Beltane Greetings! Better known as May Day to the broader world, & one of my favorite spokes of the Celtic Wheel of Life. In America, the night of April 30th passes unnoticed. And yet the festivals of the old Celtic world have marked the passage of seasons for millennia, rich in symbolism that also permeate modern life in interesting ways. While I am not a Celtic practitioner, I am fascinated by how the old ways are honored in Celtic lands, from Eastern Europe to Scotland.
In a nutshell, there are eight annual festivals, evenly distributed throughout the year…. all celebrating LIGHT of LIFE. Four sun, tied to solstice and equinox and four fire festivals, somehow connected to the land and to the stars. And while there are many beliefs associated with these festivals, I find the Beltane fire festival oddly interesting.
My first exposure to Beltane celebrations came in Edinburgh, Scotland, when I had the fortune to witness the preparations for the bonfire crazies on Calton Hill. I did not attend the night-long event because the proprietor of my B & B warned me to stay away. Wise counsel… My curiosity was no match for the wild fun on that hill.
Some years later, in Austria, I ran across the afterglow of a Beltane commemoration of another sort… one of a pole and wreath. A very tall pine had been traditionally stripped and hoisted into place. It was magnificent!
The pole represents the celestial axis which keeps the world in its rightful place within the larger framework. This is not the axis upon which the world turns, but earth’s orientation within the galaxy. How that was determined so long ago, I have no idea! But at the top is Regulus, the Persian royal star in the constellation of Leo the Lion. At the south, below the earth is Fomalhaut, in the constellation of Aquarius.
Another aspect of Beltane is tied to welcoming the new year. It is difficult for we Americans to comprehend, but not so long ago, in the year 1752, was the Celtic calendar new year of March 21st totally usurped by the Roman calendar of January 1st. In context of this different concept of the new year, Beltane is the season of life claiming it’s power, after new birth, with the awakening earth in the new year. .. not just fertility, but virility… the essence of the fire of life.
The fire festival of Beltane provided an opening into my imagination to write “The Häling and the Scottish Templars” The opening scene is more than the beginning of my series The Temple Chronicles. It is also the dawning of the Scottish Wars of Independence. So, my story unfolds within the historic context of medieval Scotland’s dynamic and quite unfamiliar setting… a mindset of thinning of the veils between worlds on the eve of Beltane.
Yet, in this modern era, we do not think in those terms… When I travel to Europe, I can feel the echoes of the Celtic fires but when in America, I sit beside my gas fire. Such is my dilemma… to live in both these worlds… then and now… fireside and in front of my computer.
In the coming days, I will share how I came to Austria and met Austrian Templars who became my Templar family across the pond. It was in Scotland that I found them. It has been an uncanny journey and it is difficult to know where to begin…. But I am almost ready to begin.
Happy May Day to you too. I’m pitching a few flowers wrapped in a paper doily and tied with ribbons to you/your front door. It was the way my very ancient grandmother insisted May 1st be celebrated each year. Catch!