Infobox Holiday
holiday_name = Beltane
type = Pagan

caption =
official_name =
nickname = Lá Bealtaine, Bealltainn, Beltain, Beltaine
observedby = Gaels, Irish People, Scottish People, Manx people, Neopagans
begins =
ends =
date = Northern Hemisphere: May 1
Southern Hemisphere: November 1
date2006 =
observances =
celebrations = Traditional first day of summer in Ireland, Scotland and Isle of Man
relatedto = Walpurgis Night, May Day

Beltane is the anglicized spelling of Bealtaine (IPAga|ˈbʲal̪ˠt̪ˠənʲə) or Bealltainn (IPAgd|ˈbʲal̪ˠt̪ˠən) the Gaelic names for either the month of May or the festival that takes place on the first day of May

In Irish Gaelic the month of May is known as "Mí Bealtaine" or "Bealtaine" and the festival as "Lá Bealtaine" ('day of Bealtaine' or, 'May Day'). In Scottish 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.

As an ancient Gaelic festival, Bealtaine was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. There were similar festivals held at the same time in the other Celtic countries of Wales, Brittany and Cornwall. Bealtaine and Samhain were the leading terminal dates of the civil year in Ireland though the latter festival was the most important. The festival survives in folkloric practices in the Celtic Nations and the diaspora, and has experienced a degree of revival in recent decades.


For the Celts, 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 the 15th of May while in Ireland "Sean Bhealtain" / "Old May" began about the night of the 11th of May.fact|date=April 2008 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. Danaher, Kevin (1972) "The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs" Dublin, Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-093-2 pp.86-127] Chadwick, Nora (1970) "The Celts" London, Penguin. ISBN 0-14-021211-6 p. 181] In modern Scottish Gaelic, "Latha Buidhe Bealtuinn" ('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'. In Ireland it is referred to in a common folk tale as "Luan Lae Bealtaine"; the first day of the week (Monday/"Luan") is added to emphasise the first day of summer.

In ancient 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. In Ireland the lighting of bonfires on "Oidhche Bhealtaine" seems only to have survived to the present day in County Limerick, especially in Limerick itself, as their yearly bonfire night, though some cultural groups have expressed an interest in reviving the custom at Uisneach and perhaps at the Hill of Tara. [Aideen O'Leary reports ("An Irish Apocryphal Apostle: Muirchú's Portrayal of Saint Patrick" "The Harvard Theological Review" 89.3 [July 1996:287-301] p. 289) that, for didactic and dramatic purposes, the festival of Beltane, as presided over by Patrick's opponent King Lóegaire mac Néill, was moved to the eve of Easter and from Uisneach to Tara by Muirchú (late seventh century) in his "Vita sancti Patricii"; he describes the festival as "in Temora, istorium Babylone" ('at Tara, their Babylon'). However there is no authentic connection of Tara with Babylon, nor any know connection of Tara with Beltane.] The lighting of a community Bealtaine fire from which individual hearth fires are then relit is also observed in modern times in some parts of the Celtic diaspora and by some Neopagan groups, though in the majority of these cases this practice is a cultural revival rather than an unbroken survival of the ancient tradition.MacKillop, James (1998) "A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology". Oxford, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1 pp.39, 400-402, 421] Dames, Michael (1992) "Mythic Ireland". London, Thames & Hudson ISBN 0-500-27872-5. p.206-10] Danaher, Kevin (1972) "The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs" Dublin, Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-093-2 pp.86-127] McNeill, F. Marian (1959) "The Silver Bough", Vol. 2. William MacLellan, Glasgow ISBN 0-85335-162-7 p.56]

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' in Hiberno-English. Furze/"aiteann" was also used for the May Boughs, May Bushes and as fuel for the bonfire. The practice of decorating the May Bush or "Dos Bhealtaine" with flowers, ribbons, garlands and colored egg shells has survived to some extent among the diaspora as well, most notably in Newfoundland, and in some Easter traditions observed on the East Coast of the United States.

Bealtaine is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun's progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is possible that the holiday was celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The astronomical date for this midpoint is closer to May 5 or May 7, but this can vary from year to year.Dames (1992) p.214]

Placenames in Ireland which contain remnants of the word 'Bealtaine' include a number of places called 'Beltany' - indicating places where Bealtaine festivities were once held. There are two 'Beltany's in County Donegal, one near Raphoe and the other in the parish of Tulloghobegly. Two others are lcoated in County Tyrone, one near Clogher and the other in the parish of Cappagh. In the parish of Kilmore, County Armagh, there is a place called Tamnaghvelton/"Tamhnach Bhealtaine" ('field of the Bealtaine festivities'). Lisbalting/"Lios Bealtaine" ('fort or enclosure of Bealtaine') is located in Kilcash Parish, County Tipperary. Glasheennabaultina ('the Bealtaine stream') is the name of a stream joining the River Galey near Athea, 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 the "Aos Sí". Like the festival of Samhain, opposite Beltane on October 31 Beltane was also a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand.

Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the druids of the community would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and drive the village's cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck ("Eadar dà theine Bhealltainn" in Scottish Gaelic, 'Between two fires of Beltane'). This term is also found in Irish and is used as a turn of phrase to describe a situation which is difficult to escape from. In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on the fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke. People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves. This was echoed throughout history after Christianization, with lay people instead of Druid priests creating the need-fire. The festival persisted widely up until the 1950s, and in some places the celebration of Beltane continues today.MacKillop, James (1998) "A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology". Oxford, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280120-1 pp.39, 400-402, 421] McNeill (1959) Vol. 2. p.63] Campbell, John Gregorson (1900, 1902, 2005) "The Gaelic Otherworld". Edited by Ronald Black. Edinburgh, Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-207-7 p.552-4]

Beltane as described in this article is a specifically Gaelic holiday. Other Celtic cultures, such as the Welsh, Bretons, and Cornish, do not celebrate Beltane, per se. However, they celebrated or celebrate festivals similar to it at the same time of year. In Wales, the day is known as "Calan Mai", and the Gaulish name for the day is "Belotenia".MacKillop (1998) p.39]

Dwelly wrote:


The word "Beltane" derives directly from the Old Irish "Beltain", which later evolved into the Modern Irish "Bealtaine" (pr. 'byol-tana'). In Scottish Gaelic it is spelled "Bealltainn". " [ Stòr-dàta Briathrachais Gàidhlig - Rùachadh] ". Sabhal Mòr Ostaig — Colaiste Ghàidhlig na h-Alba ] Both are from Old Irish "Beltene" ('bright fire') from "belo-te(p)niâ". Beltane was formerly spelled 'Bealtuinn' in Scottish Gaelic; in Manx it is spelt 'Boaltinn' or 'Boaldyn'.

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 the word "belo-te(p)niâ") the element "belo-" is cognate with the English word "bale" (as in 'bale-fire'), the Anglo-Saxon "bael", and also the Lithuanian "baltas", meaning 'white' or 'shining' and from which the Baltic Sea takes its name.

In Gaelic the terminal vowel "-o" (from "Belo") was dropped, as shown by numerous other transformations from early or Proto-Celtic to Early Irish, thus the Gaulish deity names Belenos ('bright one') and Belisama.

From the same Proto-Celtic roots we get a wide range of other words: the verb "beothaich", from Early Celtic "belo-thaich" ('to kindle, light, revive, or re-animate'); "baos", from "baelos" ('shining'); "beòlach" ('ashes with hot embers') from "beò"/"belo" + "luathach", ('shiny-ashes' or 'live-ashes'). Similarly "boil"/"boile" ('fiery madness'), through Irish "buile" and Early Irish "baile"/"boillsg" ('gleam'), and "bolg-s-cio-", related to Latin "fulgeo" ('shine'), and English 'effulgent'.

According to the Gaelic scholar Dáithí Ó hÓgáin Céad Shamhain or Cétshamhainin means "first half", which he links to the Gaulish word "samonios" (which he suggest means "half a year") as in the end of the "first half" of the year that begins at Samhain. According to Ó hÓgáin this term was also used in Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. In Ó Duinnín's Irish dictionary it is referred to as "Céadamh(ain)" which it explains is short for Céad-shamh(ain) meaning "first (of) summer". The dictionary also states that "Dia Céadamhan" is May Day and "Mí Céadamhan" is May


A revived Beltane Fire Festival has been held every year since 1988 during the night of 30 April on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland and attended by up to 15,000 people (except in 2003 when local council restrictions forced the organisers to hold a private event elsewhere).


Beltane is observed by Neopagans in various forms, and by a variety of names. As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and Living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals taken from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic culture being only one of the sources used.Adler, Margot (1979) "Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today". Boston, Beacon Press ISBN 0-8070-3237-9. p.3] McColman, Carl (2003) "Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom". Alpha Press ISBN 0-02-864417-4. p.51]

Celtic Reconstructionist

Like other Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans place emphasis on historical accuracy. They base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic Celts.McColman (2003) pp.12, 51]

Celtic Reconstructionists usually celebrate "Lá Bealtaine" when the local hawthorn trees are in bloom, or on the full moon that falls closest to this event. Many observe the traditional bonfire rites, to whatever extent this is feasible where they live, including the dousing of the household hearth flame and relighting of it from the community festival fire. Some decorate May Bushes and prepare traditional festival foods. Pilgrimages to holy wells are traditional at this time, and offerings and prayers to the spirits or deities of the wells are usually part of this practice. Crafts such as the making of equal-armed rowan crosses are common, and often part of rituals performed for the blessing and protection of the household and land.Bonewits, Isaac (2006) "Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism". New York, Kensington Publishing Group ISBN 0-8065-2710-2. p.130-7] Healy, Elizabeth (2001) "In Search of Ireland's Holy Wells". Dublin, Wolfhound Press ISBN 0-86327-865-5 p.27]


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 Lady.Starhawk (1979, 1989) "The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess". New York, Harper and Row ISBN 0-06-250814-8 pp.181-196 (revised edition)]

Among the Wiccan sabbats, Beltane is a cross-quarter day; it is celebrated in the northern hemisphere on May 1 and in the southern hemisphere on November 1. Beltane follows Ostara and precedes Midsummer (see the Wheel of the Year).

ee also

* Celtic calendar
* Coligny calendar
* Irish calendar
* Wheel of the year;Holidays
* Lughnasadh
* Samhain
* Imbolc;Other
*Beltane Fire Festival


Further reading

* Carmichael, Alexander (1992). "Carmina Gadelica". Lindisfarne Press. ISBN 0-940262-50-9
* Chadwick, Nora (1970) "The Celts". London, Penguin ISBN 0-14-021211-6
* Danaher, Kevin (1972) "The Year in Ireland". Dublin, Mercier ISBN 1-85635-093-2
* Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (1966, 1990) "The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries". New York, Citadel ISBN 0-8065-1160-5
* MacKillop, James (1998). "Dictionary of Celtic Mythology". Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-280120-1
* McNeill, F. Marian (1959) "The Silver Bough", Vol. 1-4. William MacLellan, Glasgow

External links

* [ Edinburgh's Beltane Fire Society]
* [ Extract on The Beltane Fires from Sir James George Frazer's book The Golden Bough - 1922]

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