Fires of Beltaine
Gerald Gardner, with his Bricket Wood Coven is cited as the creator of the Wheel of the Year Calendar. Whether or not one follows a specifically Gardenarian based path or Tradition of Wicca, we modern Pagans have been greatly influenced by the works of Gardner. The Wheel of the Year is one of the strongest, farthest reaching influences widely used today. Whether you call yourself Pagan, Witch or Wiccan, or Heathen, if you celebrate the Seasonal Sabbats culled from old European traditions, you follow a semblance of the Wheel of the Year.
The Wheel is a modern calendar put together to celebrate the seasonal turnings of the earth and its natural cycles. Originally, there were not eight Sabbats, but four set upon the Wheel. These are known as the Cross Quarter Days, celebrated most commonly by the Gaels, those Celtic tribes from Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Mann. These Sabbats include Beltaine, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Bride. For definition purposes, Celtic People were known to have common religious and language roots. There were six distinct languages among the Celts, each related to one another. Gaelic is one of these languages defining Celtic tribes, and is still in use today.
The Gaels were primarily a herding pastoral society, and their seasonal celebrations focused on the life and death cycles of their herds. These four Cross Quarter dates on the Wheel of the Year originated with sacred ritual to ensure the continuing life support of the tribe. Within Celtic culture (including the Gaels), the year was broken up into two halves, Summer and Winter, the light half and the dark half of the year. Beltaine celebrates the beginning of Summer.
Culling from the Gaelic sources of this season, bonfires play an integral part in this Sabbat. Fire is used to bless the herd, the tribe and the land. Bonfires were and are a sympathetic type of magic, where in the Fire represents the Sun, and those celebrating do so with the intent of Fertility, seeking the burgeoning of Summer.
There is debate, as always, about the origins of the name Beltaine. Some claim it is connected to various fire gods, such as Beli or Belenos. Belenos was known to be a god of Fire in Celtic Gaul, as well as east into the Austrian Steppes, where it is believed Celtic peoples first came from. To say there was no influence or connection to what would become Beltaine in the Gaelic tribes is to assume a lack of oral history for generations. In tracing back the languages of the Celts, one of the key factors in defining a Celtic tribe, one can connect Belatine to the root word for Belenos.
Etymologists trace Beltaine, spelled Bealltainn, back to the 15 century from Lowland Scotland, marking the first of May. It is connected to the Proto-Indo European root word behl, meaning to shine, flash or burn. It has also been attributed as Bright and Shining one- the sun. Tainn is seen as related to fire from the old Irish ten. In modern Gealic Fire is Tienne, pronounced Chin-nuh. Bringing the two roots together into Beltaine we get a bright and shining fire.
Evidence has been found throughout Ireland, Scottland and Mann of great fires burned atop high hills over generations of time. Gaelic tribs would build two fires at Betaine, and walk their herd between them to bless them with fertility for coming summer. Young couples wanting a baby would jump a fire for fertility as well. These fire magics are but just one aspect of Beltaine but of great importance at this time of year.
When it comes to modern Beltaine celebrations, one of the main acts of ritual and magic worked is with the Bel Fire- or Bon Fire. It is through Fire that we are cleansed and blessed. As one of the Great Fire Sabbats culled from ancient Gaelic-Celt practices, this day was named upon the Wheel of the Year to honor and celebrate the Fertility and life that will burgeoning forth with the coming of Summer and the strength of the Sun.
As modern celebrants, we have the opportunity and pleasure to blend aspects from various cultures and histories to create a full picture and celebration for a sabbat which fits our needs and desires. Beltaine is one such perfect example of this. While it is a fire festival and primarily influenced by the Gaels in that regard, there are other strong influences at play here from Germanic and Italic cultures. We shall explore some of these influences in my next post.
Merry Meet! I am first and foremost a writer. When I am writing I am in my element! Much of what I write about, and do in my life is centered around a pagan spiritual base. I have been studying various paths and topics, working with energies, deities, and the elements for 15 years plus. I am the High Priestess of Spiral Grove an eclectic study coven. I say I was given this coven as a gift because that is what it truly is. Spiral Grove would not be what it is without the members who make it whole.