Celebrating the Ancient Festival of Bealtaine

Bealtaine (also known as Beltane or May Day) is the Irish festival of early summer; a time of ritual, magic, fertility, purification & sexual expression. In this blog post I talk about some of the ancestral traditions of Bealtaine as an invitation for you to celebrate this sacred day.

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Celebrating the Ancient Festival of Bealtaine

Bealtaine (also known as Beltane or May Day) is the Irish festival of early summer; a time of ritual, magic, fertility, purification & sexual expression. In this blog post I talk about some of the ancestral traditions of Bealtaine as an invitation for you to celebrate this sacred day.

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Bealtaine is one of the most prolific festivals in the Irish wheel of the year, with a whole myriad of traditions that have been passed down to us through the ages. Bealtaine (pronounced ‘byal-tin-ah’) is the Irish word for this festival, though many people will know this festival as Beltane, which is the Anglicized version of the word.

Some of the themes of this sacred day include magic, ritual, fertility, abundance, purification, sexual expression and sacred union. Bealtaine is a fire festival and marks the very beginning of summer in Ireland & the Celtic Isles, a time when the earth is fertile and nature is in bloom. 

There are some beautiful Irish Sean-nós songs associated with Bealtaine that express the beauty of nature at this time of year, such as Thugamar Féin An Samhradh Linn and Amhrán Na Bealtaine.

Gratitude to my mentor Mary McLaughlin for teaching me this beautiful song from Donegal. Lyrics for this song can be found at the bottom of this blog post.

The Astrology of Bealtaine

Like with all of the ancient festivals around the Wheel of the Year in Ireland and across the Celtic isles, there is an important astrological element to Bealtaine.

Bealtaine is the half-way point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, and it’s one of the cross-quarter days around the Wheel of the Year. Although Bealtaine has become associated with May the 1st, the true astrology of Bealtaine is not connected to a specific calendar date but to what’s happening in the skies.

The midway point between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice happens when the sun moves into Taurus by 15 degrees, which usually falls on May the 5th (sometimes called “true Bealtaine”).

In my personal practice of celebrating the ancient festivals, I also like to incorporate the lunar calendar. Bealtaine is a festival that corresponds beautifully with the exalted energies of the full moon, and therefore I like to celebrate Lunar Bealtaine during the closest full moon to Solar Bealtaine (May 5th) when the moon is in Scorpio.

I use these dates of traditional Bealtaine (May 1st), true Bealtaine and Lunar Bealtaine to create a portal period of celebration, ritual and sacred communion.

Fire

Bealtaine is a fire festival and traditionally two great fires would have been made in celebration of this day. In ancient Ireland, the fire in peoples’ homes would’ve been extinguished, and the embers brought from hearth and home to create the two ritual fires (usually on the top of a hill). After the fires burned for three days, the embers of the great fires would have been used to relight the fires in peoples’ homes.

These fires would have been used for different kinds of purification and protection ceremonies, for both people and animals. Sacred herbs were burned along with the invocation of charms in these rituals. One of the most important rituals was the blessing of the cows. Cattle were ushered between the two fires for purification to help ensure their fertility.

Flowers

Flowers are traditionally part of the Bealtaine celebrations. Maidens would wear flower crowns and flowers were hung around communities in the windows and doorways. People would go out into the fields and meadows to collect the flowers, where there would have been lots of love-making as people enacted their own fertility rites, symbolizing the fertility of the land.

The Sídhe

Bealtaine stands across the Wheel of the Year from Samhain, and like Samhain this is a time when the veil between the worlds is very thin. One the eve of Bealtaine the spirits are said to walk among us, and the Sídhe (faeries) are especially active who would have been both feared and revered for bringing both magic and mischief. 

It’s said that on Bealtaine every fairy fort in Ireland is open, and there are many stories of magical happenings witnessed by people who would dare to wander out late on Bealtaine Eve.

The Death of Winter

Bealtaine marks the beginning of early summer and the end of winter. I recently learned about an interesting ritual involving bannock cakes in Ireland (which are large, round and flat, made from oats or barley). At the Bealtaine celebrations, bannocks were marked with a black spot and broken into pieces. When the pieces of the bannock were divided up, the person with the black spot was named the ‘Old Hag’ and they might have been subjected to a mimed (performed) execution of being burned or hung, drawn and quartered. This is symbolic of ushering out the winter in a ritualistic, theatrical way.

Bealtaine Blessings

Bright blessings to you at this turning of the wheel. This is a time to emerge from the cocoon of winter and embrace the beauty of nature.

How do you plan on celebrating Bealtaine?

If you’re interested in learning more about these ancestral traditions, I’ll be hosting a Bealtaine ceremony in The Roundhouse on May the 5th.

Le grá,
Tara

Amhrán Na Bealtaine Lyrics: Irish

Bábóg na Bealtaine, maighdean a’ tSamhraidh, 
Suas gach cnoc is síos gach gleann,
Cailíní maiseach go gealgáireach gléasta 
Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn. 

Samhradh buí ó luí na gréine,
Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn. 
Ó bhaile go baile’s ’na baile ’na dhiadh sin 
Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn. 

Tá nead ag an ghiorria ar imeall na haille
Is nead ag an chorr éisc i ngéagaibh an chrainn
Tá ’chuach’s na héanlaith a’seinm le pléisiúr
Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn.

Tá an fhuiseog a’seinm’s a’luascadh sna spéartha
Beacha is cuileoga is bláth ar na crainn
Tá mil ar an cuiseoga’s coilm a beiceadh
Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn.

Amhrán Na Bealtaine Lyrics: English

May doll, maiden of Summer, 
Up every hill and down every glen, 
Beautiful girls, radiant and shining, 
We brought the Summer in with us. 

Yellow summer of the sunset
We brought the summer in with us
From home to home and the home after that
We brought the Summer in with us. 

The hare’s nest is at the edge of the cliff
And the nest of the gray heron in the branch of the tree
The cuckoo and the birds are singing with pleasure
We brought the Summer in with us.

The lark is singing and swinging through the skies
The bees and flies and the flower on the tree
The honey is on the stalks and doves are clamoring
We brought the Summer in with us.

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Meet Tara

My name is Tara Wild and I support women to listen to their inner voice and spiritual guidance through story, ritual and song. I’m a women’s educator, storyteller, and songstress. My passion is connecting women to the wisdom of their ancestors and the many faces of the goddess, and especially to the nature-based feminine wisdom from Ireland.

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