Saturday, May 2, 2009

Happy Belated Beltane!


Beltane is the last of the three spring fertility festivals, the others
being Imbolc and Ostara. Beltane is the second principal Celtic
festival (the other being Samhain). Celebrated approximately halfway
between Vernal (spring) equinox and the midsummer (Summer Solstice).
Beltane traditionally marked the arrival if summer in ancient times.

Beltane the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the
morning horizon, whereas winter (Samhain) begins when the Pleiades
rises at sunset. The Pleiades is a cluster of seven closely placed
stars, the seven sisters, in the constellation of Taurus, near his
shoulder. When looking for the Pleiades with the naked eye, remember it
looks like a tiny dipper-shaped pattern of six moderately bright stars
(the seventh can be seen on very dark nights) in the constellation of
Taurus. It stands very low in the east-northeast sky for just a few
minutes before sunrise.

Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain,
divide the year into its two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and
summer (Light Part). As Samhain is about honoring Death, Beltane, its
counter part, is about honoring Life. It is the time when the sun is
fully released from his bondage of winter and able to rule over summer
and life once again.

Beltane, like Samhain, is a time of "no
time" when the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest. No
time is when the two worlds intermingle and unite and the magic
abounds! It is the time when the Faeries return from their winter
respite, carefree and full of faery mischief and faery delight. On the
night before Beltane, in times past, folks would place rowan branches
at their windows and doors for protection, many otherworldly
occurrences could transpire during this time of "no time".
Traditionally on the Isle of Man, the youngest member of the family
gathers primroses on the eve before Beltane and throws the flowers at
the door of the home for protection. In Ireland it is believed that
food left over from May Eve must not be eaten, but rather buried or
left as an offering to the faery instead. Much like the tradition of
leaving of whatever is not harvested from the fields on Samhain, food
on the time of no time is treated with great care.

When the
veils are so thin it is an extremely magical time, it is said that the
Queen of the Faeries rides out on her white horse. Roving about on
Beltane eve She will try to entice people away to the Faeryland. Legend
has it that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane night, you may see the
Faery Queen or hear the sound of Her horse's bells as She rides through
the night. Legend says if you hide your face, She will pass you by but
if you look at Her, She may choose you. There is a Scottish ballad of
this called Thomas the Rhymer, in which Thomas chooses to go the
Faeryland with the Queen and has not been seen since.

has been an auspicious time throughout Celtic lore, it is said that the
Tuatha de Danaan landed in north-west Connacht on Beltane. The Tuatha
de Danaan, it is said, came from the North through the air in a mist to
Ireland. After the invasion by the Milesians, the Tuatha faded into the
Otherworld, the Sidhe, Tir na nOg.

The beginning of summer
heralds an important time, for the winter is a difficult journey and
weariness and disheartenment set in, personally one is tired down to
the soul. In times past the food stocks were low; variety was a distant
memory. The drab non-color of winter's end perfectly represents the
dullness and fatigue that permeates on so many levels to this day. We
need Beltane, as the earth needs the sun, for our very Spirit cries out
for the renewal of summer jubilation.

Beltane marks that the
winter's journey has passed and summer has begun, it is a festival of
rapturous gaiety as it joyfully heralds the arrival of summer in her
full garb. Beltane, however, is still a precarious time, the crops are
still very young and tender, susceptible to frost and blight. As was
the way of ancient thought, the Wheel would not turn without human
intervention. People did everything in their power to encourage the
growth of the Sun and His light, for the Earth will not produce without
the warm love of the strong Sun. Fires, celebration and rituals were an
important part of the Beltane festivities, as to insure that the warmth
of the Sun's light would promote the fecundity of the earth.

marks the passage into the growing season, the immediate rousing of the
earth from her gently awakening slumber, a time when the pleasures of
the earth and self are fully awakened. It signals a time when the
bounty of the earth will once again be had. May is a time when flowers
bloom, trees are green and life has again returned from the barren
landscape of winter, to the hope of bountiful harvests, not too far
away, and the lighthearted bliss that only summer can bring.

translated means "fire of Bel" or "bright fire" - the "bale-fire".
(English - bale; Anglo-Saxon bael; Lithuanian baltas (white)) Bel (Bel,
Bile, Beli, Belinus, Belenos) is the known as the bright and shinning
one, a Celtic Sun God. Beli is the father, protector, and the husband
of the Mother Goddess.

