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A #Celtic holiday and time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth, Beltane (sometimes spelled Beltaine or even Bealtaine) is a day that has a long, somewhat scandalous history. Its focus is nearly always to celebrate fertility, as it falls during the time of the year when Mother Earth opens up and blesses us with healthy livestock, strong crops, and new life all around. Half way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, May Day is celebrated on the first of May around Ireland and Scotland with Beltane festivities typically beginning the evening before, on the last night of April.

Beltane is the anticipation of summer, when cattle are sent to pasture. Communities would gather to wish well upon their livestock as a magical means of protecting them from disease and the supernatural before their were led into the summer pastures. They would light special bonfires to encourage growth of their crops and to protect the people. Maypole dances were common, as were the cutting of green boughs and flowers. As a child, I lived in Holland while my father was stationed there in the army, and I remember dancing around the maypole with my classmates during Beltane. I also remember attending a huge feast with pig on roast, which may have also been part of a Beltane festival.

Doors, windows, and livestock would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire. They would also decorate with ribbons, bright shells and rushlights. Holy wells were visited during this time, as Beltane was believed to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. These customs were part of May Day festivals throughout Great Britain and Europe. This somewhat fell out of popularity by the 20th century, though some customs continue even today.

Pre-Christian Celtic peoples believed this time between the winter and summer were critical in that they were junctions between the bounds of the human and supernatural worlds, and on May Eve this boundary was believed to be temporarily erased. Witches and fairies were said to roam freely, so communities would have to take measures to protect themselves, and their land, from their enchantments. These celebrations were thought to appease them with a spring time festival of optimism.


Flames were believed to guard against sickness, supernatural harm, and witchcraft so they were a key part of the festival in the modern era. Hearth fires would be doused before the bonfire was lit, generally on top of a hill. Even into the 19th century, cattle were still driven over flames or between two fires in parts of #Ireland and #Scotland. Sometimes even the cattle would be driven around or over the flames or embers, as did some of the people for luck and protection. People ensured that the smoke blew over them and their cattle. When the bonfire died down, people would daub themselves with its ashes and sprinkle it over their crops and livestock. Burning torches from the bonfire would be taken home, carried around the house or boundary of the farmstead, and used to re-light their hearth.

This was a sort of imitative or sympathetic #magic meant to mimic the Sun and ensure a needful supply of sunshine for men, animals, and plants was abundant and any harmful influences were burned up and destroyed. It causes me to imagine what life would have been like in those times, when an entire year's survival depended upon the success of one's crop and livestock during a single season. In fact, much of Ireland moved to the States when their potato crops were overtaken by disease, which is why so many of us Irish in our blood.

Flowers were Strewn at Doors and Windows

Yellow and white flowers such as primrose, hazel, marigolds, rowan, and hawthorn were traditionally placed at doorways and windows. Sometimes loose flowers were strewn at doors and windows and sometimes they were made into bouquets, garlands, or crosses and fastened to them. They would also be fastened to cows and equipment for milking and butter making. It is likely that such flowers were used because they evoked fire.

The May Bush was popular in parts of Ireland through the late 19th century. This was a small tree typically hawthorn, rowan, holly, or sycamore decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, painted shells or eggshells from Easter Sunday just were it stood. Branches may also be decorated and placed inside or outside the house, particularly above windows and doors. This tree remained up through May 31st, and candles would be lit to hang on the tree. In some areas, entire neighborhoods were decorated with these trees and communities would compete for the most handsome tree, but of course, some would steal the May Bush from other communities so that they were outlawed in Victorian times. In some places, it was customary to sing and dance around the May Bush, and at the end of the festivities, the tree was burnt in the bonfire. The European maypole sometimes is the substitute for the May Bush.

Appeasing the Fairies

Many Beltane practices were designed to ward off or appease the fairies and prevent them from stealing dairy products. May boughs were tied to milk pails to keep fairies from stealing milk and black coals were placed under butter churns to ensure fairies did not steal the butter. Flowers were also used to decorate horns of cattle to welcome good luck, and food or milk was poured on doorsteps as an offering.

There were many rituals, but the dairy products seemed to be more at risk. A procession was often led around the boundaries of each farm. With them, they would carry grains of seed, implements of husbandry, the first well water, and the herb #vervain. They would stop at all four cardinal points of the compass in hopes they had secured their farms from ill will.

The Morning Dew

Holy wells were often visited during Beltane and visitors would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well. They would leave offerings and the first to draw from the well on Beltane was thought to have good luck as this water was especially potent. Beltane morning dew was also thought to bring good luck and health, so that maidens would roll in the early morning dew and wash their faces in it, in hopes that it would increase their sexual attractiveness, maintain their youth, and protect them from sun damage. Men thought it would help them grow long whiskers.

Admittedly, the rituals go on and on, and these persisted widely until around 1950, and in some places the celebration of #Beltane continues today. Today there are historical reenactments with folk influences throughout the world, including the States. They may have living history displays, reenact battles, demonstrate traditional crafts, perform folk music, and offer Celtic storytelling. Of course, there is always fire. A similar Beltane Festival has been held each year in Ireland. In 2017, the ceremonial fire was lit by the President of Ireland.

Woman's Heailng Circle

Eden hosts a Woman's Healing Circle because we seek to explore the histories of women healers from time past and to better understand our heritages beyond the fragments of male culture. We have a great reverence for earth and seek to better understand our most authentic, our most favorite self. The solar calendar has been our guide for both grounding and expanding ourselves. This allows us opportunity to pause, reflect, connect, and set intentions. We also honor the trees, the animals, the plants, crystals and whatever else resonates with us within each season in ways that are honoring to ourselves and our own personal journey.

The time between Ostara and Beltane is a time of reawakening. It is this time when we discover our inner #botanist, our inner yogini, or our inner creatix. We build energy during this transition. We might circle up for vinyasa in the park or plant roses to cultivate love in our life. We meditate. We create altars or decorate our homes with symbols that embrace the intentions and energy of the season. We open our windows and bring in flowers to set on our dining room table.

Beltane is a great time to explore our own archetypes and our female ancestors, better understanding their healing arts. Maypoles are great fun, especially done the afternoon before a roaring bonfire. We gather in both #Kentucky and #Indiana, both in person and virtually, so if you would like to join us, reach out and connect. Connection is healing. We are offering you safe space to explore who you are and how you want to nurture your most favorite self.

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