Beltane Fire Festivals

Writing about Beltane is a bit like writing about Christmas; the holiday has so many different traditions and its celebrations has many layers of meaning. Visiting Celtic cultures during May Day festivities also reminds me of U.S. Memorial Day when all take vacation and hold picnics and parades. Some think of the original meaning of the day; others just see a long weekend to unwind.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog about the Celtic calendar, Beltane is one of its four main Festival dates. This fire festival has signified the beginning of summer since Ancient times. The fire, or course, represents the Sun and its return was most certainly cause for celebration among ancient peoples who understood their dependence on its light for not only warmth but for Nature to come to life again. So it came to also represent fertility. More and more attention is being given to the role ritual played at megalithic sites and Celtic folklore brought these traditions forward. Everyone has probably read something about Beltane or May Day: the May Queen, the Maypole, jumping the broomstick (or the fire), and a huge bonfire.

Yesterday, Ireland’s big Bealtaine (Irish preferred spelling) Festival at The Hill of Uisneach, Ireland’s ancient center, was celebrated by over 3000 peope.000. The picture above is from last’s year’s event that friends and I had the privilege to attend. In Scotland, the huge Edinburgh Fire Festival ran from sunset to sunset on April 30. In between and during, countless bonfires dotted the countryside as people cast out the darkness of winter and celebrated the coming of spring.

Here in the US pagan ritual can be considered “other” by many. In Celtic lands, these rituals are embraced as part of the culture and history of the place. The Edinburgh Fire Festival is a great example of how modern times have revived or amplified ancient custom. The modern event was created in 1988 with academic support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. It has become a major festival involving hundreds of volunteers and thousands of participants. Music, street theater and pageantry bring history, mythology and folk culture to life in a park setting called Carlton Hill.

This is an excerpt from theEdinburgh Fire Festival website:

Beltane honours Life. It represents the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Earth energies are at their strongest and most active. All of life is bursting with potent fertility and at this point in the Wheel of the Year, the potential becomes conception. On May Eve the sexuality of life and the earth is at its peak. Abundant fertility, on all levels, is the central theme. The Maiden goddess has reached her fullness. She is the manifestation of growth and renewal, Flora, the Goddess of Spring, the May Queen, the May Bride. The Young Oak King, as Jack-In-The-Green, as the Green Man, falls in love with her and wins her hand. The union is consummated and the May Queen becomes pregnant. Together the May Queen and the May King are symbols of the Sacred Marriage (or Heiros Gamos), the union of Earth and Sky, and this union has merrily been re-enacted by humans throughout the centuries. For this is the night of the Greenwood Marriage. It is about sexuality and sensuality, passion, vitality and joy. And about conception. A brilliant moment in the Wheel of the Year to bring ideas, hopes and dreams into action. And have some fun...

May 6.jpg
Jeanne CraneComment