"The Land represented by the Goddess is now ripe and fertile and the Young God expresses His Love for Her. This is a time of joyous reveling as the first flowers of Summer are gathered in Their Honor."
-The Witches' Voice: 'Holidays of Witchcraft-Beltaine'
Beltane, in Irish, or Bealtuinn Scottish Gaelic. The original meaning is "Bel's Fire" which designates it as one of the major Fire Festivals. Bel is sometimes refered to as the God of "Light." He is also known as Beli or Belinus and may be traced to the Middle Eastern god Baal. Some Beltane customs are also very similar to the old Roman feast of flowers, the Floriala.
In the Wheel of the Year, Beltaine is the holiday which occurs at the Midpoint between the Winter and Summer solstice. The turning of the year from winter to summer. It is the opposite of Samhain [Cetsamhain]. As at Samhain, 'need-fires' were relit. Traditionally two large bonfires were lit in the village and the cattle were driven between them on their way to summer pasture. The fire was to protect them and bring them health through the summer season. People would leap over the flames in a similar way for good health through the coming year.
Beltane has been long marked with feasts and rituals of fertility for the coming year. A maypole with ribbons and flowers attached was erected in the center of town, and young people would dance around eachother, winding the ribbons in an intricate pattern. Young girls would bath in the morning dew to make themselves more beautiful, before dancing around the maypole. Couples would steal away into the greenwood during the festival, and such 'greenwood' marriages would be formalized in June if a pregnancy resulted.
Flowers and budding branches of spring growth were brought into the village to decorate houses and a maypole. The practice of laying a Mayday bouquet on doorsteps is still practiced in some places. People tied green branches over their doors or scatterd primrose petals about to keep the Fairies from entering their homes while the residents were at the celebrations. These branches were cut without using steel, so as not to anger the Fey as Fairies have an aversion to steel and iron. It was also considered bad luck to cut a hawthorn on Beltaine, as was "giving away" your hearth fire on this day.
For good luck it was customary to walk around your property lines on Beltane. Boundaries were considered special places of magic. If you had a well on your property, you would walk three times around it and then toss an offering of silver down to the waters to insure an ample supply for the dry months. You could also make a "wish" and tie a ribbon or rag on a nearby branch to "seal it." Even today, many old Pagan wells and springs are found marked with ribbons fluttering in the breezes.
Other, even older, tales are associated with May 1st in Celtic mythology. According to the ancient Irish 'Book of Invasions', the first settler of Ireland, Partholan, arrived on May 1st; and it was on May 1st that the plague came which destroyed his people. Years later, the Tuatha De Danann were conquered by the Milesians on May Day. In Welsh myth, the perenial battle between Gwythur and Gwyn for the love of Creudylad took place each May Day; and it was on May Eve that Teirnyon lost his colts and found Pryderi. May Eve was also the occasion of a fearful scream that was heard each year throughout Wales, one of the three curses of the Coranians lifted by the skill of Lludd and Llevelys.1
And so we go a-maying...
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