Beltane Fire Festival of the Celtic Nations

Celtic Fire Festival of Beltane  

Beltane Fire Festival

Beltane, the Celtic Fire Festival, is the Gaelic May Day Festival. It is traditionally held on May 1st, about midway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. In Ireland, the Beltane Fire Festival signifies the start of summer and represents the renewal of life, fertility, and passion.

The word Beltane is derived from the god Bel or Bil and teine, the old Irish word meaning fire.

The Celtic day began and ended at sundown, so the festival would start on April 30th at dusk and continue all night. Countries like Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man still observe these celebrations today and worldwide.

Beltane Around the Celtic Nations

The Scotland festival is called Bealtuinn and pronounced beel-too-win. The celebration in Wales is called Calan Mai, and the Isle of Man is the Manx Oie’l Voaldyn.

The Celtic nations celebrated these festivals well into the 1800s, but there has been a resurgence in the modern day. One of the largest festivals is in Edinburgh at Calton Hill.

Beltane is one of the four fire celebrations and one of the more important festivals. The Celts believed the fire had purifying qualities that cleansed the land and its people.

The Wheel of the Year

Beltane Fire Festival - Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is an ancient Celtic calendar based on festivals celebrating connection with nature. It revolves around eight festivals, each signaling a shift in the season, weather, and natural world. 

Solar Festivals
  • Winter Solstice – 21 Dec – Yule – Winter Solstice Festival
  • Spring Solstice – 21 May – Ostara – Second of the three Spring Festivals
  • Summer Solstice – 21 June – Litha – The Summer Solstice Festival
  • Autumn Solstice – 21 Sept – Mabon – Autumn Thanksgiving Festival
Fire Festivals
  • Imbolic – 2 Feb – Beginning of the Returning Light, Spring
  • Beltane – 1 May – May Day Festival
  • Lughnasadh – 2 Aug – Beginning of the Harvest Season
  • Samhain – 1 Nov – Beginning of the Winter Season

Beltane Rituals

During Beltane, people would construct bonfires on the hills. They used the Beltane fires to relight the home hearth and candles that they had extinguished. People believed that the bonfires had protective properties because they built them using nine specific types of wood, which provided fire, smoke, and ashes with these properties.

People would walk their cattle around or between the bonfires before ushering them out to the pastures for the season. This was to ensure the safety of the cattle and people.

The nine sacred kinds of wood were from the Celtic Tree Calendar and used in the ceremony:
  • Alder – Cleansing, Protection, and Shielding
  • Ash – Abundance, Health, Prosperity, and Transformation
  • Birch – Change, Feminine Energy, Beginnings, and Renewal
  • Hawthorn – Druid magic, Faeries, Happiness, and Nature
  • Hazel – Dreams, Prosperity, and Wisdom
  • Holly – Good Luck, Healing, and Protection
  • Oak – Abundance, Confidence, Masculine Energy, and Success
  • Rowan – Life Energy, Protection, Power, and Success
  • Willow – Divination, Intuition, and Mastery

All in all, these trees were thought to possess distinct magical purposes. Festivals included drinks, food, and decorations with yellow flowers. Many Beltane activities were to ward off or appease the Faeries to prevent them from stealing milk and dairy products.

Faeries and witches roamed freely, and the community took action to safeguard themselves against possible enchantments they feared could be cast.

May boughs were tied to milk pales and cattle tails and hung in the barns for protection. By placing flowers on the the cattle’s horns, it was believed to bring good luck.

Beltane Fire Festival
Beltane Celebration

Dancing and other such things were going on around the bonfires. However, all marriage vows were put on hold during Beltane. Although, if a baby was born from a Beltane union, that baby was thought to be blessed by the goddess.

Beltane Fire Festivals were full of hope and energy for the coming new season. The Celtic people were tied to the land, seasons, and nature. Eight times a year, these festivals brought them closer to these things and celebrated life.

Final Thoughts

Many people around the world still celebrate the Celtic festivals. Although they are probably not as wild as they were back in the day, I’m just saying. I’ve been told not to bring little kids.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you sharing if you enjoyed this. Please don’t hesitate to comment if you have ever attended one. I would love your take on it. Happy meanderings. Slànte Mhath!

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