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Sword of Dyrnwyn On-Line Magazine
Volume 26, Issue No. 3 Beltane, or May Day, Issue May 1, 2007
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History and Meaning of Beltane
(Beltane May Day)
Kipling: Oh,do not tell the Priest of our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
All fires were extinguished on the eve of Beltane. This is one of the fire festival at which Balefires would be started across the country with a new fire that had been started by the Druid. All hearths would be rekindled with the fresh flame at sunrise. Actually the preparation for Beltane would start a few days before it, with the gathering of the nine sacred woods used for the kindling of the fire. At dawn the Bel-fire or Need-fire would be started and then torches fit from it to be carried home to relight the hearth fires. According to Robert Graves, the Beltane need-fire was kindled by drilling an oak plank with specific incantations and the fire had special properties. Irish traditions call for the first Beltane fire to be lit by the High King, then all the others were lit. A "little voice" tells me that the fires were lit by the Head Arch Druid and the other "fifths" or kingdoms were lit in an East, West, South, and North direction, by their Arch Druids or Lords of the area to form a circle of protection around the Island.
It is celebrated as an early agricultural festival accompanying the first turning of the herds out to wild pasture. The rituals were held to promote fertility. The cattle were driven between the Belfires to protect them from ills and to ensure fertility. Contact with the fire was interpreted as symbolic contact with the sun. People also jumped the fire for fertility and prosperity.
It was a time of fun and games. The time of planting is finished and a time of waiting begins. The Beltane Games were a time to test the young warriors against each other in friendly matches, archery contests, feasting, dancing, story telling and a chance for people to get together.
It is also considered as the coming together of the God and Goddess in fertile union to add new life to the crops and hasten their growth. "Beltane" means "~Fire of Bel", the Sun God who's accession feast we now celebrate. Bel or Belinos, being associated with the Apollo and Baal. As a side note; Bel, Belinos, Balor or Belenus are traced back to Baal, they all mean Lord. They are more of a Fire God than a solar god. Also the Irish and Scottish word for the sun is "grian", another is "Mor", they are both feminine. So the Irish and Scots both thought of the Sun as female, a giver of life.
As summer begins, weather becomes warmer, and the plant world blossoms, an exuberant mood prevails. It is a time of unabashed sexuality and passion. Young people spend the entire night in the woods "a-maying", and dance around the phallic Maypole the next morning. Older married couples may remove their wedding rings (and the restrictions they imply) for this one night. May morning is a magical time for "wild" water (dew, flowing streams, and springs) which is collected and used to bathe in for beauty, or to drink for health.
Some Beltane traditions are: Make a rope out of the tail hair of Cattle and drag it in the dew chanting "Milk of this one down, milk of that one up, into my own big pail" to ensure a good milk supply. Bannocks cakes made with milk, eggs and oatmeal by hand and not suppose to come into contact with steel were made up until the end of the 19th century. To stop enchantments from fairies, rowan crosses were hung and people and animals sprinkled with water from sacred wells. The rowan branch is hung over the house fire on May Day to preserve the fire itself from bewitchment (the house fire being symbolic of the luck of the house.
The May Queen (and often King) is chosen from among the young people, and they go singing from door to door throughout the town carrying flowers or the May tree, soliciting donations for a merrymaking in return for the "blessing of May". In some rituals, a King and Queen May symbolize the male and female principles of productivity This is symbolic of bestowing and sharing of the new creative power that is stirring in the world. As the kids go from door to door, the May Bride often sings to the effect that those who give wilt get of nature's bounty through the year.
In parts of France, some jilted youth will lie in a field on May Day and pretend to sleep. If any village girl is willing to marry him, she goes and wakes him with a kiss; the pair then go to the village inn together and lead the dance which announces their engagement. The boy is called "the betrothed of May."
Branches and flowers were brought back and woven into garlands of intersecting hoops with two balls dangling within the circle. It was supposedly made out of rowan and marsh marigolds. This is still done in some Irish villages today. Also staying up all night and dancing among the crops was traditional. Some say that is were the tradition that witches fly on broomstick came from. That the old pagans use to dance with phallic staffs and jump as high as they could because that was as high as the crops would grow.
The last known public Beltane festival was held on Arran was as late as 1895. The Beltane fires and festivals went on all over the Scottish Highlands until the mid-nineteenth century. Beltane rites still are carried over at several places today. The famous Cloutie Well (the Blue Well or Well of youth) on Culloden moor in Inverness-shire is still visited on the first Sunday of May and strips of cloth are stilll left there on the trees. Arthur seat in Edinburgh, people still climb to the top of this summit to watch the May sunrise.
The Christian religion substitute for Beltane was celebrated as "Roodmas". In Germany, it was the feast of Saint Walpurga or "Walpurgisnacht". Later when the Christian church took over the Beltane observances, a service was held in the church, followed by a procession to the fields or hills, where the priest kindled the fire and blessed field and animals.
The astrological date for Beltane is around May 5 when the sun reaches 15 degrees Taurus, this was the original time of the Sabbat. It is believed that Beltane was not adjusted when the calendar was recalculated and it should be closer to that date. This is a "power point" in astrology and is shown in the Tarot as the Bull in the cards World and Wheel of fortune.
Hawthorn, Whitethorn or May is the Goddess tree whose white flowers indicate the time of Beltane, the Good Fires, which burn away the evils of winter and signal the start of the Goddess' reign again. Thorns are protective trees and Whitethorn, Quickthorn and Hawthorn are all sacred to the Goddess. The Celtic letter name was Uath. There was a strong taboo on breaking hawthorn branches or bringing them into the house except on May Day. Then sprigs are cut for the Goddess. This taboo is still strong for the Irish for they loath to cut a lone hawthorn, a fairy tree.
Sycamore is a God tree and has a long magical association, for its leaves are often those shown on foliated heads of the God of Nature, Jack in the Green, found as a pub sign and in old churches. The wood is used green for carving and is often used for Welsh 'love spoons" given as tokens of betrothal at around May Day. The phallic May Pole were put up on many a village green as folk celebrated the marriage of the White Goddess (Marian) to the Green Man or Robin Hood.
A few of Beltane's Historical/mythological events are from 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. The landing of the Tuatha De Danaan in Ireland and years later, the Tuatha De Danann were conquered by the Milesians on May Day. In Welsh myth, the perennial 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. And Queen Guinevere's 'abduction' by Meliagrance. May is named in honor of the goddess Maia, originally a Greek mountain nymph, later identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. By Zeus, she is also the mother of Hermes, god of magic. Maia's parents were Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph.
I will end this with a thought from one of my favorite singers, Jethro Tull.
For the May Day is the great day,
Sung along the old straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back.
Celli Laughing Coyote
The Sword of Dynion Mwyn provides news, views, and other information primarily of and for the students, members and friends of The Welsh Tradition of Dynion Mwyn and selected members of the International Pagan Community. The Sword is the official journal of the Church of Dynion Mwyn, and has a section which is devoted to the Southeastern Pagan Alliance (SEPA). We are primarily interested in news of topical interest, and articles pertaining to Witchcraft, Wicca, the Occult and Paganism. Deadline for the Beltane, 2007 issue is May 15, 2007. All submissions must include legal name and address. Names will be withheld or magickal names substituted on request. Subscription lists, names, addresses, etc. are not given out or sold. All news and articles should be submitted by the 1st of the month proceeding the issue date.
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