Beltaine Part One
Come lasses and lads get of your Dads And away to the Maypole hie, For every he has got him a she and the fiddler is standing by
"Come Lasses and Lads"
Beltaine, otherwise known as May Day, Belltaine, Beltain, Beltane, Beltine, Boaldyn or Belltuinn, is a Pagan and neo-Pagan celebrated throughout the year. It is a seasonal celebration with a fixed date – May 1 in the Gregorian calendar and May 15 according to the Scottish year.
What is the Significance of Beltaine?
Beltaine is the time of the mystical union, a God and Goddess festival, when plants are in full growth. There exists a harmony with the environment and the Faeries are on the loose. Throughout history, real and mythological, Beltaine has held importance. Traditionally, Wiccans celebrate the return of mature life with the union of the God and Goddess. The Celts perceived this as the first day of summer. It was also a time of fairs in Tara and a day on which you could glimpse fairies out amongst the flowers. For the Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx this marked the end of the dark half of the year that had started at October’s end with Samhaine (Halloween).
A True Survivor of Celtic Times
Beltaine is one of four survivors of the old Celtic calendar great feasts. Imbolc (February 1), Lugnasad (August 1) and Samhain (October 31/November 1) are the other three. Standing in perfect balance to this winter counterpart of Samhaine, Beltaine remains - its importance attested to in the Lebor Gabála or Book of Invasions. On that day, as recorded in this Celtic work, two separately significant events occurred.
1. The Parthelonians, a productive and creative group, invaded Ireland
2. The Milesians (the Sons of Mil) forcibly entered the island of which they would take over rule
Furthermore, Beltaine is one of the only true Celtic fire festivals on the Neo-Pagan calendar.
Origins of the Name
According to historians and authors MacKilIop, Greene, and even Pennock, the origins of the name are debatable. The word “Bel” may or may not refer to the veneration of the God Belenos with his associations to light, heat, the sun, and fire. What is not in doubt is the derivation of the word "teine' or "taine." It means fire. In other words, Beltaine may mean the fires or light of Bel. Definitely, the "teine eigin" burnt on that night were the need fires - need fires that relit the extinguished home fires and lit the hills and sacred spots found throughout the British Isles. In Scotland, mountain top fires were popular to a late date while in Cornwall fires blazed well into the 20th century.
The Fires of Beltaine
The fires of Beltaine served several purposes both then and now. The extinguishing of the hearth fires and the rekindling through use of the need fire provided community and a sense of belonging. It was also
- A rite of purification
- Recognition of the power of the sun to regenerate the Earth
- A celebration.
The importance of both the date and the fire itself are reflected in the elaborateness of the rite and its construction. The persons involved erected the fire on a square or circle. In Wales, the need fire was set and built by nine men using nine different type of wood, thus invoking the mystical Goddess number of nine. The only way to light it correctly was (and is) by the old method of rubbing two sticks together.
Alternatively, the group or family could construct two fires, providing balance as well as a path through which to drive the livestock. Animals were an integral part of the rites. Cattle and sheep were driven through the ashes or between two fires for ensuring health and fertility in the coming year. During this period, livestock, released from pens, were driven up into the hills for summer pasturing.
The fires, once, lit lasted long into the night. Lovers found solace in the shadows - in fact, many young Celts had their first sexual experience by the glimmering firelight of the Beltaine fires. It was for the double purpose of cleansing from winter's force and increasing fertility that people leapt through and over the fires. The person who leapt highest was, in Ireland, believed to be the first to marry in the coming year.
Beltaine was a true Celtic fire festival. It took place every year on May Dat. Fires burnt on the hills and on the shores long into the night. Flowers, cattle and food all played a part in this ancient rit. Part Two of this article looks at other associations with Beltaine, including the famous or infamous May Pole.