Thursday, 28 April 2011

Beltane, May day lore

Celebration included frolicking throughout the countryside,
dancing the Maypole, leaping over fires, and "going a maying".

It was customary for young lovers to spend the night in the forest.

The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman Goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germaniccountries.
It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane. Many pagan celebrations were abandoned or Christianized during the process of conversion in Europe.

May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning of the Queen of the May. Various Neopagan groups celebrate reconstructed versions of these customs on May the 1st.
The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-ChristianEuropean pagan cultures.
While February 1 was the first day of Spring,
May 1 was the first day of summer; hence, the summer solstice on June 25 (now June 21) was Midsummer.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary's month,
and in these circles May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In this connection, in works of art, school skits, and so forth,
Mary's head will often be adorned with flowers in a May crowning.
Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the giving of "May baskets," small baskets of sweets and/or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbours' doorsteps.
Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing,
crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a Maypole.
Much of this tradition derive from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during "Þrimilci-mōnaþ"
(the Old English name for the month of May meaning Month of Three Milkings).

It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings.

May Day festivities, where the Jack in the Green festival was revived in 1976 and continues to lead an annual procession of morris dancers through the town on the May Bank Holiday.

Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the Maypole,
around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.

A morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music.

It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers.

Implements such as sticks, swords, handkerchiefs and bells may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two men, steps are performed near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid across each other on the floor.

Claims that English records, dating back to 1448, mention the morris dance are open to dispute.

There is no mention of "morris" dancing earlier than the late 15th century, although early records such as Bishops' "Visitation Articles" mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities as well as mumming plays. Furthermore, the earliest records invariably mention "Morys" in a court setting,

and both men and women are mentioned as dancing.

The term is derived from moorish dance, attested as Morisk dance and moreys daunce, morisse daunce in the mid-15th century. The spelling Morris-danceappears in the 17th century.

By 1492 Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille succeeded in driving the Moors out of Spain and unifying the country.

In celebration of this a pageant known as a Moresca was devised and performed.

This can still be seen performed in places such as Ainsa, Aragon.

Incorporated into this pageant was the local dance — the baloteao.

This too can still be seen performed in the villages of Aragon. The original ´Moresca´ is a sword dance.

The sticks in Morris dance are a residual of the swords in the 'Moresca'.

The similarity to what became known as the English "morris" is undoubted.

Early court records state that the "moresque" was performed at court in her honour, including the dance — the "moresque" or "morisce" or "morys" dance.

Music was traditionally provided by either a pipe and tabor or a fiddle.

These are still used today, but the most common instrument is themelodeon.

Accordions and concertinas are also common, and other instruments are sometimes used. Often drums are employed.

Jack in the Green has become identified with the mysterious Green Man depicted in mediaeval church carvings and is widely felt to be an embodiment of natural fertility,
a spirit of the primeval greenwood and a trickster;
by extension he is linked to such mythological characters as Puck, Robin Goodfellow,
Robin Hood, the wild man, and the Green Knight,
among others such as the folklore behind the legend of Robin Hood.

These festivities were variously associated with Easter Monday,
St George's Day (23 April), May Day, and Whitsuntide.

Other related figures in Britain include the Burry Man of South Queensferry and the Garland King of Castleton, Derbyshire, who parades onOak Apple Day.

May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night.
May Day falls exactly half of a year from November 1,
another cross-quarter day which is also associated with various northern European pagan and neopagan festivals such as Samhain.
May Day marks the end of the unfarmable winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere,
and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations.

The fair maid who, the first of May,
Goes to the fields at break of day
& washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be.

- English folk rhyme

Beltane or Beltaine is the anglicised spelling of Old Irish Beltain (modern Irish Bealtaine ],
Scottish GaelicBealltainn ,
the Gaelic name for either the month of May or the festival that takes place on first day of May.

