The History of Beltane

The Pagan holiday of Beltane is coming up on the 31st of October in the southern hemisphere and in the northern hemisphere 01 of May.

It the festival that is associated with fertility of the land, planting and fire.  Some believe it is when the boundary between our world and the faerie realm is at its thinnest.

It is celebrated with bonfires, maypoles, dancing and a fair bit of sexual energy.

This is the festival that welcomes in the beginning of summer.  It is a celebration of the light and growth to come.  It the an opportunity to cleanse and renew.

On Beltane Pagan's and Wiccan's celebrate the symbolic marriage of the God and the Goddess and their eternal embrace.

Where did this holiday come from?

The earliest mention of Beltane comes from Gaelic Ireland with the Bishop of Cashel  and the King of Munster, who was killed in 908.  Cormac had described how cattle had been driven between to bonfires as a magical ward to protect against disease, before they where lead into the summer pastures.

The Romans celebrated under the festival of Floralia or the festival of flowers, which in Roman fashion consisted of 3 days of unbridled sexual activity.  The participants would wear flowers in their hair, there would be plays, songs and dances.  The priestesses would sacrifice a sow to the fertility goddess, and at the end of the festival animals where set loose inside the Circus Maximus and scatter beans around to ensure fertility.

The Greeks celebrated under Plynteria in honour of the Goddess Athena.  This festival would include a ritual cleansing of Athena's statue only attended by women, followed by feasting and prayers at the Parthenon.  There was also a festival in honour of the Goddess Artemis.

The Vikings celebrated the Norwegian martyr Eyvind Kelda or Eyvind Kelve, who was tortured and drowned for not giving up his pagan ways by King Olaf Tryggvason.  

When King Olaf converted to Christianity and announced that everyone else in the country must also convert.  Eyvind, who was believed to be a powerful sorcerer, managed to escape the King and his troops with his men to a island, to continue to practice their pagan ways.   However the Kings troops arrived at the island at the same time, and where captured.

A week later was the festival of the Midnight Sun, which pays tribute to the Sun Goddess, marking the first day of ten weeks of straight light without darkness.

Next week we'll go into the mythology and the ways to celebrate Beltane in the modern world.