Beltane (May Day) 1st May
Beltane, the third of the four Celtic fire festivals, was a celebration
of the return of life and fertility to the world, and was celebrated
on or around April 30. It is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain
which means "opposite Samhain." Beltane was the last of
the three spring fertility festivals, and the second major Celtic
festival. Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year
into its two primary seasons, Winter and Summer.
In ancient Celtic communities, the festival went by many names:
Beltane in Ireland, Bealtunn in Scotland, Shenn do Boaldyn on the
Isle of Man and Galan Mae in Wales. The Saxons called this day Walpurgisnacht,
the night of Walpurga, goddess of May. As with Brighid, the Church
transformed this goddess into St. Walpurga and attached a similar
legend to her origin. Also known as May Eve, May Day, and Walpurgis
Night, this festival marked the beginning of Summer and the pastoral
It celebrates the height of Spring and the flowering of life.
The Goddess manifests as the May Queen and Flora. The God emerges
as the May King and Jack in the Green. The Maypole represents Their
unity, with the pole itself being the God and the ribbons that encompass
it, the Goddess. Colours are the Rainbow spectrum. Beltane is a
festival of flowers, fertility, sensuality, and delight.
The word "Beltaine" literally means "bright"
or "brilliant fire," and refers to the bonfire lit by
a presiding Druid in honor of the proto-Celtic god variously known
as Bel, Beli, Balar, Balor or Belenus. It has been suggested that
Bel is the Brythonic Celt equivalent to the Goidelic Celt god Cernunnos.
At Beltane, the Horned One dies or is taken by the Goddess, only
to be reborn as her son. He then reclaims his role as consort and
impregnates the Goddess, sparking his own rebirth. Other beliefs
tell of the Summer God being released from captivity, or the Summer
Maiden wooed away from her Earth-giant father. The Hawthorne (Huathe)
tree represents the giant and sometimes this wood is used for the
Beltane joyfully heralds the arrival of Summer in its full glory.
It was believed that if you bathed in the dew of Beltane morn, your
beauty would flourish throughout the year.
Beltane was once a time in which ones cattle were honored
in rituals of protection, purification, and fertility. Just as they
were driven to their winter pastures at the beginning of the Celtic
year at Samhain (Halloween), so were they driven to their high pastures
for the summer six months later at Beltane. It was a sacred time,
for ones status and wealth were measured by ones herds
and any threat to their lives and health directly impacted ones
own. Protecting ones animals, is closely associated with the
supernatural world. The Celts knew that seasonal transitions were
times of heightened supernatural strength, even danger. Beltane
and Samhain were the years two great fire festivals, they
divided the year in half and marked the time when the veils between
the worlds were at their most vulnerable, when spirits moved freely
through the portals and enchantment abounded. In respecting such
powers, the celebrations called for holy fires, kindled from the
trees most revered by the Celts, among these were rowan, birch,
apple, oak, hawthorn, holly, and alder. Such magical woods were
believed to be specialists in protecting and purifying
people and animals from disease and infertility. Where Samhains
autumn fires were a time of thanksgiving, Beltanes fires welcomed
the suns return and therefore had specially focused powers
of renewal. That is why the Celts at Beltane drove their treasured
herds and flocks along a narrow pathway between two banks of burning
wood piles, through the holy, incense-like smoke, asking for mighty
blessings upon the animals and themselves.
The fires celebrate the return of life and fruitfulness to the
earth. Celebration included frolicking throughout the countryside,
dancing the Maypole, leaping over fires, and "going a maying".
Young people jumped the fire for luck in finding a spouse, travellers
jumped the fire to ensure a safe journey, and pregnant women jumped
the fire to assure an easy delivery. It was customary for young
lovers to spend the night in the forest.
Beltane was the time of sensuality revitalized, the reawakening
of the earth and all of her children. It was the time when tribal
people celebrated with joy the vivid colors and vibrant scents of
the season, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture of summer after
a long dormant winter. It was customary that Handfastings, for a
year and a day, take place at this time.
On May Eve people would tear branches from a Hawthorn tree and
decorate the outside of their homes. The Hawthorn, or Whitethorn,
is the tree of hope, pleasure, and protection. The strong taboo
on breaking Hawthorne branches or bringing them into the home was
traditionally lifted on May Eve.
Prepare a May basket by filling it with flowers and goodwill and
then give it to someone in need of healing and caring, such as a
house bound or elderly friend. Form a wreath of freshly picked flowers,
wear it in your hair, and feel yourself radiating joy and beauty.
Dress in bright colors. Dance the Maypole and feel yourself balancing
the Divine Female and Male within. On May Eve, bless your garden
in the old way by making love with your lover in it. Make a wish
as you jump a bonfire or candle flame for good luck. Welcome in
the May at dawn with singing and dancing.
Today we still have maypoles, but the male god has gone. Christianity
kept the Queen of the May, but transformed her into a symbol of
virginity, purity and chastity.
Roman Catholics would honour Mary, the mother of Jesus, during the
month of May. They would place flowers at statues of Mary and make
a crown of flowers to adorn her head.