Thursday, 1 May 2014

Bealtaine

Today is May Day, or Bealtaine in the old Celtic Calendar.

Bealtaine (Bay ell tayn e ) is half way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice and is the start of summer (although it doesn't much look like it as I write this).  The cattle were let out to pasture today and bonfires were lit to cleanse the cattle and the land and the people.   People danced around the fire and sometimes the cattle were run through it as a purification rite.   The dew on Mayday morning was also thought to be pure and would restore youth.


I remember as a child going out to collect May Flowers on May Day eve - they were like large buttercups and grew in marshy ditches - the best ones were in the ditch (or shuck as we called it) that marked the border, down Dolan's Lane.

They were then spread on the windowsills and doorsteps to honour the May Queen I suppose, Mary, or to ward off evil spirits - I had never quite figured that out :)  But according to Wikepedia, they were also strewn on barn doors and sometimes on the cattle because the resembled fire ...

Nowadays Bealtaine is celebrated more in the Wiccan tradition, but there are still parts of Ireland where bonfires will be lit.   And if I knew where to find May flowers I think I'd go out looking for some - must investigate that further.




8 comments:

  1. I am more familiar with it as a Wiccan or even a Black Magic celebration.

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    1. Isn't it terrible how the old ways have been demonised.. This time of year is too beautiful to be thinking about Black Magic...

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  2. I first came across "Beltane" in the storybook Borrobil by William Croft Dickinson - read as a child I loved its imagery and mythical stories and the children leaping through the flames into another world. When my son made his appearance into this world on this particular night he became my "Beltane Baby" and certainly magical ever since!

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    1. that's a lovely connection :)

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  3. Nice post. I learned something today. :-)

    We have a similar flower here in North America. I'm not sure if it's an Old World flower that came across, or if it's native. The common name is buttercup. I think it's also called a marsh marigold.

    I had no idea about the strewing tradition. Thanks for sharing this! :-)

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    1. We have buttercups here too Teresa, but the May flower is a much bigger version of it and it grows in sort of swampy land.

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  4. Fil, I love hearing about this holiday from your perspective. I know of it more through neopaganism in the United States but know its origins are in your country. Thanks for sharing the ways you have celebrated it!

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    1. My pleasure Stephanie - a lot of the solstices are given good standing here and have a lot of events marking them.

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