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Holidays >> Beltaine
sun god baal, beltane fire, solar deity, hobby horses


Author: Half Wolf

© A. L. Folberth 1996 / HalfWolf

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Thanks for Rev. Alicia Folberth/HalfWolf for submitting to RealMagick.

Beltane was a day representing many things to the Celtic people. It was the second of the four fire festivals. To most it celebrated the sun God, Baal(British)/ Bel(Irish)/ Beli(Welsh)/ Belanos(Pan-Celtic), although the sun appears to have been originally revered as a goddess. Bel means bright or shining and there is no sexual distinction attached to it. The Gaelic nouns for the sun are still female. In Wales, Rhiannon, who is also a solar deity, would come back from the land of the dead/winter on this day. In Scotland, the Seelie Court arrives and takes control back from the Unseelie Court.

As a festival day, it was celebrated with much merriment. The Maypole was a central part of the celebration with a wreath placed at it's top. The pole represented the male forces and the wreath the female. The current practice of adorning the pole with ribbons is a more recent invention although the circle dance is ancient. Men chased women on hobby horses trying to catch them, much like Pwyll chasing Rhiannon. (She could not be caught unless she wished to be.)

The great central bonfire was an integral part of Celtic sabbats. Home fires were extinquished and relit from the sacred fire of the ritual. Fields and homes were sometimes blessed with the flaming foliage. In Ireland, no one was allowed to light a Beltane fire until the High King had lit the first fire on Tara Hill. Accounts from the Romans also mention wicker cages filled with animals that were burned as offerings, although this may have been propaganda written about the "enemy" at the time.

Beltane is still best known as a day of fertility and healing. As the bonfire burned down, cattle were driven through to bless them and heal them. Another tradition was to jump over the fire three times for luck. Couples would seal a promise of their vows by jumping over the fire together, but they were not married. It was considered unlucky to be married in May. The sacred marriage was reserved for the God and Goddess. Traditionally, it was the one day when all marital restraints were lifted and they could love who they wished for the night.

Through this ritual symbolism, the crops would be fertile for another year. Some practices have survived to this day, such as leaving out offerings of food for the "fair folk". The rebirth of the Old Religions has led to the revival of this ancient holiday and will insure it's place for years to come.

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