25 October 2010

Bealtaine in the South - not Halloween

If you mention the 31st of October to most people, it is not unusual for them to think of Halloween - the time when children are encouraged to dress up as Wytches, ghosts and ghouls to go trick or treating.

This largely Americanised custom (although based on the ancient traditions of celebrating the Celtic Festival of the Dead, Samhain this custom is relatively recent, stemming from the 1950s) has become increasingly popular here in Australia over recent years. In fact, a few years back the makers of a particular Irish stout were encouraging their drinkers to celebrate "the dark month".  How strange, I thought, as, due to the differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, the 31st of October in Australia actually marks the start of Summer, which the ancient Celts referred to as Bealtaine, so it hardly seems to be a "dark month".

On on a recent trip to Queensland I was somewhat taken back by the numerous displays of Halloween merchandise, even the stereotypical "orange" pumpkin to be carved into jack-o-lanterns which I hadn't seen here in Adelaide before (regardless of pumpkins not usually being on sale until Autumn anyhow).  In fact where I live the celebration of Halloween has been struggling to catch on despite pushes by various supermarkets and chainstores.

Bealtaine (also spelt Beltane) is the Gaelic word meaning "Bel-fire", referring to the sacred purification fires which the Druids lit on hilltops at this time of the year to herald the return of life and fertility to the land. This festival is named after the God of Light, Bel (also known as Beli or Balor).

One of the popular fertility symbols of Bealtaine, which can still be seen today in various parts of Britain, is the May Pole. People would dance around this phallic symbol, intertwining red (representing the Feminine - menstrual blood) and white (the Masculine - semen) ribbons. The circular steps of the dancers, coupled with the weaving ribbons, symbolised the spiral of life. However, most today dancers probably are not be aware that they are actually partaking in an ancient fertility ritual, caught up in the joy and fun of it all.

"Greenwood marriages" were also performed at this time of the year - this was when men and women would disappear into the forests throughout the night for their own personal celebrations. It was believed that such unions were physical representations of the Divine Union between the Horned God and the Goddess, which brings fertility to the Earth. Such unions were a celebration of love and life, accomplished to ensure the ongoing fertility of the land, animals, as well as the people themselves. Children born out of these greenwood marriages were considered specially blessed by the God and Goddess, and belonged to the whole village, not just their parents.

For Pagans today, Bealtaine is still perceived as a time of fertility and pleasure, to celebrate the returning warmth of the Sun and greening of the Earth. Focuses of this festival are on the reconciliation of opposites through love, and the rewards that are achieved through this act. It is also a time to renew our connection to the land.

With the essence of Bealtaine being on fertility, couples would jump the fires in order to conceive. Others would jump to ensure that good luck, health and safe journeys for the coming year were bestowed upon them. Cattle were also driven through the ashes, or between two such fires to ensure a good supply of milk, and to banish Winter infections, before taking them to the Summer pastures.

While it is not always possible to light these sacred fires in Australia because of fire bans, it is possible to form other "fertility" rituals, such as planting flowers, shrubs and trees, to celebrate this height of the growing season. The fertility aspect can also include the fertility of the mind and spirit and therefore, Bealtaine can mark the learning of ideas and ways of self-improvement.

Occultist Aleister Crowley once said that every man and woman is a star. While focusing on the fertility theme of Bealtaine, we can take Crowley's statement and reflect on our own sexuality - a subject still viewed with much taboo in today's modern society. How much of our own sexuality is an expression of our own true selves, and how much do we allow to be manipulated and coerced by others? Do we use our own sexuality as a weapon to get what we want, or are we afraid to use it at all?

Coupled with sexuality is our perception of our body image. Do we like our physical bodies or, as if often the case, do we wish them to conform to some almost impossible standard set by media?

Our bodies are our temples, and although we may strive for a higher spiritual goal, we are still connected to the Earthy plane. This connection is through our physical bodies, and Bealtaine seems to be the appropriate time to reclaim a happy relationship with our physical form.

Daniel Littlewood states:

When you love yourself - others will love you
Others will respect you
And when you choose
You not only enhance your own life
You send out energies that others,
In a sad place in their lives
Can reach out for,
And bring into their reality.


  1. Thanks for sharing Frances,
    i too am amazing and dismayed at the lack of awareness for sharing the Northern Hemisphere
    rituals in our Beltaine Southern seasonal state of Be-ing. After the GAIA Conference; as I tried to come into a full-on energies of modern urban life here in Brisbane, I was amazed to see, for the first time, the Supermarket's had the large Americian style carving Halloween pumpkin's for sale! Honor who we are and not what the North is - the balance is not here and when will it ever be? Another point to make clear to the broader community... the journey continues and may the Goddess give us the grace to achieve this Blessed Be

  2. I hope you don't mind that I sent this article to the Seers and Seekers Yahoo group.

    You are invited to help to form what we continue to become:


    Too brite days
    midnights that refuse to
    abide dark and secret
    when empty phrases chant
    to fairytale Moons
    I tell myself
    This is no ordinary room
    This is no fleeting flittering life
    This is a magical passageway
    sparkling like mica, like miracles

    Quiet traces
    luminescent impression
    a trailing kite tail binds
    silent whimpers, sojourning whispers,
    tears shining behind mime smiles

    Crone's gnarled fingers, playing
    to spite agony
    simulate touch
    beyond ache,
    too brite cell,
    crouching scarred shadow
    I cast silhouette of metamagic gypsy

    Laurie Corzett - libramoon42@mindspring.com