May Day

(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 "Summer".

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 Goddess.