May Eve…Oíche Bealtaine

The month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth

to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees

bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in likewise every lusty heart

that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty

deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage,

that lusty month of May.

– Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, 1485

In somer when the shawes be sheyne,

And leves be large and long,

Hit is full merry in feyre foreste

To here the foulys song.
To see the dere draw to the dale

And leve the hilles hee,

And shadow him in the leves grene

Under the green-wode tree.
Hit befell on Whitsontide

Early in a May mornyng,

The Sonne up faire can shyne,

And the briddis mery can syng.

– Anonymous, May in the Green Wode, 15h Century

On Oíche Bealtaine… May Eve…

Some of my earliest memories are of May Celebrations in Newfoundland. The dancing, the Maypole, the beauty of the first days… I am deeply in love with this season and all that goes with it. Here is to your celebrations and ours. Baal Fire at Caer Llwydd tonight, and hopefully the publication of ‘The Invisible College’ as well.
Bright Blessings,

Gwyllm

——-
Oíche Bealtaine

For the Celts, Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands. In modern Irish, Mí na Bealtaine (‘month of Bealtaine’) is the name for the month of May. The name of the month is often abbreviated to Bealtaine, with the festival day itself being known as Lá Bealtaine. The lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine (‘the eve of Bealtaine’) on mountains and hills of ritual and political significance was one of the main activities of the festival.
In ancient Ireland the main Bealtaine fire was held on the central hill of Uisneach ‘the navel of Ireland’, the ritual centre of the country, which is located in what is now County Westmeath. In Ireland the lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine seems only to have survived to the present day in parts of County Limerick, especially in Limerick itself, as their yearly bonfire night, though some cultural groups have expressed an interest in reviving the custom at Uisneach and perhaps at the Hill of Tara. The lighting of a community Bealtaine fire from which individual hearth fires are then relit is also observed in modern times in some parts of the Celtic diaspora and by some Neopagan groups, though in the majority of these cases this practice is a cultural revival rather than an unbroken survival of the ancient tradition.

Another common aspect of the festival which survived up until the early 20th century in Ireland was the hanging of May Boughs on the doors and windows of houses and of the erection of May Bushes in farmyards, which usually consisted either of a branch of rowan (mountain ash) or whitethorn (hawthorn) which is in bloom at the time and is commonly called the ‘May Bush’ in Hiberno-English. The practice of decorating the May Bush with flowers, ribbons, garlands and colored egg shells has survived to some extent among the diaspora as well, most notably in Newfoundland, and in some Easter traditions observed on the East Coast of the United States.

Beltane is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun’s progress between the vernal equinox and summer solstice. Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is possible that the holiday was celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. The astronomical date for this midpoint is closer to May 5 or May 7, but this can vary from year to year.


In Irish mythology, the beginning of the summer season for the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians started at Bealtaine. Great bonfires would mark a time of purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year, and were accompanied with ritual acts to protect the people from any harm by Otherworldly spirits, such as the Sídhe. Like the festival of Samhain, opposite Beltane on Oct. 31, Beltane was a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand. Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the druids of the community would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and drive the village’s cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck (Eadar dà theine Bhealltainn in Scottish Gaelic, ‘Between two fires of Beltane’). In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on the fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke. People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves. This was echoed throughout history after Christianization, with lay people instead of Druid priests creating the need-fire. The festival persisted widely up until the 1950s, and in some places the celebration of Beltane continues today. A revived Beltane Fire Festival has been held every year since 1988 during the night of 30 April on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland and attended by up to 15,000 people (except in 2003 when local council restrictions forced the organisers to hold a private event elsewhere)

Beltane as described in this article is a specifically Gaelic holiday. Other Celtic cultures, such as the Welsh, Bretons, and Cornish, do not celebrate Beltane, per se. However they celebrated or celebrate festivals similar to it at the same time of year. In Wales, the day is known as Calan Mai, and the Gaulish name for the day is Belotenia.
Dwelly wrote:

“ In many parts of the Highlands, the young folks of the district would meet on the moors on 1st May. They cut a table in the green sod, of a round figure, by cutting a trench in the ground of sufficient circumferences to hold the whole company. They then kindled a fire, dressed a repast of eggs and milk of the constituency of custard. They kneaded a cake of oatmeal, which was toasted at the embers against a stone. After the custard was eaten, they divided the cake into as many portions as there were people in the company, as much alike as possible in size and shape. They daubed one of the pieces with charcoal, til it was black all over, and they were then all put into a bonnet together, and each one blindfolded took out a portion. The bonnet holder was entitled to the last bit, and whoever drew the black bit was the person who was compelled to leap three times over the flames. Some people say this was originally to appease a god, whose favour they tried to implore by making the year productive. (Dwelly, 1911, “Bealltuinn”)

______
The May Queen

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;

To-morrow ‘ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;

Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,

For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
There’s many a black, black eye, they say, but none so bright as mine;

There’s Margaret and Mary, there’s Kate and Caroline;

But none so fair as little Alice in all the land they say,

So I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
I sleep so sound all night, mother, that I shall never wake,

If you do not call me loud when the day begins to break;

But I must gather knots of flowers, and buds and garlands gay,

For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
As I came up the valley whom think ye should I see

But Robin leaning on the bridge beneath the hazel-tree?

He thought of that sharp look, mother, I gave him yesterday,

But I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
He thought I was a ghost, mother, for I was all in white,

And I ran by him without speaking, like a flash of light.

They call me cruel-hearted, but I care not what they say,

For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
They say he’s dying all for love, but that can never be;

They say his heart is breaking, mother�what is that to me?

There’s many a bolder lad ‘ill woo me any summer day,

And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
Little Effie shall go with me to-morrow to the green,

And you’ll be there, too, mother, to see me made the Queen;

For the shepherd lads on every side ‘ill come from far away,

And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
The honeysuckle round the porch has woven its wavy bowers,

And by the meadow-trenches blow the faint sweet cuckoo-flowers;

And the wild marsh-marigold shines like fire in swamps and hollows gray,

And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
The night-winds come and go, mother, upon the meadow-grass,

And the happy stars above them seem to brighten as they pass;

There will not be a drop of rain the whole of the livelong day,

And I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
All the valley, mother, ‘ill be fresh and green and still,

And the cowslip and the crowfoot are over all the hill,

And the rivulet in the flowery dale ‘ill merrily glance and play,

For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.
So you must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear,

To-morrow ‘ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;

To-morrow ‘ill be of all the year the maddest merriest day,

For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve : *
12 × 2 =


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.