The temperature is getting warmer. The grass is greener. Birds are everywhere chirping their songs and greeting us in the morning. It’s time for the flowers and vegetation to shoot up from mother earth again. The excitement of summer and the possibilities are in the air.
It’s Beltaine Time
Beltaine is a Gaelic seasonal Spring festival mainly celebrated in Ireland and Scotland around May 1st. It’s a cross quarter day meaning that it falls between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It can be spelled in a variety of different ways from Bealtine, Beltain, Beltane and is derived from a Celtic word, belo-te(p)niâ, meaning “bright fire.”
Spring marked the beginning of summer or the light half of the year. In ancient times a pastoral life ruled the day. Therefore, this was the time to put the livestock out in the summer fields. Many traditions of new beginnings, cleansing, and fertility rites were observed. As usual stories were told from generation to generation to help remember traditions, rituals, and to remember the Gods & Goddesses of the land.
As the name implies, fires were a main aspect of this festival. After being cooped up for the winter both livestock and dwellings were symbolically cleansed by the sacred fires. The Druids who led the people in their rituals and festivals would make two bonfires side by side on a hill.
It was thought that fires had protective magical powers and they would lead their livestock between the fires to be “cleansed.” Afterwards, the townspeople would pass between the fires or jump over a fire to insure good luck. Each household would light a torch which they then used to relight their hearth fires and candles.
I can’t help but think about how the Indigenous tribes used sage and tobacco for it’s cleansing properties. This cleansing with smoke is still carried out today with sage bundles, sweet grass, incense, etc.
The fires may have also symbolized the sun which was needed in plenty to help ensure the growth of the planting season.
After the fires died down, they used the ashes to rub on themselves, the livestock and the ground for good luck for the growing season.
One popular fertility rite is the May Pole Dance. A large pole was erected in the ground symbolizing the Green Man (nature) fertilizing Mother Earth (land). As we usually do, we like to have fun at festivals and the May Dance was born. Ribbons were tied to the pole and the unmarried men and woman would alternatively dance around the pole thereby wrapping the ribbon around the pole in a woven design.
I’m sure this served to help get the men and women together and interacting for their own personal fertility rites
Part of the festival included feasting. Feasting is something that has carried over in the celebrations of today.
This festival marked the beginning of the summer with fertility rites that ensured the success of the growing season. The livestock was put out in the summer fields after they were cleansed. The hearth got cleared out and fires were relit for the season. It was a time of great joy and celebration and the promise of new successful beginnings.
In modern times, we still celebrate this festival with rituals, feasting, dancing, and much joy. Although, our life has shifted from pastoral life to town life, it’s important that we keep our focus on nature and attune our lives with it to help us stay grounded and connected to the earth, ancestors, and the nature spirits. After all, we are all connected. This assures a more fulfilling satisfying life.
What are your Springtime Rituals? Please share.
Photo Source: Michele O’Donnell