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Beltane - What on Earth is that?

Beltane was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (1 November), Imbolc (1 February), Beltane (1 May), and Lughnasadh (1 August). 

Beltane kicks off the merry month of May, and has a long history. This fire festival is celebrated on the 1st May in the northern hemisphere (and at the end of October below the equator) with bonfires, Maypoles, dancing, and lots of good old fashioned sexual energy.

 

Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season, when livestock were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were held at that time to protect them from harm, both natural and supernatural, and this mainly involved the "symbolic use of fire".

 

 There were also rituals to protect crops, dairy products and people, and to encourage growth. The aos sí (often referred to as spirits or fairies) were thought to be especially active at Beltane (as at Samhain), and the goal of many Beltane rituals was to appease them. Most scholars see the aos sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits.

 

 Beltane was a "spring time festival of optimism" during which 'fertility ritual again was important, perhaps connecting with the waxing power of the sun'.


Beltane is mentioned in the earliest Irish literature and is associated with important events in Irish mythology. Also known as Cétshamhain ('first of summer'), it marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect cattle, people and crops, and to encourage growth.


Special bonfires were kindled, whose flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around or between bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire.


These gatherings would be accompanied by a feast, and some of the food and drink would be offered to the aos sí (or fairies). Doors, windows, byres and livestock would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire. In parts of Ireland, people would make a May Bush: typically a thorn bush or branch decorated with flowers, ribbons, bright shells and rushlights. Holy wells were also visited, while Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Many of these customs were part of May Day or Midsummer festivals in parts of Great Britain and Europe.

A number of pre-Christian figures are associated with the month of May, and subsequently Beltane. The entity known as the Green Man, strongly related to Cernunnos, is often found in the legends and lore of the British Isles, and is a masculine face covered in leaves and shrubbery. In some parts of England, a Green Man is carried through town in a wicker cage as the townsfolk welcome the beginning of summer. Impressions of the Green Man’s face can be found in the ornamentation of many of Europe’s older cathedrals, despite edicts from local bishops forbidding stonemasons from including such pagan imagery.


A related character is Jack-in-the-Green, a spirit of the greenwood. References to Jack appear in British literature back as far as the late sixteenth century. In the 16th century, Sir James Frazer associates the figure with mummers and the celebration of the life force of trees. Jack-in-the-Green was seen even in the Victorian era, when he was associated with soot-faced chimney sweeps. At this time, Jack was framed in a structure of wicker and covered with leaves, and surrounded by Morris dancers. Some scholars suggest that Jack may have been an ancestor to the legend of Robin Hood.


If you've been wanting to bring abundance and fertility of any sort into your life — whether you're looking to conceive a child, enjoy fruitfulness in your career or creative endeavours, or just see your garden bloom - Beltane is the perfect time for magical workings related to any type of prosperity.


Now you know!



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