Important Dates and Celebrations
April 30 / Mayday is celebrated on the first of May
Pronounced "bel-ten-ya" or "bel-chen-ya" depending on the Gaelic dialect. The word means literally 'the fire of Bel', a deity related to Belinus. the festival went by many names: Beltaine in Ireland, Bealtunn in Scotland, Shenn do Boaldyn on the Isle of Man and Galan Mae in Wales. The Saxons called this day Walpurgisnacht, the night of Walpurga, goddess of May.The Celts celebrated the return of summer at Beltane, when livestock was let out of winter pasture to crop the new greenness of Spring. Also known as May Eve, this festival marked the beginning of Summer and the pastoral growing season. It is sometimes referred to as Cetsamhain which means "opposite Samhain." Beltane was the last of the three spring fertility festivals, and the second major Celtic festival. Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, Winter and Summer.
On the eve of Beltane the Celts build two large fires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them), created from the nine sacred woods, in honor of Summer. The tribal herds were ritually driven between them, so as to purify and protect them in the upcoming year, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures.. The fires celebrate the return of life and fruitfulness to the earth. Celebration included frolicking throughout the countryside and "going a maying". Folk dance around the Maypole, emblem of fertility (the name "May" comes from a Norse word meaning "to shoot out new growth"). It was customary for young lovers to spend the night in the forest. It is the time of the sacred marriage which honors the fertility of the Earth; it represents the divine union of the Lord and Lady. Celebrations include weaving a web of life around the Maypole. Wiccan handfastings are common at this festival, for a year and a day, take place at this time.This is a time of self-discovery, love, union and developing your potential for personal growth. A time when the blood runs hot and lust is in the heart of all.
Houses were bedecked with flowers and greenery collected from the woods and fields on May Eve especially branches from a Hawthorn tree. The Hawthorn, or Whitethorn, is the tree of hope, pleasure, and protection. The strong taboo on breaking Hawthorne branches or bringing them into the home was traditionally lifted on May Eve. People jumped the Beltane fire for luck ; (the young hope in finding a spouse, travelers jumped the fire to ensure a safe journey, and pregnant women jumped the fire to assure an easy delivery
Beltane joyfully heralded the arrival of Summer in its full glory. It was believed that if you bathed in the "Wild" water (dew, flowing streams or ocean water) of Beltane morn, your beauty would flourish throughout the year.
At Beltane, the Horned One dies or is taken by the Goddess, only to be reborn as her son. He then reclaims his role as consort and impregnates the Goddess, sparking his own rebirth. Other beliefs tell of the Summer God being released from captivity, or the Summer Maiden wooed away from her Earth-giant father. The Hawthorne (Huathe) tree represents the giant and sometimes this wood is used for the Maypole.
In ancient Celtic communities, As with Brighid, the Church transformed this goddess into St. Walpurga and attached a similar legend to her origin. Rogationtide sprang from the Roman feast of Terminus, god of fields and landmarks, but is now a celebrated Christian festival when the priest would bless the crops. Ascensiontide well dressing in the Midlands provides alink with pagan well worship. Other names for May Day include: Cetsamhain ('opposite Samhain'), Walpurgisnacht (in Germany), and Roodmas (the medieval Church's name) This last came from Church Fathers who were hoping to shift the common people's allegiance from the Maypole (Pagan lingham - symbol of life) to the Holy Rood (the Cross - Roman instrument of death).
The Puritans, in fact, reacted with pious horror to most of the May Day rites, even making Maypoles illegal in 1644. They especially attempted to suppress the 'greenwood marriages' of young men and women who spent the entire night in the forest, staying out to greet the May sunrise, and bringing back boughs of flowers and garlands to decorate the village the next morning. One angry Puritan wrote that men 'doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowes, in so muche, as I have hearde of tenne maidens whiche went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe.'
And another Puritan complained that, of the girls who go into the woods,'not the least one of them comes home again a virgin.' Long after the Christian form of marriage (with its insistence on sexual monogamy) had replaced the older Pagan handfasting, the rules of strict fidelity were always relaxed for the May Eve rites.
May 1, May Day , May Day ushers in the fifth month of the modern calendar year, the month of May. This month is named in honor of the goddess Maia, originally a Greek mountain nymph, later identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. By Zeus, she is also the mother of Hermes, god of magic. Maia's parents were Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph. May 1st was the midpoint of a five-day Roman festival to Flora, Goddess of Flowers.
May 29, Oak Apple Day, Commemorating the Restoration of Charles II , who hid in an oak tree to avoid capture, the rites may srem from tree-worship.
June 23, Midsummer Eve, In Celtic times, great sacrificial bonfires where lit in honour of the sun. Even in recent times, rural folk in Cornwall lit bonfires and men and beasts passed through them to ward of disease and bad luck. It was also a night when girls practised simple magic to find out the identities of their future husbands.