In Irish Gaelic, the month of May is known as Mí Bhealtaine or Bealtaine,
and the festival as Lá Bealtaine ('day of Bealtaine' or, 'May Day').
InScottish Gaelic, the month is known as either (An) Cèitean or a' Mhàigh,
and the festival is known as Latha Bealltainn or simply Bealltainn.
The feast was also known as Céad Shamhain or Cétshamhainin from which the word Céitean derives.
Beltane was formerly spelled 'Bealtuinn' in Scottish Gaelic.

In Modern Irish, Oidhche Bealtaine or Oíche Bealtaine is May Eve,

and Lá Bealtaine is May Day. Mí na Bealtaine, or simply Bealtaine is the name of the month of May.

In Neopaganism, Bealtaine is considered a cross-quarter day,

marking the midpoint in the Sun's progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

The astronomical date for this midpoint is closer to 5 May or 7 May, but this can vary from year to year.

Old Irish Bel(l)taine is derived from a Common Celtic *belo-te(p)niâ, meaning "bright fire"
(where the element *belo-might be cognate with the English word bale [as in 'bale-fire'] meaning 'white' or 'shining'.

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.

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 theAos Sí. Like the festival of Samhain,
opposite Beltane on 31 October Beltane was also a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand.

In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on two fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke.
People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves.

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'.

1 May custom , practised in the Scottish Highlands, where young people met on the moors, lighted a bonfire and made an oatmeal cake toasted at the embers.

The cake was divided, one of the pieces marked with charcoal, and, drawing the pieces blindfolded,

the person who got the marked piece was compelled to leap over the flames three times.

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 the erection of May Bushes in farmyards, which usually consisted either of a branch of rowan/caorthann (mountain ash)

or more commonly whitethorn/sceach geal (hawthorn) which is in bloom at the time and is commonly called the 'May Bush' or just 'May'

The practice of decorating the May Bush or Dos Bhealtaine with flowers, ribbons, garlands and coloured egg shells has survived to some extent among the Gaelic diaspora.

Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) is a traditional spring festival on 30 April or 1 May in large parts of Central and Northern Europe.

Its celebration is associated with dancing and with bonfires.

Wiccans and Wiccan-inspired Neopagans celebrate a variation of Beltane as a Sabbat,

one of the eight solar holidays.

Although the holiday may use features of the Gaelic Bealtaine, such as the bonfire, it bears more relation to the Germanic May Day festival,

both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as maypole dancing).

Some Wiccans celebrate "High Beltaine" by enacting a ritual union of the May Lord and May Lady.

Among the Wiccan Sabbats, Beltane is a cross-quarter day; it is celebrated in the northern hemisphere on 1 May and in the southern hemisphere on 1 November.

Beltane follows Ostara and precedes Midsummer.

The May Queen is a girl who is selected to ride or walk at the front of a parade for May Day celebrations.
She wears a white gown to symbolise purity and usually a tiara or crown.
Her duty is to begin the May Day celebrations.
She is generally crowned by flowers and makes a speech before the dancing begins.
Certain age groups dance round a Maypole celebrating youth and the spring time.

Beltane is the first of the three yearly Faerie Realm festivals.
The other two festivals occur on Mid-Summer’s Eve and All Hallow’s Eve.
In ancient Celtic countries,
a new day began at sunset, so the “eve” of a day was not “the day before” as we calculate time today. Thus, Beltane Eve/May Eve and Beltane Day/May Day occurred on the same “day;”
i.e., within the same 24 hour period, beginning at 6 p.m. on April 30th and ending at 6 p.m. on May 1st).

The Faerie Courts

These liminal dates also signal a great change in the Faerie Realm.

From Beltane Eve to All Hallow’s Eve, the Seelie Court reigns supreme.

From All Hallow’s Eve to Beltane Eve, the Unseelie Court holds sway.

The most significant difference between the two Courts is compassion, and the lack thereof.

