Summer's getting closer every day, which is reason enough to celebrate, but there's actually a more specific celebration to look forward to: This Tuesday, May 1, is the Pagan sabbat Beltane. This seasonal holiday falls directly at the midpoint between spring and summer, and it's rooted in abandon and pure fun.
Specifically, Beltane celebrates the divine feminine. Though traditional rituals for the holiday have varied over the years, they've normally revolved around fertility rites, planting ceremonies, and goddess worship. But, of course, these types of celebrations aren't exclusive to Beltane.
Between the vernal equinox heralding the end of winter and the April full moon's serious regenerative energy, nature-based faiths spend most of springtime celebrating rebirth and fertility. So, Beltane can be seen as the culmination of these other celebrations — especially when you learn the festival has a rather sexy origin story. According to Pagan author Deborah Blake, Beltane is the celebration of the union of the god and goddess. "In older days, the King and Queen of the May, usually chosen from among the people in any given area, might actually recreate that union to bring fertility to the fields," she says.
Nowadays, she says, that union is celebrated as totally symbolic, but the sensual energy remains. The weather is warm again, signs of life have completely returned to the Earth, and it's time to party.
And no Beltane party is complete without a maypole and a massive bonfire to heat things up. During the festival, worshippers jump over their bonfires in a gesture of purification, and they perform a maypole dance, weaving ribbons around the pole ("usually badly, amid much merriment," Blake says). Music and plenty of drinking often play a role in these celebrations, and some people will even specifically decide to get married during the Beltane season.
Blake says that Beltane is a genuinely joyful time in the Pagan calendar (also known as the Wheel of the Year). "It is celebrated with a certain bawdy revelry and abandon, which is probably not too different from how it used to be observed," she says. People are getting back to nature, celebrating as a community, and enjoying an earthly pleasure or two. But that doesn't mean the holiday doesn't have a more sacred side as well.
Much like Samhain, another Pagan festival day, Beltane has deep roots in the spirit world. According to The Witches' Voice, it's much easier to make contact with spirits and gods around Beltane, and some of these spirits and gods even use the holiday as an invitation to visit us mortals. It isn't uncommon for Beltane celebrations to feature elaborate performances — complete with stunning costumes — that depict nature spirits overcoming spirits of the dead (in yet another nod to nature's triumph over the death of winter).
May 1 might not be the official first day of summer, but it's certainly a turning point among nature-based faiths. So, don't be surprised if you find yourself with a spring in your step (or sex on the brain) — it's simply the seasons talking.