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Festival of Beltane




 
May 30, 2011 - CelticRadio.net -

Bealtaine was historically a Gaelic festival celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Bealtaine and Samhain were the leading terminal dates of the civil year in medieval Ireland, though the latter festival was the more important. The festival regained popularity during the Celtic Revival and remains observed in the Celtic Nations and the Irish diaspora.

In medieval Ireland, the main Bealtaine fire was held on the central hill of Uisneach 'the navel of Ireland', one of the ritual centres of the country, which is located in what is now County Westmeath. The lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine seems to have survived to the present day only in County Limerick, especially in Limerick itself, as their yearly bonfire night and in County Wicklow in Arklow, though some cultural groups have expressed an interest in reviving the custom at Uisneach and perhaps at the Hill of Tara.

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. Due to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, Bealltainn in Scotland was commonly celebrated on 15 May while in Ireland Sean Bhealtain / "Old May" began about the night of 11 May. 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 modern Scottish Gaelic, Latha Buidhe Bealltainn or Là Buidhe Bealltainn ('the yellow day of Bealltain') is used to describe the first day of May. This term Lá Buidhe Bealtaine is also used in Irish and is translated as 'Bright May Day'. In Ireland it is referred to in a common folk tale as Luan Lae Bealtaine; the first day of the week (Monday/Luan) is added to emphasise the first day of summer.

The modern Beltane Fire Festival is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane which began on the evening before May 1 and marked the beginning of summer. The modern festival was started in 1988 by a small group of enthusiasts including the musical collective Test Dept, with academic support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Since then the festival has grown, and as of 2006 involved over 300 voluntary collaborators and performers with the 11500 available tickets selling out.

Beltain was sacred to the god Belenos, the Shining One, whose name survives in placenames such as Billingsgate, and in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline - Hound of Belenus. In fact the word ‘Beltain’ derives from Bel-tinne - fires of Bel. As noted above, for the Fianna, Beltain heralded the start of the ‘fighting season’. De Jubainville, in his Irish Mythological Cycle, writes :

 

"It was on a Thursday, the first of May, and the 17th day of the moon, that the [invading] sons of Miled arrived in Ireland. Partholan [chief of the next race of invaders] also landed in Ireland on the first of May ... and it was on the first day of May, too, that the pestilence came which in the space of one week destroyed utterly his race. The first of May was sacred to Beltene, one of the names of the god of Death, the god who gives life to men and takes it away from them again. Thus it was on the feast day of this god that the sons of Miled began their conquest of Ireland."

 

Beltain is the origin of pagan May Day festivities such as that of the Padstow Hobby Horse, and maypole dancing, of the ‘Queen of the May’, and of ‘well dressing’ - decking holy wells with flowers, as still practised in some rural communities.

References: Wikipedia, Living Myths, Irish Mythological Cycle

 





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