Beltane is one of the four major fire festivals in the Celtic tradition. These festivals celebrate the turning of the wheel of time. They fall at February 2nd (Imbolc), May 1st (Beltane), August 1st (Lammas/ Lugnasadh) and November 1st (Samhain, pronounced sow-win). The timing of the festivals is based on the climate of Northern Europe and the rhythm of the pastoral lifestyle.
In southern Europe, seasonal festivals were timed around the cycles of the sun. The equinoxes and solstices were celebrated as the turn of time. As this influence migrated north, a calendar of eight seasonal festivals developed.
For those who follow this calendar, the decision of when to celebrate earth’s fertility becomes murky. In the warmer climates of southern Europe, where people lived an agricultural lifestyle, the spring equinox was the natural time to celebrate the fertility of the land. For the pastoralists of cooler northern Europe, however, Beltane was more fitting.
As an agriculturalist who lives in the mid-Atlantic, I see Spring Equinox as the time of sowing seeds and Beltane as the season of leaves unfurling and first flowers blooming. Spring Equinox brings the first tinges of excitement, but Beltane is the big hurrah, the time when spring has clearly arrived, the time when we truly feel our energy spiraling outward.
At Imbolc, we practiced a ritual to help us release stories that no longer serve our highest good. At Spring Equinox, we practiced “sitting in the mud,” becoming comfortable amid the chaos of uncertainty. At Beltane, we’re going to practice unfurling.
Why unfurling, you may ask, and not blooming?
Flowers get so much attention with their showy brightness and gorgeous petals. We all want to be flowers, to bloom to our fullest expression. But we don’t jump from “sitting in the mud” to full bloom. First, we unfurl.
We send out first leaves, then our stem grows, giving us strength and structure to grow more leaves, which will soak in the sun’s nourishment, feeding ourselves as we gather the energy to send forth a bud. It takes a great deal of energy to bloom. We must commit to nourishing ourselves along the way. We must commit to the process.
This is a fun time of year to leave our homes, to step outside and explore. This ritual will draw us out of our homes, out of ourselves, and into the world around us.
Beltane Ritual: How am I unfurling?
- Prepare for your Quest
You are going to leave your home and enter the world as an explorer on a sacred mission. How do you want to dress? Is there anything special to wear that will mark this occasion, such as a crystal necklace or scarf? I have a canvas bag that I call my “adventure pack.”
- Select a Container
You are going to collect 5-7 items that will range in size from a coin to a deck of cards. Choose a container to hold these items. It should be roughly the size of a coffee can. The container does not need to be fancy, but hold it for a moment and imbue it with the intention of your quest.
- Chart your Course
Select a spot outside where you can pick things up off the ground without feeling weird. For me, that means that other people aren’t around. For you, it could be anywhere. Choose a place where your vibe won’t be interrupted. A spot in the forest, field, or any wild area works well, but nature is everywhere. If there’s a sidewalk edge or parking lot median that is summoning your quest, go there.
- Set off on your Quest.
With patience. When you are on a quest, you are never late.
- Look Around
Once you’ve arrived, introduce yourself to the land and all the living beings that live there. Tell them who you are and why you’re here. Ask permission to explore. Actually listen for the answer. Once you’ve been welcomed into the space, explore it with care, presence, and slowness. You’re looking to gather 5-7 items that can fit into the palm of your hand. Don’t overthink this: if something catches your eye, put it in your container.
- Settle In
You’ve collected what feels like the “right” amount of items (you’re following your intuition here), now choose a spot to sit down. (If you had selected a parking lot median for this quest and want to complete the ritual at home, then thank the space and leave.) Create a space on the ground in front of you that is a defined space. Maybe you use your finger to draw a circle in the dirt, or you arrange branches to make a frame. Perhaps you have a (clean) hankie in your pocket you can lay out. This is your “table.”
- Ask a question
Hold the container full of gathered items to your heart. Ask your question to the items. Feel the question flow from your heart through your hands and into the items. Truest that they are eager to respond. Some questions may be:
- How am I nourishing myself right now?
- How can I nourish myself in my unfurling?
- In what areas do I need more nourishment?
- Where is my fertile/creative energy being pulled?
- Where do I want to devote my fertile/creative energy?
- How does the earth want me to unfurl?
- Cast the items
Scatter the items on the table. You might gently toss them from the container or shake them in your hand then toss them as if they were dice. If any items fall outside your table, it has opted out of this round. Thank the item and store it in the container for further questions.
- Interpret the Story
The lay of the items is telling a story. What does each item say to you? What associations or connections to the object do you have? What feelings does it conjure within you? How are these items/connections situated in relation to each other? How are they situated in relation to the table? Be present with the layout and allow your heart and intuition to take the lead here. It’s amazing how much understanding can be gained when you engage with an open, curious heart.
- Repeat with as many questions as you like.
- Give gratitude
When your quest has been fulfilled, thank the items and the space. Give the items back to the space as you leave, setting them with care in new places. Journey home with a renewed commitment to nourishing yourself through this phase of your unfurling.