The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy Beltaine!

Good Evening,

What a glorious day!  Here it was sunny, warm and beautiful for a very welcome Beltaine.  Those that follow a pagan calendar have celebrated this weekend an ancient Celtic spring/summer festival called Beltaine, also spelled Beltane.  From the Gaelic 'Bealltainn' . 


To find the origins of Beltaine throw a stone back in history to land in 9th century Ireland.  We, of course, do not know how early this festival was created but we do have written records from an Irishman named Cormac, who wrote of the stores of Ireland in the ninth century, recording the cultural seasonal celebrations and spiritual practice of the Celtic people. He spoke of the Druidic festival of 'Bealltainn', "Bright Fire" and mentioned the practice of the Druid priests herding cattle along a path that went between two large bon-fires burning fiercely as a blessing, a cleansing and purification ritual.  This practice was thought to protect their very valuable cattle from disease and death.  

Also known as May Day, the first day of May, today!, is also the start of the Celtic summer season. Actually the ancient Celts recognized two seasons, Summer and Winter.  Summer starts on May 1st and continues until October 31st, and November 1st starts the Winter season which continues until April 30, or Beltaine Eve.  Like Samhain Eve, also known as Halloween, these two holidays are clearly marked and have been celebrated by mankind for easily over 1,000 years.  As there is much evidence of Samhain being celebrated by the ancient Druids as long ago as 5,000 years ago, so it makes sense that it's Summer counterpoint would also have been celebrated as far back also , although absolute evidence is hard to come by as so much of the written record has been destroyed, and scholars eternally disagree.  

In the ancient Celtic culture, long before Christianity and its stern frown on all things sexual,  the people looked upon sex as a thing of nature, a necessary and happy celebration of life and not something to be ashamed of and whispered of as sin. Beltaine was the sexual holiday of the eight holidays on the Wheel of the Year, which is an agricultural calendar. A calendar interested in planting seeds, fertilizing and harvesting.  We see the evidence of this in ancient chronicles which detail the Betaine celebrations such as this one from 1583 and credited to a Phillip Stubbs:

 “Every parish, town, and village assemble themselves together, both men, women and children, old and young……… and either going all together or dividing themselves into companies, some go to the woods and groves, some to the hills and mountains……… where they spend all night in pleasant pastimes, and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch boughs, and branches of trees to deck their assemblies withal.


It mattered not of any existing wedding or handfasting  vows, as all rules were suspended for this one day and night and any man could take the hand of any woman and go into the fields and make love with no repercussions or punishment. It was accepted not only in the individual families but throughout their society.  Beltaine was the 'fertility' festival and any children born of the 'Beltaine fires' were considered sacred.  A child conceived during Beltaine would be born the next year in early February, making these 'Belatine babies' born around Imbolc very special in the eyes of the tribe.


Stubbs goes onto comment more about the Celtic peoples Beltaine celebration:

"Their chiefest jewel that they bring from thence is their Maypole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus; they have twenty or forty of oxen, each ox having a sweet nosegay of flowers tied on the tip of his horns, and these oxen draw this Maypole which is covered all over with flowers and herbs, bound round with strings and sometimes painted with variable colors, with two or three hundred men, women and children following it with great devotion. And thus being reared up with hankerchiefs and flags streaming on top, they straw the ground about, bind green boughs about it, set up summer halls, bowers and arbors hard by; and then fall to banquet and feast, to leap and dance about it"
My Maypole Beltaine 2011

Oh my, sounds like a grand time, indeed!  The Maypole has a long and important history and tradition that remains to this day.  It also fits into the 'fertility' focus of this holiday. The Maypole is a symbolic representation of the God, the large phallic pole representing the male genitalia while the ribbons represent the Goddess and the sexual organs of the Goddess wrapped around the God.  Pretty graphic depiction and the ancients saw it as thus.  It was by this combining of male with female that procreation was possible, and this was of utmost importance.  The Maypole was also traditionally the large tree trunk that would be used as the  Yule log in December thus keeping the continuing cycle, the circular dance going. 

'Cerne Abbas Giant" Best viewed from the opposite hillside or from the air.  There is no evidence that this ancient carving of a very erect male carrying a knobbed club is any older than 400 to 600 years old,  as this was when the references of the ‘Long Man of Cerne’ first appeared in records.

The ancient people gave us some evidence of their 'point of view' in the symbols they've left us such as the ‘Long Man of Cerne’ also known as the Cerne Abbas Giant.  This ancient artwork features a very large naked male image carved into a chalk hillside in Dorset, England. This location in south-west Britian was the  place where annual Beltaine festivals were held.

