Making Beltane Meaningful in Lockdown

Beltane is fast approaching and for many of us It’s going to be a solo celebration this year. For those unfamiliar Beltane is one of the most important holidays in several branches of paganism, as well as a cultural holiday in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. Celebrating the end of cold and darkness and the birth of Summer Beltane is one of the most hopeful times of the year, with people coming together to build bonfires, dance under the stars and reaffirm their connections to each other and the planet. Being trapped inside and without that community can seem truly depressing, but it’s possible to make this Beltane meaningful even if you’re alone in an apartment with no garden to go outside in.

Cyberwitchery

There’s a tendency to degrade online interactions as inherently less significant or real than in person ones and frankly this is bullshit. You won’t be able to touch or hug each other but you can still talk, still see each other’s faces, and performing a ritual, a shared meditation or prayer together is just as meaningful across the internet as it is when you’re in the same room. Of course your mileage may vary here and that’s fine but don’t dismiss it out of hand just because everybody knows, you know? It may take work and re-envisioning elements of your shared practice to make it fit right, so get a Zoom room and hash it out beforehand.

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We may not be able to gather in person on the night of Beltane, but we still wanted to find a way to celebrate the wheel's turn with you all. Allow us to introduce BOnFire – Beltane Online Fire Festival, a way for us to come together remotely to witness Summer's return ⁣. Make a note to join us here and on our website (link in bio) on Thursday 30 April. Our volunteers are cooking up some lovely creative things for us, and we can't wait to share them 🔥🔥 . 📸 Asier Goikoetxea for @beltanefiresociety. All rights reserved. . #beltanefirefestival #bonfire2020 #festival #firefestival #edinburgh #igedinburgh #celtic #pagan #heritage #scotland #summerfestival #whatsonedinburgh #selfisolation #quarantinelife #onlinefestival

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The Beltane Fire Society, who normally host the largest Beltane festival in Europe, have also moved online this year in light of the pandemic. As well as live streaming a variety of performances from different member’s homes throughout the night they’ve also put together a list of rituals and actions to connect you with nature that you can safely perform with your household throughout the day. There’s even the option of connecting with other celebrants online through some of them, so if you’re a solitary practitioner through necessity rather than choice it might be something worth checking out.

Grow something for yourself

If you have access to green space or even a tiny little balcony then go outside and take a moment to connect with whatever elements of the natural world are present where you are. For those who aren’t so lucky bringing a little bit of nature inside with you can make all the difference. I advise against cut flowers, at least by themselves, because as much as they do play a part in many of the holiday traditions it seems ill omened for the only plants in your house to be ones that are on their way to dying.

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If you find yourself in a place where you can’t afford or don’t have the space for potted plants and herbs (or just don’t have time to get some in) you can still do some indoor gardening. Cut spring onions, leeks, cabbage and other plants with a similar distribution of roots can be regrown from the cut ends if they’re placed in water as long as some of those roots are still attached. Carrot tops can also be grown in the same way, and while you won’t get a new carrot out of it you’ll end up with delicious herby greens that you can use in the same way as parsley.

Light Candles

At its heart Beltane is a fire festival. Even into the 1800’s cattle would still be driven between bonfires to purify them for the coming year and protect them from diseases (and interestingly, exposure to wood smoke like this does seem to reduce parasitic infections in cattle). All fires in the district would be extinguished and then relit from a neid fire, a flame ritually kindled by the ancient method of rubbing wood against wood until sparks flew. Beltane celebrates the return of the sun, light and warmth and the fire is an integral part of that.

Modern celebrants often light bonfires, but for those of us locked down in apartments with no green space that’s clearly not an option this year. I’m of the opinion that intentions count for a lot in ritual and magic, and even if you can’t light an actual bonfire having a controlled flame of some kind is enough. Light candles, either as part of a ritual or simply in honour of the day. Meditate on the flame if meditation plays a part of your spiritual practice, honour your relevant gods and use the candle-flame to connect with the fire element of this festival.

Feast, even by yourself

Feasting was an integral part of celebration for the Celts, and even if you can’t share it with your loved ones this year making a really good meal and using it to honour your gods and the change in seasons is still a valid means of marking the day. There are a lot of traditional Beltane foods, from the Beltane bannock to the first fresh beef of the year. But you don’t have to stick to the traditional, innovate and cook the things you like to eat. If you have a personal gnosis about the things your chosen deities want you to cook then that’s really awesome and you should definitely go for that even if you’re alone this year.

Try taking a mindful approach to cooking and connect with the ingredients and the agricultural processes that produced them. Beltane was a part of the old agricultural cycle, marking the start of the season where fresh fruits and vegetables would become abundant. The hard part of the year was over and we had survived to a time of relative ease and plenty. Nourishing yourself, and enjoying it, is a perfect way to celebrate that side of the festival.

Whatever you decide to do, be kind to yourself. These are exceptional times and imperfect measures are more than good enough right now.

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Siobhan has degrees in information management and medieval history making her lots of fun at parties. She's written for Dirge, Biscuit and Diva and is currently working on a book on the supernatural women of Ireland for Wolfenhowle Press (and if you want to help feed her while she works on it you can check out her patreon here.

Siobhan has written 34 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. This was a lovely post.

    I had a great night, made myself lasagna (had a craving and lots of veggies in store and I love Bechamel sauce), next day I baked a banana bread and whole grain and seeds rolls. My livingroom is full with plants and flowers and my seedling nursery is doing good. Absolutely feels like abundance. Had a lovely ritual with a lot of candles.

    Hope all of you are doing okay and blessings to all. <3

  2. I danced with the rising sun to a song with good drumbeat,at stupid o’clock of night lit a sparkler in the street and waved it in the cardinal directions starting with East and West.
    Managed to get ahold of my favorite local honey in early March and rationed it well enough to try drizzling it on disaster bannocks made out of two kinds of oats.

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