(aka Apostolorum Philippi et Iacobi fratris domini (Philip and James, Apostles, Brothers of the Lord); the Feast of Saints Asaph,
Brioc, Corentin, and Marcoul; Beltine, Beltaine, Beltane (and so on) "Behl's Fires", Bealtaine; Calan Mai "the Kalends
of Mai", Cet-soman/Cet Somain "First day of Summer", "Summer's Beginning";
Cyntefyn; "Ladyday"; Roodmas). The day of the 1st)
This page was created by Marc Carlson (with
some help from Dave Hill)
It was last edited 9 June 2004
The first day of Samhradh, or the 3rd Quarter; The first day of Samon
Beltane, Bel-tein. Beltine is Irish Gaelic for either "fires of Bel" or "bright fires."
According to the OED it's pronounced "BELT-uhn". If you want to try it in Gaelic, you can say
la bealltainn; Belltaine "bee-YAWL-tinnuh" or "BELL-tinnuh."
Unlike Samhain, this word can within the linguistic structure of its language
of origin be pronounced like it looks -- "BELL-tane" -- without totally
abandoning its original construction. Other names for this holiday are
Walpurgis (vawl-PUR-gis) and May Day.
The term appears in English as far back as the early 1400s. There are a
number of accounts of Beltane practices taking place in the Highlands and Islands of
Scotland that can be found in 18th century writings. The term first
appears in any documentation in the Glossary of Cormac, bishop of Cashel
and King of Munster, written before 908.
The name "May" allegedly comes from a Norse word meaning "to shoot out
new growth"; although it is more likely that this month 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.
Only a very few neoPagans refer to this as "Lady Day" after the Great
As the weather begins to warm and the plants begin to blossom forth, a
mood of exuberance also erupts.
May 1st was the midpoint of the Floriala a five-day Roman festival
to Flora, Goddess of Flowers.
Another Rebirth celebration, this time of the planting and fertility.
Cleaning away the remains of the Winter, and relighting the home
fires. House blessing. Planting trees, weaving Garlands, sing "spring
It is a celebration to the god Belenus, and most particularly in his aspect
as war-god as summer was the traditional time for war.
This is also a time for celebrating other forms of "goings forth" to pasture,
to hunt, to woo, etc.
To some people it is a festival honoring the sun god Belanos, and the Goddess
Danu. In modern rituals, it is usually a celebration of the Goddess.
The day when the new king is strong enough to give his power to the land.
The anniversary of the arrival of the first settler of Ireland, Partholan;
the plague that destroyed his people. All subsequent invasions occur
on May 1, including the Tuatha De Danann and the Milesians.
In Welsh myth, the perennial battle between Gwythur and Gwyn for the love
of Creudylad took place each Calan Mai; and it was on May Eve that Teirnyon
lost his colts and found Pryderi. On May eve a demon stole all the
new-born children and animals in Pwyll. May Eve was also the occasion
of a fearful scream that was heard each year throughout Wales (one of the
three curses of the Coranians lifted by the skill of Lludd and Llevelys,
battling dragons). In Brecon, the doors to Fairyland are opened.
One of the Scottish quarter days
For the Goidelic Celts, Bonfires are an important symbol. The cattle
were driven between bonfires to bless them on their way to their summer
pastures. This practice is described as early as Cormac's Glossary
and into the 19th century. Some people leapt the fires for luck. For the Brythonic
Celts, this was the beginning of the New Year and had many of the same
connotations as Samhain did for the Goidelic Celts. May-poles were far
more important symbolically than any bon-fires.
Folklore about Beltane includes
the gathering of "Wild" water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) as
a basis for healing drinks and potions for the year to come; the dew of
the morning for use in curatives, the 1st water drawn from a well (as long
as it leaves the water flowers undisturbed, is magical. Maidens bathe
their faces in the dew of May morning to retain their youthful beauty.
Planting a rush in front of the door to your home is lucky.
It is a time to gather healing herbs, and for exchanging gifts.
Also walking the circuit of one's property 'beating the bounds'), repairing
fences and boundary markers, processions of chimney-sweeps and milk maids,
making May baskets, May bonnets, Garlands, riding hobby horses, archery
tournaments, morris dances, sword dances, feasting, music, and drinking
Marriages and births are unlikely to take place on Beltane.
Rituals with the King and Queen of the May, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and
Little John have been common.
In modern rituals, it is usually a celebration of the Goddess. The
concept of the unbridled sexuality of the 'greenwood marriages' of young
men and women who spent the entire night in the forest, staying out to
greet the May sunrise, and bringing back boughs of flowers and garlands
to decorate the village the next morning has been focused on to the exclusion
of everything else. This modern interpretation is based on the purported
relaxation of traditional mores of fidelity in celebration of fertility,
and far too greatly overshadows the important of other aspects in modern
One should pass between the bon-fires and pass one's livestock between
the fires, destroying things that are unlucky in the fires as you pass,
ands protecting them from diseases.
This holiday was completely unknown to the Anglo-Saxons.