The Seelie Court and its members exhibit profound compassion for humans,

where the Unseelie Court is pitiless.

Like the Unseelie Court, however, the Seelie are swift to retaliate for an injury or insult.

They also are not beneath stealing cattle or borrowing whatever they want from humans,

which includes using humans for their own purposes (as obscure as those purposes may be).

Even Seelie faeries hold to the saying, “All that’s yours is mine; all that’s mine is my own,”

though among themselves stealing is verboten.

As a rule, however, we can rely on Seelie faeries to be helpful and fair in their dealings with us.

Unlike the Unseelie fae,

they return the things they borrow, show gratitude for kindnesses we show them, provide patronage to those who find true love, show delight in music and dancing,

and display an appreciation for neatness, order, beauty and fertility.

Since Beltane is a festival of fertility to promote the bountiful crops planted at the beginning of spring, it is entirely proper that the Seelie Court emerges on this day to help us celebrate love, lust and life.

As May Eve heralds the reawakening of the Faerie Realm and Seelie Court from winter’s grasp, Mid-Summer’s Eve celebrates the recovery of their full strength from winter’s travails. Then on November Eve, the Unseelie Court makes its pass through mortal lands on the Wild Hunt before the hand of winter closes its fist. As so the wheel of the year turns, even for the fae.

It is on these dates that the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest, when the two worlds intermingle and unite, and wild magic abounds. These are the times when the fae are most accessible and visible–look through a sprig of rowan twisted into a ring and seek the fae at dusk to better your chances of getting a peek. However, be forewarned that neither Seelie nor Unseelie fae like to be watched and may consider this an infringement on their privacy for which you might be rebuked.

The Faerie Queen

Beltane is a favored time for the Queen of Faerie to ride out on her white horse,

seeking one of us to lure away with her to theSummerland.

Sit beneath a tree on Beltane and you may see her or hear the sound of her horse’s bells as she rides through the night.

Should you actually meet with her, hide your face and she will pass you by;

look at her, however, and her unearthly beauty will ensnare you.

She may then choose you to journey with her to the Summerland where you must not eat,

nor drink nor speak for seven years.

At the end of seven years, or perhaps be rescued like Tam Lin.

If you’re very fortunate and the Queen grants you a special dispensation,

you may gain your freedom along with the gift of true seeing/prophecy,

like Thomas the Rhymer. However, eat, drink or speak, and you will never be allowed to leave.

Faerie Pranks

When the Seelie fae awaken from their winter repose,

like any creature released from a dull existence they are carefree and full of mischief.

The two things they’ll be after the most is a piece of your ritual Beltane fire and all your fresh butter. To protect yourself from faerie pranks, place rowan branches around your windows and doors,

and have the youngest member of the family gather primroses on May Eve

and throw them at the door of your home.

Faerie Blessing

To receive a Seelie faerie blessing,

leave offerings of festival bread and drink on your doorsteps and at crossroads.

Some traditional festival breads include:

  • Celtic: A bread of sweet dough made with sweetmeat
  • (a candied root, such as ginger or sea holly) and spices.
  • Scotland: A bonnach Bealtain, which is a heavy, flat cake of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough formed into a round or oval shape, then cooked on a griddle; also known as bannock and, when cut into wedges, scone. When made with nine knobs, it is an offering to the fox, the eagle and the hooded crow so they will not do harm to the fields and flocks. The hooded crow is the manifestation of the Cailleach, also known as the Queen of Winter. The bonnach should be glazed with a thin batter of whipped egg, milk, cream and a little oatmeal.
  • Wales: A bara brith, which literally means “speckled bread,” that can be either a yeast bread enriched with dried fruit (raisins, currants and candied peel) or something more like a fruitcake made with self-rising flour without yeast.
  • Ireland: A báirín breac, which is a yeasted bread withsultanas and raisins added.
  • Brittany: A morlaix brioche, which is a speckled bread like the bara brith of Wales.