Beltane is the time of the yearly battle
between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythur ap Greidawl for Creudylad in Welsh
mythology. Gwyn ap Nudd the Wild Huntsman of Wales, he is a God of
death and the Annwn. Creudylad is the daughter of Lludd (Nudd) of the
Silver Hand (son of Beli). She is the most beautiful maiden of the
Island of Mighty. A myth of the battle of winter and summer for the
magnificent blossoming earth.

In the myth of Rhiannion and
Pwyll, it is the evening of Beltane, that Rhiannon gives birth to their
son. The midwives all fell asleep at the same time, as they were
watching over Rhiannon and her new baby, during which he was taken. In
order to protect themselves, they smeared blood (from a pup) all over
Rhiannon, to which they claim she had eaten her son. The midwives were
believed, and Rhiannon was forced to pay penance for seven years. She
had to carrying people on her back from the outside of the gate to the
palace, although rarely would any allow her to do so. The baby's
whereabouts were a mystery. Oddly, every Beltane night, one of Pwyll's
vassals, Teirnyon Twryv Vliant, had a mare that gave birth but the colt
disappeared. One Beltane night Teirnyon Twryv Vliant awaited in the
barn for the mare to foaled, when she did, he heard a tremendous noise
and a clawed arm came through the window and grabbed the colt. Teirnyon
cut off the arm with his sword, and then heard a wailing. He opened the
door and found a baby, he brought it to his wife and they adopted Gwri
Wallt Euryn (Gwri of the Golden Hair). As he grew he looked like Pwyll
and they remembered they found him on the night Rhiannon's baby became
lost. Teirnyon brought Gwri of the Golden Hair to the castle, told the
story, and he was adopted back to his parents, Rhiannon and Pwyll, and
and named by the head druid, Pryderi (trouble) from the first word his
mother had said when he was restored to her. "Trouble is, indeed, at an
end for me, if this be true".

This myth illustrates the
precariousness of the Beltane season, at the threshold of Summer, the
earth awakening, winter can still reach its long arm in and snatch the
Sun away (Gwri of the Golden hair). "Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be
out" (clout: Old English for cloth/clothing). If indeed the return of
summer is true than the trouble (winter) is certainly over, however one
must be vigilant.

On Beltane eve the Celts would build two large
fires, Bel Fires, lit from the nine sacred woods. The Bel Fire is an
invocation to Bel (Sun God) to bring His blessings and protection to
the tribe. The herds were ritually driven between two needfires (fein
cigin), built on a knoll. The herds were driven through to purify,
bring luck and protect them as well as to insure their fertility before
they were taken to summer grazing lands. An old Gaelic adage: "Eadar da
theine Bhealltuinn" - "Between two Beltane fires".

The Bel fire
is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers. The fires further
celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning
away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces
and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and
re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires.

Celebration includes
frolicking throughout the countryside, maypole dancing, leaping over
fires to ensure fertility, circling the fire three times (sun-wise) for
good luck in the coming year, athletic tournaments feasting, music,
drinking, children collecting the May: gathering flowers. children
gathering flowers, hobby horses, May birching and folks go a maying".
Flowers, flower wreaths and garlands are typical decorations for this
holiday, as well as ribbons and streamers. Flowers are a crucial symbol
of Beltane, they signal the victory of Summer over Winter and the
blossoming of sensuality in all of nature and the bounty it will bring.

birching or May boughing, began on Beltane Eve, it is said that young
men fastened garland and boughs on the windows and doors of the young
maidens upon which their sweet interest laid. Mountain ash leaves and
Hawthorne branches meant indicated love whereas thorn meant disdain.
This perhaps, is the forerunner of old May Day custom of hanging
bouquets hooked on one's doorknob?

