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A Druid’s web log: Beltaine (May Day) and the blessings of sacred fire!

It is April 30, “Walpurgisnacht”, the night before Beltaine or May Day, as I write this. We have had record cold all month and later this week the weather will be twenty degrees above average! We sure live in interesting times.

Of course, it isn’t really Beltaine until the first hawthorn blooms, but modern folk have taken to using a calendrical date.

Beltaine is one of the four great Fire Festivals of the Celts. Here is a description of the traditional observance of this holy day in Scotland though many other countries and cultures have their own way of celebrating. As it happens I am writing another herbal just now – on the herbs and Spirits of Beltaine. May your Beltaine fires be bright!

“The night before, all the fires in the country were carefully extinguished, and next morning the materials for exciting this sacred fire were prepared. The most primitive method seems to be that which was used in the islands of Skye, Mull, and Tiree. A well-seasoned plank of oak was procured, in the midst of which a hole was bored. A wimble of the same timber was then applied, the end of which they fitted to the hole. But in some parts of the mainland the machinery was different. They used a frame of green wood, of a square form, in the centre of which was an axle-tree. In some places three times three persons, in others three times nine, were required for turning round by turns the axle-tree or wimble. If any of them had been guilty of murder, adultery, theft, or other atrocious crime, it was imagined either that the fire would not kindle, or that it would be devoid of its usual virtue. So soon as any sparks were emitted by means of the violent friction, they applied a species of agaric which grows on old birch-trees and is very combustible. This fire had the appearance of being immediately derived from heaven, and manifold were the virtues ascribed to it. They esteemed it a preservative against witch-craft, and a sovereign remedy against malignant diseases, both in the human species and in cattle; and by it the strongest poisons were supposed to have their nature changed.”

 “After kindling the bonfire with the tein-eigin* the company prepared their victuals. And as soon as they had finished their meal, they amused themselves a while in singing and dancing round the fire. Towards the close of the entertainment, the person who officiated as master of the feast produced a large cake baked with eggs and scalloped round the edge, called am bonnach beal-tine—i.e., the Beltane cake. It was divided into a number of pieces and distributed in great form to the company. There was one particular piece which whoever got was called cailleach beal-tine—i.e., the Beltane carline*, a term of great reproach. Upon his being known, part of the company laid hold of him and made a show of putting him into the fire; but the majority interposing, he was rescued. And in some places they laid him flat on the ground, making as if they would quarter him. Afterwards, he was pelted with egg-shells, and retained the odious appellation during the whole year. And while the feast was fresh in people’s memory, they affected to speak of the cailleach beal-tine as dead.”

*the “tein-eigin” is a “need-fire” – a sacred fire kindled for rituals of healing and for the great fire Festivals

Frazer, The Golden Bough, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, London, 1993, PP. 617-618

*Below you will find the usual assortment of archaeology news, Celtic news, Herbal news, Fairy news, religion and ethics and more. Enjoy!*













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