Beltaine (May Day) 2013

Beltaine Blessings All!

It’s the first of May as I write this blog. Those who have read my Druid herbals and Celtic novels know that I usually focus on Irish and Scottish lore in my writings. This time I looked into Welsh customs, because they are less familiar to me.

In Wales the festival is called Calan Mai or Calan Haf. The eve of or night before Calan Mai is called Nos Galan Mai. It is a Ysbrydnos which means “Spirit night”. This is logical because in the same way that Calan Mai is a portal to the light season of summer, Calan Gaeaf (Samhain, Halloween)is the portal to the dark season of winter.

On Nos Galan Mai or May Eve it is traditional to cut draenen wen (hawthorn) branches to decorate the outside of the house. (I happen to know that it is considered very bad luck to bring hawthorn INTO the house because mischievous fairies might come in with it!)

Retribution is taken by jilted male lovers who make a straw man to represent their woman’s new lover and leave it near the woman’s house with a (no doubt insulting) note pinned to it.

Mock battles are enacted between a man who plays winter and carries a draenen ddu or blackthorn stick and a shield decorated with wool made to look like snow. Another man plays summer. The second man carries a wand of willow and wears flower garlands and ribbons. The man who champions winter throws straw and dead brush at the man championing summer. Summer fights back by throwing birch and willow branches and fern leaves. Summer wins, of course. Afterwards a May king and queen are crowned and feasting, dancing, drinking and games continue until dawn.

Villagers gather for a twmpath chwarae (tump for playing) on the village green on top of a hill. They dance and play sports while a fiddler or harpist sits on a mound and plays. Oak branches are used to decorate the mound and villagers dance a circle dance around it.

Welsh May Day festivals feature summer dancing or dawnsio haf and carolau Mai or May carols. These songs have a sexual tone. Singers and a fiddler or harpist visit families on May morning to greet the season and if they are thought worthy the family rewards them with food, drink and coin.

Metheglin or mead made with sweet woodruff and other herbs is drunk as are elderberry and rhubarb wines and beers.

Here is a Welsh tune for Calan Mai or Calan Haf, found on YouTube

A traditional practice from Ireland for your May Day observance

Beltaine (May Day) Tree Lore

Its not officially Beltaine until the Hawthorns bloom, because that’s when you know its warm enough to send the cows back up to the hills.

Hawthorn, May Tree, Whitethorn
Parts used: flowers, leaves, and fruits
Gaelic: sgiach, sgitheach
Latin: Crataegus monogyna, Crataegus oxyacantha
Steep the flower buds and young leaves to make a tea for sore throats. Tincture the flowers and leaves in early spring or the red berries in the fall to make a heart tonic that will help to balance blood pressure.
Caution: this herb lowers blood pressure over time.
The berries can also be simmered to make a sore throat tea.
Flower tea: steep 2 tsp. buds per 1 cup of water, take up to 1 ½ cups a day in ¼ cup doses. Berry tea: simmer 1 tsp. crushed berries per ½ cup water for about 20 minutes. Take up to 1 ½ cups a day in ¼ cup doses.
Lore: the totem plant of the Ogilvies. Where oak and ash and thorn grow together one is likely to see Fairies. (excerpt from my book Scottish Herbs and Fairy Lore, Pendraig Publishing)
Purchase a signed copy from this website!

More on Hawthorn, the May Day Tree.

Excerpt from my book A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine, on Beltaine;

“Fire in the Water—Energizing the Sacred Well

Wells were said to have special potency at dawn on Beltaine when the sunlight first hit the water. It is as if the fire entering the water activated the magical potency of the well. The many holy wells dedicated to Brighid are probably further evidence of this idea. Brighid is a Fire Goddess (later transformed into Saint Brighid) and Her presence at a well provides the necessary magical mix of fire within water.

The dew on the grass on Beltaine morning, gathered just as the first rays of the sun hit, was said to have special properties too. Young girls would customarily rise before dawn to bathe their faces in the dew to make them fair. May dew could be bottled for later use throughout the year.”

Purchase a signed copy from this website!

Personal Stuff

The other news around here is that my mother passed away April 9 and I am still transitioning into my new status as “child of the universe”. I have no parents now and for the first time I really feel like an adult.

In the garden the daffodils are up and because I stopped feeding the birds months ago, I have had no bear attacks on the empty feeders. This morning three eagles flew over the house and I was reminded of the old rhyme usually associated with magpies; “One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding…”. Beltaine is certainly the time for mating – birds are loudly claiming their territories, bees are busily visiting flowers, and cats, foxes, coyotes, eagles and all manner of critters are gestating or giving birth. The sap is rising and a strong sun appears each morning. Life goes on!

Book News

  • A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine gets a nice review on

    ‘A book to return to often . . .’

    A Druids Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine’ is a fascinating explanation of and practical guide to the world of Forest Druids. The first part of the book concentrates on the Ogham Tree Alphabet, highlighting… in particular the herbal uses and spiritual aspects associated with each tree. The second part concentrates on the Druidic Arts. I particularly appreciated the sections on the Celtic fire festivals, and on the Divinatory meanings of the individual trees in the Ogham Tree Alphabet, where the authors focus in on the main character and the intrinsic nature of each of the trees. I would expect to use this informative book as a source of reference for many years to come.’

    Alan Crawford, author of ‘Whispering woods – tales from the Caledonian Forest’

  • The ring that inspired Tolkien
  • The Druid Isle gets a nice review on

    “I love the way EEH uses the stories of her novels to get her teaching message across. Just the same way as the Druids of old passed on their wisdoms to their novices. The difference is that nowadays we write things down – which produces wonderful novels like these, to open our minds and hearts, again.
    I really enjoyed this story, more so maybe than the first one (Priestess of the Forest) where I struggled a bit with titles and names of the characters. Felt much more comfortable this time, and took in the wisdoms without obvious struggle. EEH also provides a good picture of daily life back then, so one way or another, a reader learns something and enjoys it too. In short – that’s the best kind of novel.”

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