In Pagan Rome, Floralia, from April 27-May 3 was the festival of the Flower Goddess Flora & the flowering of Springtime. Roman Catholic traditions of adoring statues of Mary with garlands of flowers on May 1 have Roman Pagan roots. On May 1, offerings were made to Bona Dea (as Mother Earth), the Lares (household guardian spirits), & Maia (Goddess of Increase) from whom May gets its name. On May 1, early cultures followed a pastoral tradition of turning sheep, cows, other livestock out to pasture. In early Scandinavia, mock battles between Winter & Summer were enacted at this time.
Fire is a common accompaniment to many May celebrations. Celebrants mark the holiday by lighting fires, dancing, feasting & often performing fertility rites. Many built a bonfire & then moved through it or danced clockwise around it. Livestock was driven around a Beltane fire or between 2 fires for purification & fertility blessings. In ancient times Druid priests kindled it at sacred places. In later times, Christian priests kindled their spring fires in fields near the church after peforming a Christian church service. Branches & twigs often were carried around these fire 3 times, then hung over hearths to bless homes. Risk-takers made a wish for good luck before jumping a bonfire or the flame of a candle. Beltane may refer to the “fires of Bel,” in honor of the Celtic sun god, Belenus. Some pagans believe fire has the power to cleanse, purify & increase fertility.
Some believed during May the veil between the human & supernatural worlds is at its thinnest, making them potent days for magic.