The Festival of Bel’s Fire
By Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. 🐾
Tonight at Sunset marks the beginning of a Pagan Metaphysical Sabbat (holiday) called Beltaine. By the Solar Calendar, the holiday is celebrated on May 1st. But by the Lunar Calendar it’s honored on May 6th. Many modern pagans prefer celebrating the holiday by the lunar calendar as this was probably more accurate to the original festivals of the ancient pagans. In some circles, the Sabbat is honored through out the week beginning on May 1st and ending at sunset on May 7th.
The Sabbat was practiced throughout the Celtic lands. Bel is well known from Italy (Cis-Alpine Gaul), Gaul, Britain, Ireland and into northern Spain. Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of the Gaulish language (an early variety of Celtic) native to Gaul.
According to the The Lebhar Gabhála Éireann, May 1st marks the anniversary of the first human beings setting foot on Irish soil. Ireland was considered to be the Lady, the Mother of life-giving gifts and sustenance in ancient times.
Some historians speculate that this event symbolizes the union of the people (The Sons & Daughters of Mil Éspáine) with the Goddess in her Maiden form (Ireland The Maiden). The symbolism of this union is represented in the form of the God (the son of light, the sons of Mil Éspáine) with the Goddess (Ireland).
Others suggest the union is symbolized through the return of the Sun (the God Bel) shining its warmth onto Mother Earth (the Goddess) making her fertile and bringing forth the return of life. Personally I think this perspective more accurately represents the nature of the season and the view of the early Celtic pagans. Especially considering the symbolic activities implemented during the ceremonies and festivals.
Beltaine is one of our most important Sabbats in Pagan Metaphysics. It honors the Divine Trinity of The God, Goddess, Divine Universe; or the Mind/Soul (the Maiden Goddess), the physical Body (the God) and the Spirit (the Divine Union). There are some who see the Trinity as the Soul of God (the Sun), the body of the Goddess (Mother Earth) and through their union springs forth the creation of life.
From either perspective the holiday reminds us that as physical beings we are imperfect unless we join our body with our higher mind. The union of Soul and Body allows us to create the awareness of spirit within that connects us to the Divine Universe.
This view of Divine Union in early paganism carried forth in many cultures, but especially in indo-European societies. The holiday strongly influenced the practice of May weddings, originally symbolizing the Divinity between husband and wife; but also as a means to gain favor or blessing from the God/Goddess over the union to ensure it was fruitful and abundant.
The name Beltaine of course has many stories about its origination. Many pagan scholars agree that the first part of the name relates to the Celtic God Bel (also known as: Belenus, Belinus, Belanus, Belenos, Belinos, Belinu, Belanu, Bellinus, Belus, Bel), a god of healing, God of the Sun, God of Light or The Light Bringer. His name and exact representation vary based on the Celtic region he was honored in. He is one of the Celtic High Gods and his symbols are the horse and wheel and his name means ‘The Shining Gods’.
The second part ‘tan’, ‘tine’ or ‘tain’, meaning fire, is obviously associated with Bel as the Sun God. Beltaine is sometimes called “Bel’s Fire Festival” or the “Festival of Fire” for this reason. This Sabbat is the last of the spring festivals and rings in the start of summer. On the eve of Beltaine, large bon fires were lit (and still are today) to purify the land from the devastation of winter, to honor Bel and promote his favor to return the Sun’s warmth to the land for summer, fertilizing the Earth Mother.
As the patron of the fire, Bel is also seen as the God of healing, restoring life and abundance to land and herd. His restorative powers explains his classical association with the God Apollo. During the celebration, cattle, sheep or any type of herd was guided through the bonfire for purification. Some writings indicate the herds were forced through the fire itself, others suggest they were herded between large bonfires in safety. My guess is both practices were used depending on the cultural area.
Celebrating The Fire
As a spiritual holiday, Beltaine is the celebration of life, the land, the union of mankind with the mother earth and the purification and rebirth of all things. On an individual basis, this is a holiday where you should commit yourself to a goal, a purpose or a plan for the remainder of the year.
It could be goal to finally learn about holistic healing, or to fully commit yourself and Get Started on your spiritual path.
On a larger scale, be it a commitment or re-commitment between partners, or a commitment within a family or community, the acknowledgment and celebration of union is pretty much the same.
If your family has gone through times of turmoil, Imbolg is the best Sabbat to forgive and let go. Followed by Beltaine to recommit support and compassion.
For those looking to unite in handfasting, marriage or even starting a family, Beltaine is the Sabbat to celebrate and make that commitment.
For a community struggling with every day life, dangers or “evils”, Beltaine is a perfect time to take back the streets, clean up the neighborhood and commit to helping those less fortunate than yourself.
You can read more about the holiday and ways to celebrate Beltaine on Pagan’sPath.com
Merry Beltaine to one and all. May your day be sprinkled with lavender, your body be cleansed with spring water and your night be filled with dance around the purifying bonfires of the Divine!
You can find more about the High Holy Days: The Pagan Sabbats, to discover why they’re observed at sunset and their timing through the year.
© 2012 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Spring’s Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Great article Spring. Thanks for the historical info.
Merry Beltaine to you, too!! Thanks for the history lesson about it.