Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Beltane Fires

Storyteller begins and ends at Beltane, the spring fire-festival of the Celtic lands which is still celebrated as May Day. Beltane is the beginning of summer, as Samhain (modern Halloween) is the beginning of winter, that dark half of the year when herdsmen and wise warriors stay at home, and wandering bards winter where they can. After Beltane, the herds of cattle and sheep were driven up the mountains to their summer pastures, where they could make good use of the rough grazing, safely distant from the growing crops below. Often, before they went, they were blessed and purified by being driven between the Beltane fires:

“We watched as the black and brown cattle were driven bawling between the fires, the cows with their calves at their heels, and the sparks flying wild about them; and after the cattle, the sheep, with the sheepdogs barking behind. Then, as the fires were dying down, the men and women went through, the young ones running and laughing, some of them holding hands…” -Gwernin, in Storyteller

Most of our surviving traditions for Beltane come from Ireland and Scotland; that the festival was celebrated in the same manner in the Wales of Gwernin’s time seems likely but unprovable. As in all such quandaries, the storyteller makes a choice: you can see my choice above.

Happy Beltane to you all!


  1. Happy Beltane to you too. I live at the bottom of the world, so I don't know if it applies to us?

  2. Good question! Myself, I'd say that Beltane is a season, not a date, so if you're starting winter now, it's Samhain!