One of the most famous and well celebrated Pagan festivals, Beltane marks the beginning of summer and in many English villages it is celebrated with Green men, morris dancing and Maypoles.
The name Beltane derives from the Celtic word meaning the fires of Bel who was a Celtic fire deity. The Celtic festivals were focused on fire and fertility and would often include courting rituals such as young couples collecting flowers in the woods and lighting fires at sunset. Those who took part in such rituals would often be married in the summer or autumn.
Other rituals linked to fire and growth were centred around passing cattle between two fires as the smoke and flame were seen to cleanse and purify and ensure the herds fertility. This also applies to people and some rites involve jumping over fires to bring good luck and health in the coming year.
Many modern day Pagans see Beltane as the time when the Horned God born to the earth goddess at the Winter Solstice has now become mature and strong enough to become the lover of the Goddess. A link to the old fertility rites and a key part of the birth, death rebirth cycle. Some modern Druids have linked this concept to idea of the fertility of our creativity.
Beltane is the most sexual of the Pagan festivals although Pagans rarely use sex in rituals it is heavily implied symbolically. The traditional event of choosing a Queen of the May and dancing around the Maypole is popular among many rural communities although some elements of the Christian church have tried to discourage it.
In the UK some of the largest Beltane festivals are held in Edinburgh with fires lit and celebrations till sunrise. Throughout the UK Pagans will hold private celebrations and gatherings, sometimes called Covens (wicca) or Groves (druids) to mark the start of the summer