30th April / 1st May
The beginning of Summer – Summer is a comin in !
Beltane was an important festival in the Celtic calendar. The name originates from the Celtic god, Bel – the ‘bright one’, and the Gaelic word ‘teine’ meaning fire, giving the name ‘bealttainn’, meaning ‘bright fire’.
This is the beginning of the ‘lighted half’ of the year when the Sun begins to set later in the evening and the hawthorn blossoms. To our ancestors Beltane was the coming of summer and fertility. Nature is in bloom and the earth is full of fecundity and life.
Beltane falls half way between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice and is a Cross Quarter Day.
Beltane is one of the four Celtic fire festivals marking the quarter points in the year – feasts were held and bonfires were lit throughout the countryside. Fire was believed to have purifying qualities – it cleansed and rejuvenated both the land and the people.
The ritual welcoming of the sun and the lighting of the fires was also believed to ensure fertility of the land and the people. Animals were transfered from winter pens to summer pastures, and were driven between the Beltane fires to cleanse them of evil spirits and to bring fertility and a good milk yield. The Celts leapt over Beltane fires – for fertility and purification.
Young men would circle the Beltaine fires holding Rowan branches to bring protection against evil – its bright berries suggested fire – malign powers were considered particularly active at the year’s turning-point.
It was considered unlucky to allow anyone to take fire from one’s house on May Eve or May Day, as they would gain power over the inhabitants.
A Beltane fire festival is held annually in Edinburgh, at Calton Hill on 30th April – a May Queen and Green Man, representing Beltane fertility and renewal lead the celebrations on the hillside.
The Beltany Stone Circle in the North West of Ireland is named after the Beltane festival as the sunrise at Beltane is aligned with the only decorated stone in the circle.
The Triple Goddess – worshipped by the Ancient Britons – at Beltane is now in her aspect of the Maiden :
The May Queen, May Bride, Goddess of Spring, Flower Bride, Queen of the Fairies
– a symbol of purity, growth and renewal.
The Crone turns to stone on Beltane Eve.
May blossom symbolises female fertility, with its creamy/ white, fragrant flowers. Hawthorn blossom was worn during Beltane celebrations, especially by the May Queen.
It is believed to be a potent magical plant and it is considered unlucky to bring the blossom inside the house, apart from on May eve.
Beltane is a time of partnerships and fertility. New couples proclaim their love for each other on this day. It is also the perfect time to begin new projects.
The maypole – a phallic pole planted deep in the earth representing the potency and fecundity of the God, its unwinding ribbons symbolized the unwinding of the spiral of life and the union of male and female – the Goddess and God. It is usually topped by a ring of flowers to represent the fertile Goddess.
Paganhill, near Stroud, has one of the tallest maypoles. The Puritans banned maypoles during the 17th Century.
It was a Celtic tradition to fell a birch tree on May day and to bring it into the community.
Crosses of birch and rowan twigs were hung over doors on the May morning, and left until next May day.
Beltane cakes or bannocks – oatcakes coated with a baked on custard made of cream, eggs and butter – were cooked over open fires and anyone who chose a mis-shapen piece or a piece with a black spot was likely to suffer bad luck in the coming months. They were also offered to the spirits who protect the livestock, by facing the Beltane fire and casting them over their shoulders.
Beltane Celebrations and Rituals
At Sheen do Boaldyne, in the Isle of Man, twigs of Rowan are hung above doorways as protection – the opening of Summer was regarded as a time when fairies and spirits were especially active, as at Samhain and the opening of Winter.
The ‘Obby ‘Oss, at Padstow, Cornwall – wearing of animal skins was believed to be a relic of a Pagan sacred marriage between earth and sky, and the dance enacts the fertility god sacrificed for the good of his people.
The May Queen – Maid Marion/the Maiden consorts with Robin/ the Green Man in Celtic celebrations of May day.
Going ‘A-Maying’ meant staying out all night to gather flowering hawthorn, watching the sunrise and making love in the woods – a ‘greenwood marriage’.
The dew on the May day morning is believed to have a magical potency – wash your face and body in it and remain fair all year, and guarantee your youth and beauty continues – men who wash their hands in it will be good at tying knots and nets – useful if you’re a fisherman!