Here’s a repost about some facts about Beltain that I wrote for a blog back in 2007. Enjoy!
What is Beltain?
The name is derived from Bal and also the root of Balor of the baleful eye, the leader of the Formor whose searing glance could sear all it gazed upon. It is also related to Belinos the father of Miles who sacked Egypt and married the Pharos daughter, Scota, and who’s children Defeated the Tuatha de Dannon in conquering Ireland 2500 yrs. ago, more or less.
Beltain is the Gaelige name for the month of May, and traditionally a general term for spring. The fire festival of Beltain was one of the four fire festivals held in ancient times on the hill of Tara. The other three being Lughnasadh, Samhain, and Imbolc. Samhain, Imbolc, Beltain, and Lughnasadh are celebrated at the Height of the season, when the energy is most potent, as opposed to the Roman tradition that places the seasons at equinox’s and solstices.
Beltain was the third festival of the Celtic Year. It was held on the sundown of the full moon nearest May first. (Ancient Celtic societies followed a lunar calendar, and held that a day began at one sundown and ended on the next, influenced no doubt by their belief that death precedes all life and endings precede beginnings.)
During the Feast of Beltain, ritual games would be held at Tara, laws would be passed and judgements would be given, as the High King (Ard Righ) would hear any dispute brought before him. Seanachies would tell stories of births and beginnings, and the Bards would Chant their Lays. No weapons were allowed at Tara during a fire festival, and so scared was this time that any fighting was considered a serious crime. Unusual for the Irish!
At sundown every hearth fire was extinguished, and a sacred fire made from twelve sacred trees was lighted by the droi, (druids) who would send runners carrying a brand light from the sacred flame to all four fifths of Ireland to relight each and every hearth. Another ancient tradition, that survives today, is that Farm animals would be purified by being run between two Bale fires -note Bale, Bal, Beltaine are all connected.
Beltain is also associated with Angus mac Og, who took control of Brug na Boyne on Beltain by breaking taboo and approaching Elcmar armed.
Beltain is the time of youth and kingship and is symbolized by the Oak tree in Ogam.
Modern practices sometimes celebrate Beltain on May first, with a number of events that have been adopted over the millennia, like May pole dancing, but Beltain is a far more ancient celebration.
-Peggy Wolohan von Burkleo