At Celtic Ways, now Celtic Bard School, we are celebrating on Sunday May 3rd.
There are various interpretations on both name and date for this time. The name has various spellings and pronunciations so I believe its bad manners to try and correct how another person calls this time. Spellings can include Beltane, Bealtine, Baltaine, just to name a few variations, but these all seem to refer to the ancient European Celtic or Gaul God Belenos, a God of the Sun symbolised by horse, fiery wheels and chariot. Through tradition Belenos was also known as the “shining one”, the bringer of heat, healing and even passion.
Belenos is also related to a British slang word, well used in Ireland, which has an intriguing relationship to mating, an important ritual of this time, but I will explain this later. In fact you may even quietly use that slang word after reading all of this :-) . If you are a reader of Asterix comics you’ll already know what I am referring to here.
Overall, this causes me to believe that Beltaine is actually a recent name in ancient terms as it is referring to a male driven diety. I personally like a more ancient name of this time which is Cetsamon, meaning beginning of the time of heat, or simply the beginning of summer, opposite Cetsamhain as the beginning of the time of cold. Many people know of Samhain as the time of early November but few know of Samon as the time of early May. Both of these times are related to goddess guidance, so perhaps Belenos, Bealtaine, was brought in to create a balance as early May is opposite early November.
This would put the Celtic Calendar in tandem with the oriental Yin and Yang, the dark followed by light. From Samhain to Bealtaine is the dark side of the year when for much of the time night is longer than day, also a time of snows and water and colder time, a time of Yin, the feminine. From Bealtaine to Samhain is the light side of the year with most of the days longer than night, a time of fire and heat, a time of yang, the masculine.
I have not found evidence of it, but the name of the fish, salmon, seems very close to the ancient names of Samon and Samhain. Interestingly the salmon head up rivers in May attracted to the warmer water and then again in November for spawning.
A symbol of May for me is this being a time of blooming of the blossoms of the “trees of protection”, i.e. hawthorn, blackthorn, crabapple, dog rose, rowan, and we can include elderflowers here too.
During this blossoming time bees and pollinating insects become active and it was during this time the mating of humans became very active too with the intent of ensuring births at Imbolc, after the winter has passed.
The dating of Bealtaine also varies in opinion and I do believe in ancient times this was a moving and flexible date. Certainly there was some reference for setting this date to the exact midpoint between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Archaeologists have discovered ancient moon charts indicating moon positions at this time added importance. The usual landing date for Bealtaine using these calculations is around May 5th or 7th, but church and Roman calendar influence has moved this to May 1st.
We are having our celebration on Sunday May 3rd, as Sundays are so handy for many people.
A tradition of this time, as with all of the 4 Celtic Celebrations, is to collect the morning dew in a cloth and use it to bless our family, animals and maybe even the land of our crops.
At Bealtaine this has expanded to using the sacred water of the nearest sacred/holy well as soon as possible after dawn. Farmers would let their cattle drink from these wells at this time, which I think is still a practice on some farms in Tipperary and Limerick counties. It seemed to have phased out in Kerry about 15 years ago.
We intend to bake Bannock Bread on our Bealtaine Day so our water blessing will probably be the making of the dough and the pouring of water and some milk at dawn as the best Bannock bread is from dough that has settled awhile.
Though our big water feature is not built in the labyrinth our ballaun stone does collect rain water for those who seek an early blessing in the labyrinth.
I tend to think the water blessing at dawn at Bealtaine is a kind of ritual for letting go of the dark goddess who has been mother and protector during winter and who we thank for survival so that we can enjoy the abundant days ahead. This is our annual day for flying from the nest again.
There is also a tradition in our area that says Lasir, a ancient teacher, would attend local sacred wells, that could be visited by single women the day before Bealtaine. The woman would be asked to eat a little wild sorrel, which is shamrock with white flowers that looks like white buttercups. Then the woman could look into the well and see a vision of the man she would attract and mate with on Bealtaine Day.
The Bealtaine fires are probably the best known ritual of this time. Perhaps this was made famous by the tale of St. Patrick who lit the fires early at Easter on Slane Hill and was brought before King Laoghaire to explain, which he did with the Shamrock, and supposedly converted Laoghaire to Christianity. Shamrock is, intriguingly as indicated above, is a Bealtaine symbol. More about this in the food section shortly.
Running the cattle between fires of Bealtaine is also a well known tradition. Add this to bringing the cattle to the holy well at dawn makes sense on another level, as Bealtaine day is in the middle of Taurus within the year.
We have a fire pit in the centre of our labyrinth garden so at dusk, maybe a wee bit before, this will have an important cleansing function in some way, probably through some traditional food we may prepare through it.
Food and Drink
Nice easy recipe, traditional for Scotland, where a batter is made not unlike biscuits in the USA, scones in England, crepes in Brittany and soda bread in Ireland. Throw together 3 cups of flour to a teaspoon of baking powder, add a couple of eggs, moisten down with some water or milk or mix of both and you’ll know when you mix it with a hand whip or fork when you have enough liquid in it.
With biscuits, scones and crepes you would throw on a couple of table spoons of batter onto the pan or griddle, but with Bannock Bread, put the whole lot in the pan, brown it then turn it over.
One important thing missed out. By itself its quite boring so add more things. For a sweet treat add dried fruit and some spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and maybe a bit of honey, yes honey is very Bealtaine. Another choice is to go savoury and throw in cheeses and dried tomato and maybe crushed olives. Fortunately, tomatoes and olives head into the Bealtaine spirit.
We hope to make some of this inside the labyrinth garden on Sunday.
Wild Garlic Soup
How I love wild garlic! Its so abundant right now. So its off to the woods to gather some then mix with potatoes and a wee bit of onion to make a soup for the day, and maybe some savoury Bannock Bread to dip in.
Salmon with Sorrel
I have not seen this recipe, anywhere, but to me this throws together two Bealtaine symbols, wild sorrel and salmon.
Ancient Celtic herbal writing mention wild sorrel as being a prescription for raising affection and enhancing attraction, two vital ingredients for the young and single young at heart at Bealtaine.
A blender will work for this but to be authentic its worth finding and using a mortise and pestle. You will need a mix of wild sorrel leaves, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, almonds is an option as is wild garlic or a garlic clove, then mix with extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil.
Pour over your strips of salmon and bake. Some folks like to bake the salmon awhile before adding the pesto and some like to bake each peace of salmon in foil. The important thing is that this is not an ideal pesto to eat raw due to oxalic acid in wild sorrel that is neutralised during heating
Of course, this is the fun part and possibly the most important for Bealtaine.
On Sunday afternoon Claire Roche will song and play harp in the middle of the labyrinth or in our little theatre, depending on weather and comfort of the guests at the time.
Though Bealtaine is a time for boys to meet girls, girls to meet boys, and once upon a time an abundance of mating to follow, this time in Ireland is now a celebration of the arts, of creativity, of people of all ages.
At Carrowcrory we will certainly encourage those present, those who have been inspired, to share their writings, poetry, stories and song.
This is also a festivity of flowers. In France the Lily Of The Valley is honoured, in parts of the UK the yellow Iris is revered, along with the hawthorn blossoms, the May Flowers. In Ireland its still May flower blossoms along with buttercups.
After Bealtaine in ireland its has become a time to showcase and show off gardens that are now starting to be adorned with blooming flowers.
A drink of this time, a combination of Spring blossom that has made honey and into a drink that by tradition was served to enhance affection, passion, fertility and new creativity. For those not seeking the mating dance of Bealtaine this is also said to be a brew for inspiration and guidance.
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Looking forward to you visiting us