Bealtaine (or Belltaine in Old Irish), which means “the month of May” or “the month of the beacon-fire” is an ancient Celtic festival and celebration that takes place on May 1st in the northern hemisphere. Beltane marks the first day of summer and the beginning of the pastoral season, when livestock would be driven out to their summer pastures.
Beannaich, a Thrianailt fhioir nach gann, (Bless, O Threefold true and bountiful,) Mi fein, mo cheile agus mo chlann, (Myself, my spouse and my children,) Mo chlann mhaoth’s am mathair chaomh ‘n an ceann, (My tender children and their beloved mother at their head,) Air chlar chubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann, (On the fragrant plain, at the gay mountain sheiling,) Air chlar chubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann. (On the fragrant plain, at the gay mountain sheiling.)
Gach ni na m’ fhardaich, no ta ‘na m’ shealbh, (Everything within my dwelling or in my possession,) Gach buar is barr, gach tan is tealbh, (All kine and crops, all flocks and corn,) Bho Oidhche Shamhna chon Oidhche Bheallt, (From Hallow Eve to Beltane Eve,) Piseach maith, agus beannachd mallt, (With goodly progress and gentle blessing,) Bho mhuir, gu muir, agus bun gach allt, (From sea to sea, and every river mouth,) Bho thonn gu tonn, agus bonn gach steallt. (From wave to wave, and base of waterfall.) - Am Beannachadh Bealltain (‘The Beltane Blessing’), collected by folklorist Alexander Carmichael in South Uist
Rituals and traditions
Lighting of bonfires
All hearth fires in the town or village were doused before lighting the sacred bonfire. In order to make this sacred fire more potent it was to be kindled by friction between two wood pieces, using a wood drill or fire churn. The flames coming from this fire protect against sickness, supernatural harm and witchcraft. Torches lit from the bonfire would be brought back to every household and used to light the hearth fire again. When the bonfire would die, people would gather the ashes and sprinkle themselves, their cattle and their crops with them.
Often two bonfires were lit pretty close to each other and cattle was driven between them to ensure their good health for the coming season.
Decorated bush put outside of a home or in a communal area, commonly made of hawthron and decorated with ribbons, flowers and tinsels.
Dancing up the sun
Morris dancers get out in the fields in the night before Bealtaine to perform a dance supposed to help the sun rise again and bring on this new cycle of the year.
Symbols: flowers, green branches, fire
Herbs and plants: may flowers