Prepare the bread on May eve without the use of either steel or iron.

Also, leave any food left over from your Beltane festivities as an offering to the fae,

just as we leave crops not harvested by Samhain in the fields as their due.

The Number Seven

As you study faeries, myths and folklore, you will find that the number seven is highly significant:

  • Thomas the Rhymer stayed with the Faerie Queen for seven years
  • The Faerie Queen must pay a tithe to Hell every seven years
  • Servitude lasts for seven years
  • The Pleiades is known as the seven sisters
  • Mortal Kings must be sacrificed every seven years to ensure the fertility and health of their kingdom (at first literally, and later symbolically)
  • Curses last for seven years
  • The seventh son/daughter of a seventh son/daughter has the gift of true seeing

Our ancestors believed there were seven planets; the Egyptians had seven original and higher gods;

the Phœnicians seven kabiris; the Persians, seven sacred horses of Mithra;

the Parsees, seven angels opposed by seven demons,

and seven celestial abodes paralleled by seven lower regions.

The seven gods were often represented as one seven-headed deity.

The whole of heaven was subject to the seven planets; hence, in nearly all the old religious systems we find seven heavens.

It is no great wonder, then, that every seven years on May Eve,

the faeries gather to fight among themselves for the rights to our upcoming harvest.

The winning faction takes the best ears of grain for themselves for the next seven years.

Herbs and Flowers

Throughout the centuries, the ancient Celts noted which springtime herbs and flowers were attractive to the fae and which afforded protection:


  • Carnation: Red ones will draw faeries that enjoy healing animals.
  • Clover: Not only do bees go wild over this diminutive ground cover, faeries love it, too.
  • Cowslip: Spring faeries will happily come to live in any garden containing this herb.
  • Dandelion: The fae use the dandelion to make beverages, just as humans do (i.e., dandelion wine).
  • Foxglove*: A favorite of earth elementals and gives faeries the power of flight.
  • Hawthorn: Sacred to faeries, especially the Queen of the Seelie Court. Faeries that may help or hinder often live in hawthorns, so they are best left undisturbed (i.e., uncut and unmoved). Try tying wishing ribbons to a hawthorn so friendly faeries can help them come true. Be sure to leave an offering or libation if you do.
  • Heliotrope*: Enjoyed by fire elementals.
  • Hollyhock*: A faerie favorite, particularly the pink variety.
  • Lilac: The gentle scent draws faeries and wards off evil spirits.
  • Lobelia*: Helps to attract winged faeries.
  • Mushrooms*: Often used by faeries to mark the boundaries of their sacred circles or portals to the Faerie Realm.
  • Pansy: Attracts parades of trooping faeries.
  • Primrose: Although the fae like this flower, it has the power to repel them from human habitations. It may also give faeries their power of invisibility.
  • Sassafras: Enjoyed by air elementals.
  • Shamrock: A form of clover adored by all Celtic faeries.


  • Bluebell: If bluebells ring in your garden, malevolent faeries are near and you need to leave quickly.
  • Dill: The fresh plant has a scent faeries dislike. In the Mediterranean area, dill weed placed under an infant’s bed will prevent the child being snatched by faeries and replaced with a changeling.
  • Gorse: Repels virtually all faerie life.
  • Lilac: The gentle scent draws faeries and wards off evil spirits.
  • Mistletoe*: Especially good for protecting against and repelling faeries, but can also attract unpleasant tree faeries.
  • Morning Glory*: Repels unwanted night faeries.
  • Primrose: Although the fae like this flower, it has the power to repel them from human habitations. It may also give faeries their power of invisibility.
  • Rosemary: The fresh plant protects from baneful faeries. In Mexico, mothers place this herb under their beds, in baby’s cribs and in windows for protection. To protect a couple from faeries with bad intentions and ensure happiness in their first year of marriage, the bride and groom should carry this herb during their wedding ceremony.

