Walpurgis Night, Walpurgis Night,
Upon the eve of May,
We’ll merry meet, and summer greet,
For ever and a day.
— Anonymous, quoted by Doreen Valiente in Witchcraft For Tomorrow
Today is one of the most important and magical holidays of the year! For this is May Eve, Walpurgisnacht, Beltane Eve! In Germany, Walpurgisnacht begins at sunrise on this date and ends at sunrise tomorrow, the first day of May — Beltane!
At this time, we honor the Horned God, well-loved by the ancient Celtic and Teutonic peoples. Cernunnos, also called Herne, embodies the vitality of animal life, in the ways that the Green Man embodies the vitality of all plant life.
As Waverly FitzGerald tells us, in her invaluable resource, the School of the Seasons, as at Samhain, this is a night when Witches, faeries and ghosts wander freely. The veil separating the world of mortals and the Mysterious Realms is thin. This is a profoundly powerful time for divination, spell work and trance journeys to connect with other Beings and other worlds.
Waverly beautifully describes this time, when she writes, “Halloween [Samhain] is a festival of death, a time for letting go and mourning. May Day, on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year, is about life, about falling in love and frolicking in the woods. Death is an ending but also a beginning. Falling in love is a beginning which is also a death. The Goddess who manifests Herself at May Day calls you out of yourself and you may never return, at least to the same world you knew.”
Tonight, the Queen of the Faeries rides out on her snow-white horse, looking for mortals to lure away to Faeryland for seven years. Folklore says that if you sit beneath a tree on this night, you will see her or hear the sound of her horse’s bells as she rides by. Hide your face, lest she choose you to come away with her to the starlit lands.
It is also the Welsh festival, Nos Galon Mai, The Eastwind Sabbat. It begins at sundown, tonight, April 30 and is the Festival of the beginning of Summer. At this time, life is renewing itself. Birds and animals are mating. In the fields, newly planted seeds are beginning to grow.
We light bonfires tonight to honor the fertility God Belenos, from Whose name comes the word Beltane. This is the time to fertilize your dreams with action. Birch boughs are placed on all doors and windows to protect the home from evil spirits and sorcery. Traditional bonfires and torches of rosemary and juniper are lit, and according to legend, Witches can be seen riding across the sky on broomsticks on this dark and power-filled night.
In old England, Waverly notes, the young people went out into the woods on May Day Eve and stayed all night, returning in the morning, laden with flowers and green branches, and often a pregnancy! For there was a time, believe it or not, when sexuality and pleasure (and the fruits thereof!) were celebrated, not shamed or called “sin.”
In fact, it was well known that children conceived at Beltane were gifted by the Gods. The boys were often named for the Jack of the Green, or Robin of the Woods, Who certainly had blessed their conception. Besides, the actual biological father’s identity might not be known.
Since you may read this too late tomorrow, I’ll remind you today that first thing on Beltane morning, you should heed this advice:
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree
Will ever after handsome be.
Other sources suggest using the dew found under oaks or on ivy leaves. Make a special wish as you wash your face in it or as you drink from a well before sunrise.
Tonight, bring the May into your life by bringing home green branches, flowers and branches of flowering trees. Transform your house into a bower. Make a wreath to hang on the door or to crown your version of the Goddess.
If you can, stay up all night, preferably outdoors. At least go for a walk in the night and listen for the bells that herald the approach of the Faery Queen.
And if that’s not enough to keep you busy tonight, be sure to give honor to Hecate, whose night this also is. Hecate is the Queen of the Night, the ancient and mighty Triple Goddess, especially in Her aspect as Crone. The last day of every month, but particularly this May Eve night, is sacred to Her.