– the traditional red is commonly understood in more recent historical times to represent the fertility of the maturing female: the menarche, the first menstrual flow. Perhaps the earlier significance of the red, and a deeper layer to it, is that it was understood to represent the fire of Sun – and in Ireland where the name Beltaine has its origins (written as “Bealtaine” traditionally), the Sun Goddess was known as Aine (Michael Dames, Ireland: a sacred journey, p.199): but it may represent any Sun Goddess from around the globe really. Beltaine has been understood as the beginning of Summer … it is clearly the end of Winter, as the light part of the day is longer than the dark part of the day, and continuing to grow longer: just as its opposite Samhain is understood to be the end of Summer, and the beginning of Winter. So, the red decorations of Beltaine … the fabrics and ribbons and any red flowers celebrate Sun fire – specifically in Ireland, it is Her “fire-eye”, but it may be so anywhere.
– the traditional white is commonly understood in more recent historical times to represent the fertility of the maturing male: his first flow. A deeper layer and perhaps an earlier understanding was that the white represents the light of Moon: Belt means “white”, perhaps with the same root as the Lithuanian word ‘baltas’ meaning ‘white’, and may refer to the white lunar eye (Michael Dames, Ireland: a sacred journey, p. 199). Beltaine has been regarded as the transitional Seasonal Moment from night to day, Winter to Summer, and the word Beltaine “may bring the eyes of night and day together” (Dames, p.199) … the eye of Sun with the eye of Moon. Her twin eyes come together then in deep creativity. Caitlin and John Matthews also point out that fertility rituals “may have been symbolic of a far greater exchange than that between men and women – in fact between the elements themselves” (The Western Way, p.54). Perhaps before Beltaine was narrowed to simply celebrating genetic fertility and human heterosexual desire (commonly in the metaphor of “Goddess and God”), it was essentially the sacred creativity of Sun and Moon in relationship, with Earth.
– the Maypole – or “Novapole” if you live in the Southern Hemisphere – may represent (or be) the sacred tree, the growth of new vegetation. The wrapping of the pole with coloured ribbons has in recent modern times often been reduced to a univocal celebration of meiotic sexual creativity, and frequently with simple phallic symbolism (thanks largely to Freudian thinking). But it may be more deeply understood as representing cosmic/earth regenerative energy, with various valencies … tree, spine, earth-cosmos connection. In the Language of the Goddess, Marija Gimbutas refers to column-like art and phallic motifs as “columns of life” and “cosmic pillars” (p. 221-235). Caitlin and John Matthews say: “the maypole, a comparatively recent manifestation in the history of mystery celebrations, can be seen as the linking of heaven and earth, binding those who dance around it … into a pattern of birth, life and death which lay at the heart of the maze of earth mysteries” (The Western Way, p.54). The dance around it involves both sunwise and counter-sunwise movement – creation and dissolution.
– the rainbow streamers may represent the diverse creativity of Life, as well as specific colours perhaps signifying elements, places, emotions and more – qualities that participants may desire to weave into their lives.
– the honey in the pot represents the sweetness of manifest life, which is tasted at this time when sweet desire for life is met. The fruiting begins.
– the shell represents Aphrodite, whom I understand to be one of the names and forms given to the primordial essence of Holy Desire by the ancients. This association was suggested by cosmologist Brian Swimme in a presentation he did with author and scholar Charlene Spretnak in 1987: when Charlene spoke of Aphrodite’s original nature (before the Olympian pantheon tried to squeeze Her in), Brian Swimme “spoke on the notion of allurement, the starting point of all the activities in the universe. Musing on Aphrodite’s power to activate allurement, he noted that Mach’s Principle came to mind, the recognition that everything in the universe is bound together with gravitation, the mysterious attraction or relationship” ( Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p. xvi). So I say in the Beltaine ritual:
It is the celebration of Allurement … Holy Lust … that which holds all things in form and allows the dance of life.
The ancients called this Holy Lust, this primordial Essence “Ishtar”, “Venus” – “Aphrodite” … they sang of Her:
“For all things are from you.
Who unites the cosmos.
You will the three-fold fates.
You bring forth all things.
Whatever is in the Heavens.
And in the much fruitful earth
And in the deep sea.”
– the Flame may represent the “fire-eye” of the Goddess (Dames p. 195-199) … the twin fires being Her two eyes of night and day: as such they may be understood to be the Goddess seeing Her land, and bringing forth life and beauty with that vision, with the power of the eye: “the Sun is in the eye” as many Indigenous traditions have believed to be so, and now Western science understands in its own way – the eye is known to have been formed by the same processes as the chlorophyll molecule. The two fires came to be used to run cattle between for the purpose of burning off the bugs and ticks of Winter as they ran to Summer pasture – and so the fires may be understood to be cleansing. So, I think of the Beltaine fires as the Flame of Love that burns away the psyche’s “bugs and ticks”, and sees the Beauty present, and calls it forth. The Beltaine flames may be a celebration of Sun entering into the eye, into the whole bodymind; this powerful creative evocation upon which the Dance of Life depends, and the cleansing power of Love and pleasure.
– the rose or any object of beauty represents (is) the Beauty called forth, and may represent the Beauty present in each one. In the Beltaine ceremony we practice seeing Beauty in each other and ourselves – invoke it: where there is perception of Beauty there is Love, and allurement into relationship, communion, into Creativity.
Finally a quote from Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry:
Love begins as allurement – as attraction. Think of the entire cosmos, all one hundred billion galaxies rushing through space: At this cosmic scale the basic dynamism of the universe is the attraction each galaxy has for every other galaxy. … Gravity is the word used by scientists and the rest of us in the modern era to point to this primary attraction. …(but) the mystery remains no matter how intelligently we theorize. … The attracting activity is a stupendous and mysterious fact of existence. Primal. … this alluring activity permeates the cosmos on all levels of being. … By pursuing your allurements, you help bind the universe together. The unity of the world rests on the pursuit of passion. (The Universe Story, p. 43-48)