BELTANE: Fires, flowers and spring dew mark Pagan festival

Young women holding ribbons attached to Maypole in black and white

A 1936 May Day festival at Georgia State Woman’s College. Photo in public domain

Beltane fires on Calton Hill by Bruce McAdam via Wikimedia

Symbols blazing in fire at the modern Pagan Beltane festival at Calton Hill. Photo by Bruce McAdam, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 1: It’s May Day! Gather ‘round the May Pole and roll in the morning dew for the ancient celebration of spring. In Gaelic history, today is Beltane—otherwise known as the halfway point between spring equinox and summer solstice. Although many traditional May Day festivities had ceased by the mid-20th century, there has been an upsurge among modern Pagans. One of the biggest is the Beltane Fire Festival of Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland, which has been drawing crowds since 1988 for a rebirth of the famed nighttime ritual of Beltane bonfires.

Ancient Beltane events were performed with reverence for the spirits and faeries of springtime. In Celtic times, customs began the night before May 1, with enormous bonfires believed to hold protective powers. (Wikipedia has details.) Cattle and other livestock were driven between two bonfires, men leapt over the fires and the ashes were sprinkled on homes and crops, all in efforts to ensure a plentiful, healthy and fruitful year. In Celtic times, fertility rituals also were practiced around May Day.

On May 1, Celts collected the “magical” May morning dew for auspicious washing and drinking. Decorated poles and bushes were decorated for dancing, homes were adorned with yellow May flowers and women braided wildflowers into their hair. To ensure a bountiful dairy season, yellow flowers were sometimes made into bouquets and garlands and fastened to cows. In Dublin and Belfast, May bushes were decorated by an entire neighborhood, and neighborhoods competed to present the most beautiful May bush! Create your own May Day crafts with help from Mother Nature Network. Oatmeal cakes, honey and dairy foods were often consumed on Beltane and May Day.

Today’s Wiccans mark Beltane as one of the yearly Sabbats, or seasonal festivals.

In Hawaii, May Day has been known as “Lei Day” since 1928, in reverence for Hawaiian culture and, especially, the lei.

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