Young men and women wandered
into the woods before daybreak of May Day morning with garlands of
flowers and/or branches of trees. They would arrive; most rumpled from
joyous encounters, in many areas with the maypole for the Beltane
celebrations. Pre-Christian society's thoughts on human sexuality and
fertility were not bound up in guilt and sin, but rather joyous in the
less restraint expression of human passions. Life was not an exercise
but rather a joyful dance, rich in all beauty it can afford.

ancient Ireland there was a Sacred Tree named Bile, which was the
center of the clan, or Tuatha. As the Irish Tree of Life, the Bile
Pole, represents the connection between the people and the three worlds
of Bith: The Skyworld (heavens), The Middleworld (our world), and The
Otherworld. Although no longer the center life, the Bile pole has
survived as the Beltane Maypole.

The Maypole is an important
element to Beltane festivities, it is a tall pole decorated with long
brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. Young maidens
and lads each hold the end of a ribbon, and dance revolving around the
base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons. The circle of dancers
should begin, as far out from the pole as the length of ribbon allows,
so the ribbons are taut. There should be an even number of boys &
girls. Boys should be facing clockwise and girls counterclockwise. They
each move in the direction that they are facing, weaving with the next,
around to braid the ribbons over-and-under around the pole. Those
passing on the inside will have to duck, those passing on the outside
raise their ribbons to slide over. As the dances revolve around the
pole the ribbons will weave creating a pattern, it is said that the
pattern will indicate the abundance of harvest year.

In some
areas there are permanent Maypoles, perhaps a recollection of ancient
clan Bile Pole memory. In other areas a new Maypole is brought down on
Beltane Eve out from the wood. Even the classical wood can vary
according to the area tradition is pulled from, most frequently it
seems to be birch as "the wood", but others are mentioned in various
historical documents.

Today in some towns and villages a mummer
called Jack in the Green (drawing from the Green man), wears a costume
made of green leaves as he dances around the May pole. Mumming is a
dramatic performance of exaggerated characters and at Beltane the
characters include Jack in the Green and the Fool. The Fool, and the
Fool's journey, symbolism can be understood in relation to Beltane as
it is the beginning of beginnings, the emergence from the void of
nothingness (winter), as one can also see the role of the green man as
the re-greening of the world.

Traditionally in many areas Morris
dancers can be found dancing around the Maypole. Morris dancing can be
found in church records in Thame England going back to 1555. Morris
dancing is thought to have originated many centuries ago as part of
ancient religious ceremonies, however it seems that Morris dancing
became associated with Mayday during the Tudor times, and its
originating history is not all that easily traced, as is the way with
many traditions.

The Maypole dance as an important aspect of
encouraging the return of fertility to the earth. The pole itself is
not only phallic in symbolism but also is the connector of the three
worlds. Dancing the Maypole during Beltane is magical experience as it
is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when
these gateways are more easily penetrable. As people gaily dance around
and around the pole holding the brightly colored ribbons, the energy it
raises is sent down into the earth's womb, bringing about Her full
awakening and fruitfulness.

In Padstow, Cornwall, Beltane
morning a procession is led by the "obby oss" a costumed horse figure,
in a large circular banded frock and mask. The procession is full of
song, drums and accordions. Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol
University points out that the first account of the Padstow May Day
'Obby 'Oss revelries was written in 1803. He offers evidence however
that, like English Morris Dancing, its origins lie in English medieval
times. This does not discount the possibility that its roots lay in the
foundation of the fertility rites of Beltane, a more politically
correct transmutation of fertility acts.

There is also a Queen
of May. She is said in many areas to have worn a gold crown with a
single, gold leaf at its front, in other areas her crown was made of
fresh flowers. She was typically chosen at the start of the Beltane
festival, which in time past was after sundown on the eve before
Beltane day. Many accounts mention both a May Queen and King being
chosen, whom would reign from sundown the eve before the Beltane day to
sunset on Beltane. Among their duties would be to announce the Beltane
games and award the prizes to the victors. The rudimentary base of this
practice can be drawn back to the roots of Beltane festivities, the
union of the Goddess and Her Consort, the joining of earth and sun, the
endowment of summer. The Goddess has many guises: Danu - The Great
Mother, Blodeuwedd (the Flower Bride), Isolt (Iseult, Isolde) and many,
many others. The consort can also take many forms including the Green
Man, Cernunnos or Tristan.

