Sabbat of Beltane

The May Eve or Beltane Sabbat is focused on banishing the last and final dregs of winter in order to celebrate and invoke luck, love, pleasure and joy. This Sabbat is directly opposite to the Hallowmas Sabbat that is held October 31st which has a focus on reflection, release, endings, and communication with those who have departed. Beltane is the Earthly Response to the balance of light and the continued increase of light acknowledged at the Vernal Equinox, and the later is the Earthly Result of the balance of light and its following decrease of light acknowledged at the Autumnal Equinox. 

We look forward to what we dub as the “Season of Wine and Roses” each year. Because of it’s themes, it is my personal favorite Sabbat to celebrate.

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The Maypole we had a few years back at the Wolfa Coven! While dancing of the May Pole is not a standard part of the Sabbat proper, it is a custom we do enjoy before the formal May Eve/Beltane Sabbat begins. 

Some years, but by no means all years, our coven will dance the Maypole before the formal Sabbat begins. It is not a tradition that is a formal part of the Sabbat festival, but a fun custom that many of us enjoy. Typically, folks of one gender-identity will weave and dance the ribbons counter-clockwise and an equal number of folks of another gender-identity will dance the maypole and weave the ribbons clockwise. This creates a beautiful pattern of ribbons that will weave down the May Pole.

I’m occasionally asked by other witches what type of ribbons I like to use for our Maypoles. Here is what I typically look for:

Ahead of time, you will want to procure a selection of ribbons to use. Many craft stores will carry quite a selection of ribbons you can pick from. You will need long spools of ribbons in order to make this happen. I prefer to buy the ones that are at least an inch across so that you have a substantial ribbon. We like to select ribbons of many colors, but other witches I have known like to choose ribbons in white and red. Follow your own customs that you have learned for this.

As a last resort, if you can’t find ribbons like this in your location, a deceased High Priestess of the coven occasionally recommended crepe paper streamers as a substitute. These are more eco-friendly, though you will need to be sure not to get them damp or wet or yank too hard on them so they don’t rip – but it will do in a pinch.

Something I like to do is fashion a natural wreath out of grapevine, young forsythia branches, willow fronds or other young bendable wood if I can. You will notice in the photos here that the wreath will typically be near the very top of the Maypole. To do this, I tie the each of the ribbons to the wreath and leave at least a foot length left on the other end of it so those ends can be fastened tightly to the top of the Maypole itself.  This helps in some ways to keep the ribbons from totally tangling up and just generally looks pleasing and beautiful. (If you have this set up for any period of time before the dance begins, you’ll want to secure the dangling ribbons because if the wind blows a bit, the ribbons can get all jumbled beforehand and you’ll have to spend some time untangling them before the dance begins!) 

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The sapling that I select to cut when I do this is typically one that I would have cut because it had volunteered itself in a location that is less than convenient. I don’t want to randomly cut from any tree – but instead, I will select from particularly prolific trees so that if I take this sapling, it is not going to cause much harm to my environment. For example, Mulberry trees seem to come up like “weeds” in my part of Pennsylvania mainly from the birds who eat the berries and they always seem to drop the seeds in the most inconvenient places possible. These saplings are super fast growing too. In year’s past, I seemed to always select Mulberry because of this.

Some folks have very specific traditions and ideas of what to do with the Maypole itself after Beltane is over. Some like to store these and dry them out and burn them either at Midsummer, the Hallowmas fire or even turn a section of the sapling into a Yule Log – but to make a nice Yule Log, you would almost need to have a more substantial branch than the saplings we use when we do this.

Safety is always a prime thought. This means we try to make a space free of debris and tripping, but also …. If you have any member of your coven with disabilities or if they are not as mobile, you should think ahead of time of something they can do to contribute to the revelry so they can be involved. Dancing the Maypole definitely takes effort – and we do not exclude anyone from the merriment who is unable to do this. Some other options for those not able to perform the dance because of safety concerns, for example, could be drumming and/or singing and chanting during the dance. These roles can be very instrumental and important and are always appreciated. This adds something special and personal to the experience. If I thought about this long enough, I could probably imagine other possible roles as well for folks to help with such as blessing the Maypole by writing an invocation for the occasion…. or even tying off the finished ribbons with a particular incantation.

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If at all possible, we try to be outdoors whenever we can. We will also typically light a baalfire during the festival so that those of the coven who wish to may safely “jump the fire” for luck in love and for the granting of wishes.

We also will burn off  all of the left-over corn husks and sheaves of wheat from the previous Autumn Equinox Sabbat because they represent the previous cycle we have left and we want to transmute the old so we can make way for the new and we do this symbolically in this ritual. I like to add to this theme as well by collecting as much of the debris from trees and bushes that have fallen over the winter months and burn them in this Sabbat’s baalfire that we enjoy after ritual. This not only provides great kindling to start the fire with, but also provides a warm fire for the initiates to enjoy while we partake of the Sabbat feast, but also serves an important purpose symbolically also of clearing away more of the old debris that no longer has a use, converting it into light, heat and ash to be given back to the Great Mother Goddess.

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We typically save the ashes from the spent fire, long after it has cool and no longer warm with any chance of burning, so that the witches can take home the ashes to fertilize their garden with. These ashes represent all that was burnt off from last year – burning off dreams that have been released, wishes that have been fulfilled, and old magical charms: burnt and then transformed to serve as fertilizer. These can be sprinkled in the gardens with a simple invocation to the Great Mother Goddess to bless crops and animals of your location.

You’ll notice a continuing theme here of joy, happiness, luck and love in our Beltane Sabbat, along with a theme of burning away the last dregs of the following year. If you haven’t caught the “tidying” bug yet, this Sabbat will surely bring it to you. Traditions of spring cleaning are either already under way, or you may be feeling this following the Sabbat. It is an un-written belief or practice that we learn from this ritual that we must clear away the last dregs of the old year to invoke the joy, blessings, luck and love in the new year. Fire is important in nature because it is a great purifier and vivifier. I find myself doing this in my own home as I prepare for the Fire Sabbat of Beltane and finding things I must pass on to others, dispose or recycle. This not only frees-up space, but I find it removes old emotional-investments/thought-forms of things that impede your progress, but might add joy to others around you if you pass it on. Being a religion centered around the cycles of nature, and acknowledging these changing tides, I find this a personal theme that I take much comfort in – moving with the seasonal tides, and not trying to swim upstream against them.

Blessed Be!

A simple altar for the Beltane Sabbat – typically, the Coven May Eve/Beltane altar will hold the three-branched candlestick of the High Priestess: 

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An altar set-up for a solitary Beltane Sabbat – when an initiated witch can’t be with the coven, it is still vitally important that the spirit of the Sabbat be kept. If you need to do a solitary Beltane Sabbat this year, this blog post will give you some ideas by clicking here ….  

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