“Beltane” – artist rendition courtesy of tignsham
Beltane is an ancient Gaelic festival originally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Falling on May 1st, it is a spring time celebration of optimism and fertility.
Irish mythology marks Beltane as the beginning of the summer season for the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians. Other cultures associate Beltane with the Celtic God Bel – a God of light, fire, and the Sun.
Large outdoor fires were built on Beltane. Young people leaped over them to ensure fertility, and livestock were driven between two fires to ensure a good yield. A Beltane fire was kindled with Birch twigs and much of the day was spent with couples frolicking in the forest. Sometimes, a Maypole was erected from Birch wood, representing a phallus. Fertility dances were performed around the pole to ensure good health and abundant crops. More recently, dances involved wrapping brightly colored ribbons around the Maypole.
Beltane was a traditional time for couples to be handfasted. The couple said vows as their hands were ritually tied together. When the ceremony ended, they would jump over a broom or the Bel-fire into their new life together.
On a supernatural note, the veil between the worlds is considered to be thin on Beltane. Spirits of the Ancestors can be contacted.
Jeanne Treat is the author of the Dark Birthright Trilogy, a saga that takes place in 17th century Scotland, England, and the British Colonies. Her novels and short stories often feature Celtic customs. You can read about them at: http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com