As Beltane marks this handfasting
(wedding) of the Goddess and God, it too marks the reawakening of the
earth's fertility in its fullest. This is the union between the Great
Mother and her Young Consort, this coupling brings new life on earth.
It is on a Spiritual level, the unifying of the Divine Masculine and
the Divine Feminine to bring forth the third, consciousness. On the
physical, it is the union of the Earth and Sun to bring about the
fruitfulness of the growing season.

It is customary that trial unions, for a year and a day, occur at this time. More or less these
were statements of intent between couples, which were not legally
binding. The trial marriages (engagements) typically occurred between a
couple before deciding to take a further step into a legally binding
union. It seems ancient wisdom understood that one does not really know
another until they have lived with them, and when you live together
things change and we change, as well. With this understanding unions
were entered upon, first as a test period, and then if desired, a
further commitment could be taken. It through always knowing that it is
only through the choice of both to remain, that the relationship exists

May, however, according to old folklore is not a
favorable time for marriages in the legal and permanent sense. There is
reference after reference in the old books of this belief, and
according to my Irish grandmother, May is not the month to marry, woe
is to had by those who do. I can understand the premise of this
folklore, May is the Goddess and God's handfasting month, all honor
would be Hers and His.

Water is another important association of
Beltane, water is refreshing and rejuvenating, it is also imperative to
life. It is said that if you bathe in the dew gathered before dawn on
Beltane morn, your beauty will flourish throughout the year. Those who
are sprinkled with May dew are insured of health and happiness. There
are other folk customs such as drinking from the well before sunrise on
Beltane Morn to insure good health and fortune.

The central color of Beltane is green. Green is the color of growth, abundance,
plentiful harvest, abundant crops, fertility, and luck. White is
another color that is customary, white brings the energies of
cleansing, peace, spirituality, and the power to dispel negativity.
Another color is red who brings along the qualities of energy,
strength, sex, vibrancy, quickening, health, consummation and
retention. Sun energy, life force and happiness are brought to Beltane
by the color yellow. Blues and purples (Sagittarius energies:
expansion, Good Fortune, magic, spiritual power, Success), and pinks
(Venus energies). Beltane is rich in vibrant color, lighting the eyes
and cheering the Spirit as we leave the dreariness of winter behind.

It is customary to bake a colorful fruit and spiced filled bread for
festivals in the Celtic lands, traditionally this festival bread is
sweet dough made with sweetmeat and spices. In Scotland they are the
bannock - Bonnach Bealtain - for Beltane, in Wales - Bara Brith,
Ireland it is Barm Brack and in Brittany Morlaix Brioche. For Beltane
this bread was made the eve before Beltane day, is it said that the
bread should not allow it to come into contact with steel during
preparation (steel is harmful, deadly to the faery folk).

Bannocks are actually uncut scones originally cooked on a griddle. Wheat does
not grow well in the Highlands, originally bannocks were made with oat
or barley flour made into dough with little water and no leavening.
Traditionally, a portion of the cake was burned or marked with ashes.
The recipient of the burnt cake jumped over a small fire three times to
purify and cleanse him or herself of any ill fortune. Offerings of
bannocks and drink are traditionally left on doorsteps and roadways for
the Faeries as an offering, in hope of faery blessings.

May is the month of sensuality and sexuality revitalized, the reawakening of
the earth and Her Children. It is the time when we reawaken to the
vivid colors, vibrant scents, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture
of summer after a long dormant winter. It is a time of extraordinary
expression of earth, animal, and person a time of great enchantment and

The excitement and beauty of Beltane can not be
better expressed than through the gaiety and joy of our children. There
is not doubt "spring fever" hits at Beltane, and hits hard. Children
are full of unbridled energy charged up and ready to go! Children
always amplify the seasonal energies and the thrill of their change,
they bring richness and merriment wherever they go.

It is the child's unrestrained expression of bliss and delight that is what
Beltane is all about. It is the sheer joy of running through fields,
picking flowers, rapturing in the sunlight, delighting in the fragrance
of spring, dancing in the fresh dew covered grass. Our children guide
us through the natural abandonment of our adult sensibilities and show
us how to take grand pleasure, warmth and bliss from the gift of

Blessed Beltane to you and yours!

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