Beltane

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An English pagan maypole dance to celebrate the fertility of the earth and the peak of springtime
An early 20th century postcard commemorating the Maypole dance, in which the pole is decked with forget-me-not flowers to symbolize faithful love

Beltane, also known as Beltaine, May Day, and Gŵyl Calan Mai is a seasonal Pagan and Neo-Pagan festival which is celebrated as one of the eight holidays on The Wheel of the Year.

In the Northern Hemisphere it is held on May 1 (alternatively from May 4 - May 10) when the Sun is at 15° Taurus.

In the Southern Hemisphere it is held on November 2 (alternatively from November 5 - November 10) when the Sun is at 15° Scorpio.

The word Beltane means Bel's fire (or bright, lucky fire) and it is the second fire festival in the Celtic Calendar. Beltane is a festival celebrating the optimism, green growth, and first flowers of Spring. Traditionally a time of fertility rituals as well as apotropaic rites to ward off dangers to fertility, Beltane was celebrated in some regions by lighting large bonfires and driving cattle between them while dancing around the fires, to ensure good health and fertility. In Sweden, bonfires are lit on Walborg, the day before May Day, and, in many areas, also on May Day itself.

Another widespread Swedish custom is to go out in the woods to picnic - to "Maja." The English word May Day refers to the blooming of the hawthorn or May tree, and to go out for the purpose of collecting hawthorn flowers is called Maying. The term is commemorated in a famous English ballett or dance song by Thomas Morley, first published in 1595, which opens with the stanza:

Now is the month of Maying,
When merry lads are playing, fa la,
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass, fa la.

While Maying, couples would go off into the woods and spend May Eve together, to "bring in the May." A child conceived on May Eve was called a "Merrybegot" or a magical child.

In many parts of Europe, May Day is marked by the erection of a tall May Pole decorated with greenery and May flowers, around which ceremonial dances are held. In some areas the form of the May Pole is solely male in design; in other cultures the design of the May Pole visually represents the union of male and female elements. In Southern England, Neo-Pagan May parades are held for Jack-in-the-Green, a form of The Green Man.

Some modern revivals of the Beltane holiday involve building large bonfires and baking a cake of toasted oatmeal which is used to pull lots on who will leap over the bonfire. Others may also incorporate the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon celebration of the May Pole with its strong focus on fertility rites. In some Wiccan celebrations, while bonfires are built, more emphasis is placed on dancing around the May Pole, and Beltane is seen as the time when the Goddess and the Young God come together and consummate their love for one another.

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