*These plants are poisonous and are to be cultivated only with great caution. They should never be grown where children or pets are present.

Beltane Ritual

Here is a simple ritual that anyone can do with a minimum of fuss:

In a woodland clearing or meadow, or any other naturally secluded and preserved spot where you can sense the fae, spread a clean green cloth.

On it place small cakes** and flowers, especially primroses, in a circle.

In addition to the flowers listed above, other flowers that you may want to consider are roses,

violets, apple and orange blossoms, daisies, columbine, jasmine, and daffodils.

Sit quietly until you feel the magic of the fae around you and then ask for a boon or blessing,

using your own words or the following:

The Maid of Spring has busy been
To coax forth life both lush and green
As all await the evening when
Ye ride forth, great Seelie Faerie Queen

The veil between our two worlds thins
Our magic mingles, wild and tame
Tis now that Summer’s bounty begins
Blessed by thee, and Beltane’s flame

I ask only one boon of thee
In doing is the payment worth
To share our purpose equally
Protect and nurture Mother Earth

In celebration of the May
I leave these offerings for thee
And fare thee well until the day
Midsummer Eve it turns to be

Written by Faerie♥Kat, 2010

Leave your small cake and floral offerings and walk around the green cloth three times deosil

(i.e., clockwise).

Then slowly walk the path back to your home in silence,

listening for the sound of laughter and bells.

Return the next day to retrieve your belongings and look for any signs or gifts the Seelie Faerie Queen may have left for you.

**See festival breads above.

Faery Sugar

3 cups fine white sugar
1 tablespoon Vanilla extract (the good stuff)
1/8 teaspoon red food coloring
Nine Shakes Pink Edible Glitter
Glass container

Lay sugar on wax paper & sprinkle on the Vanilla, stir till all is mixed well.
~ Next sprinkle on the Red food coloring and incorporate in till sugar turns 'Faery pink'.
~ Add in Nine Shakes Pink Edible Glitter
~ Save in glass container, you have labeled 'Faery Sugar'
~ You can now use this special treat in Faery Cookies, Cakes and offerings to the Fae.
You can eat some your self, but remember the recipe is a secret, "shhhhh"

Candle colors for Beltane Rituals

Lgt Blue- Tranquility & Health Red- The Lord, Sacred Bale Fires. Pale Yellow- Spring Flowers, Ostara
Lgt Green- The Lady, Earth's growth Lavender- Faery magic & Incantations

~ Barbara Morris 2001

Herbs of Beltane

Agrimony, St Johns Wort, Frankincense,
Hawthorn, Ivy, Marigold, Meadowsweet,
Orchid Root, Rose, Rowan, Woodruff,
Elder flowers, Primroses, Rose petals.

~ Written by Barbara Morris (c) 1999- 2011

MayPole Candle

You will need;

Gold craft Bells
Pastel colored ribbons
Tall white, yellow or green pillar candle
Candle holder (stand)

Cut lengths of ribbon around 18 inches each, in pretty Springtime colors.( pastels)
Tie a gold craft bell to each end of ribbon (a tooth pick helps this process)
Tie ribbons starting at 3/4 way down the pillar candle.
Knot three times but don't tie bows, you need lots of length on the ribbons.
Tie as many as you like snaking your way up the candle, leaving 1/4 candle bare.
Place in a candle stand that will raise the candle about 6 - 8 inches, so the ribbons can "drape"
Swirl the bundle of ribbons so they face East, ready to greet the dawn.
Light candle and cheer the May Day blessings to come.

~ Originally created by Barbara Morris 1999-2011

Nine Scared Woods of Beltane

Alder Ash Birch Hathorn Hazel Holly Oak Rowan Willow

Beltane is traditionally a time for working with the Faery folk,
offerings of flowers and or sweets left in home or garden
will surely please the fae, thus blessing you with gentle abundance for the season.

Love & light