Posted May 1, 2015
I have written before about Walpurgis Night and May Day, and about other assorted Maytime holidays. This is just one more version of celebrating spring,
May 1 is about halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. You've heard of “Midsummer,” right? Well, today is sorta “Midspring.”
In the olden days in Ireland, Beltane was the beginning of summer, the date when cattle were driven out to their summer pastures. In order to try to protect the cattle, magical rituals were held: bonfires were started, and people would lead their cattle around the bonfire or between two bonfires. Sometimes people and cattle would jump over flames or embers...and I don't think that cattle are very good at jumping high, so this sounds pretty scary!
|Instead of a mere bonfire, some|
communities hold fire festivals!
|Clooties surrounding a holy well|
Other Beltane customs are decorating doors, windows, and cattle with bright yellow flowers, and decorating a May Bush with flowers, ribbons, and shells. People would sometimes drink the dew in the morning, because “Beltane dew” was supposed to bring beauty.
Some people visit "holy" wells and tie clooties (strips of cloth) to trees, bushes, or ropes surrounding the well.
|A Beltane bush|
Most of these Beltane customs had died out in the 1900s, but some Celtic peoples – and others – have rekindled the customs as fun cultural activities.
By the way...
In case you are confused about the words “Celtic” and “Gaelic,” here is a primer:
The Celts were a people who dominated the regions of western and central Europe during ancient times.
|Celtic knotwork decorating a Celtic cross,|
above, and a Celtic harp, below.
Celtic is the name of a family of languages spoken by the Celts, including Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton. These languages have evolved, of course, but are still spoken in parts of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Brittany (a region in northwestern France). This word is also used as an adjective to describe cultural objects from these regions, such as the Celtic cross, the Celtic harp, Celtic names, and Celtic knotwork.
The Gaels were people who lived in northwestern Europe. They are a sub-group of the Celts.
Gaelic is the name of the language group that evolved in what is now Ireland and Scotland. Another name for Gaelic is “Irish,” but two related languages are Scottish Gaelic and Manx (the language spoken by the people living on the Isle of Man). Again, these languages are a sub-group of the Celtic languages.
To a huge extent, English (which is a Germanic language) has taken over in all of these regions: Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. However, Ireland has tried to maintain its people's fluency in Gaelic by making both Gaelic and English official languages. Both languages appear on street signs, for example.
In other words, all Gaels are Celts, but not all Celts are Gaels, and all Gaelic languages are in the Celtic family, but not all Celtic languages are in the Gaelic group.
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