiden of the village, who symbolizes the youthful, sensual and fertile nature of the natural world.
So much for the old ways connected to this Spring festival. In the next chapter of her book, Marquis reveals how the modern Witchcraft movement celebrates the day.
This includes insights into the way that Beltane is celebrated in an urban environment. She also examines the way that Celtic Reconstructionists, modern Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, Neo-Pagans, Witches and followers of Eclectic Witchcraft celebrate and interpret the festival.
The author then catalogs some of the different Beltane Fire Festivals that are held in various parts of the world.
The way that you celebrate the festival depends largely upon your own spiritual disposition. Because of this, the author includes a series of pointers to help you make your own strong spiritual connection to the inner planes during the Beltane celebrations.
Spells and divination make up the next section of the book. Here, Marquis offers a number of candle, herbal, charm and bean-planting spells. These are followed by a collection of divination techniques that are particularly powerful if performed at Beltane. They include fortune-telling using eggs, flowers and an extensive system for using Tarot court cards.
Given that food and creativity are an essential element of the Beltane dynamic, Marquis includes several mouth-watering recipes to add a little spice to the celebrations. She also includes such creative skills as wand making, creating a flower crown, designing a personal maypole and offer advice on the best way to decorate your home to reflect the dynamics of Beltane.
If you have pagan or wiccan leanings, you want to connect with your deities as part of your Beltane celebrations. Marquis offers several invocations that you can use to summon the power of the Gods and Goddesses. These include prayers to protect plants and animals.
In the final stages of her book, the author includes a number of magickal rituals that you can perform at Beltane. These include practices for solitary practitioners, at hand-fasting ceremonies, as well as by groups of Wiccans or Pagans.
Beltane closes with a list of correspondences, recommended books for further reading, a bibliography and an index.
Beltane marks such a wonderful time of the year. For anyone living in Western Europe who suffers from the seemingly endless dark and dismal days of the Winter months, it is welcomed with great enthusiasm.
In fact, that is very much the way in which this book on the Beltane festival by Melanie Marquis can be summed up for, throughout its pages, it is as energizing and exciting as the festival itself.
From both a historical and occult perspective, this is a book that celebrates May Day with great vigour. Whilst it is not a large publication, it is jam-packed with a lot of useful information and practical advice—much of which is not available elsewhere and which reveals the author’s extensive experience of working magickally with the seasonal cycles.
I enjoyed the recipes, the rather interesting Tarot, court-card based divination system and the charming instructions for making simple, inexpensive, household objects to decorate your home and celebrate the festival – its such a lot of fun!
There are other titles in this series of books from Llewellyn on the sabbats and I am thoroughly looking forward to reading them. If they are half as good as this one, they are well worth exploring.
Light the fires, smell the blossom, dance around the May pole. Here is a book on Beltane that raises a toast to the energizing spirit of the festival in a glorious way.