As air travel was not happening 4 - 600 years ago, the ancients most likely were carving this great image as a gift to the Gods. What was happening in England at the time this handsome man was carved? No one can be sure who carved this figure or why they carved it, but the 1500's and 1600's was a terrible time in England;s history in reference to the Bubonic plague. Consider that in 1563 an outbreak of the plague took 80,000 lives, again in 1625 some 35,000 died and in 1636 another 10,000 souls were lost. With these incredible numbers, when many villages had only a hundred or so residents to begin with, was devastating and would indeed have prompted people to go to great lengths to 'appease' the Gods and bring new, healthy life and offspring back to a country decimated by disease. 


Though the carving of huge figures in the chalk hillsides of Britain first appeared over 3,000 years ago with the 'Uffington horse', which has been proven to be prehistoric in origin.


"Uffington Horse"


What has been passed down through legend and lore is that Beltaine was celebrated as a sexual holiday.  Metaphorically the sexual union between a man and woman on Beltaine, symbolizes the romantic union between the Goddess and the God, the handfasting or marriage of the Goddess and God as well as the 'Great Rite' which is the act of intercourse between the Goddess and God.   This rite which symbolizes the fertilization of the seeds planted in the earth, which will burst forth and grow, producing life sustaining food which in turn keeps mankind alive and who by their sexual union produces offspring which in turns keeps the human race alive.  An endless circle of life and rebirth. Much is metaphor and many pagans today choose to celebrate a sexual ritual albeit in private.  Many people have the opinion that witches or pagans are indulging in orgies and all sorts of free love when that's really not true.  Most pagans, like typical folks,  feel some rituals best performed in private, so .  .  .  sorry to disappoint those who were hoping for some salacious, kinky inside information!



Today we also celebrate Beltaine to celebrate the first of Summer, as frankly who wants to wait until 'mid summer', June 21st, to celebrate, when now is the perfect time.  We also celebrate the life God/Goddess gives us and the opportunities a new year, and a new summer will bring.  We have planted metaphoric seeds around Ostara and now we will fertilize those seeds and start to nurture them to fullness to be harvested later this year. 

This is a festival celebrating the fruits of spring, such as the strawberry.  A legendary strawberry festival, because hundreds of years ago, we were experiencing a much warmer climate this time of year, almost a month warmer, and strawberries would have been ripe on the vine out in the garden.  Whereas right now my strawberries are in flower and getting ready to set fruit, which will be ready about a month from now.  A traditional drink for this festival is May Wine.   I make a non alcoholic version that is really delicious and the entire family can enjoy.

 Sweet Woodruff herb and ground cover


Take 1 bottle of Sparkling Strawberry Juice, or a pink cranberry or grape juice (its best sparkling) and place in a fancy stemmed glass, add a few slices of ripe strawberries and a sprig of sweet woodruff, an herb that is growing and flowering in gardens right now.  It's a plant associated with faeries as faeries are also a part of the Beltaine festivities.  If you have a ritual to celebrate Beltaine be sure to include cookies and sparkling juice for your cakes n ale ceremony as that makes the faerie spirits happy as they celebrate with you.  I always leave a few tidbits near the thyme bushes in my yard for the faeries to find.

A very magickal essence can be had if you are so inclined to gather it, Beltaine dew. Normally done on the morning of Beltaine, but the next few mornings will do, go outside lay on the grass of your lawn, take a small vial and collect the dew from the blades of grass.  It takes some time to gather enough to be of any use, maybe a teaspoonful or so, but it can be used for love spells, youth and beauty spells and spells for new beginnings and new starts. Tap each dew drop off of a blade of grass, and then the next blade, and the next.  It takes dedication and patience but you will be communing with nature at a fundamental level and it is very energizing and fulfilling. 


 Well, tomorrow I plan to continue working in my garden and creating some new theme gardens. I'm creating a medieval herb garden and restoring a magickal flower and herb garden designed loosely around the English country cottage garden look with emphasis on attracting the faerie folk.  We'll talk more on that in another discussion.  I hope you're enjoying the beautiful weather and finding plenty of opportunities to be outside.


Peace and Happiness









Please check out my newest blog The Life and Recipes of a Medieval Cook @ http://thelifeandrecipesofamedievalcook.blogspot.com 

© 2010-2011 Enchantments, LLC Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book “Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies.” For more information, see www.enchantmentsschool.com or go to the title of tonight's discussion and click, it will link you to my school's website. 

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1 comment:

  1. Merry meet! I just became a follower of your blog today. Thanks for the wonderful article about Beltaine.

    ReplyDelete