Friday, May 1, 2009

Beltane Blessings

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May 1
The Celtic year is divided into the dark and the light. Samhain begins the dark half; its counterpart, Beltane, is the beginning of the light half. Beltane and Samhain therefore divide the year into the two primary seasons, Winter and Summer. Beltane went by many names: Beltaine in Ireland, Bealtuinn in Scotland, Shenn do Boaldyn on the Isle of Man and Galan Mai in Wales. It is also referred to as Cetsamhain which means "opposite Samhain."
By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts figured their days from sundown to sundown. The word "Beltane" literally means "bright" or "brilliant fire," and refers to the bonfires lit to celebrate this festival. Sundown was the time when the great Bel-fires would be kindled on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). Cattle and sheep which had been kept inside or close to the farmsteads during the long winter months could now be turned out into the fields or led away to their summer pastures. The tribal herds were ritually driven between the bonfires, to purify and protect them in the upcoming year. Healing herbs were burnt in the fires, producing smoke which would help destroy parasites and help prevent illness among cattle, sheep and other livestock. Another popular custom was to leap over the Beltane bonfire. Young people jumped the fire for luck in finding a spouse, and pregnant women jumped the fire to assure an easy delivery.
Domestic fires, which were kept alight all through the year, were extinguished on Beltane Eve and then rekindled from the great Bel-fires with torches the next morning. Even these small household fires were sacred, and Celtic Christians developed trinitarian rituals associated with tending the household fires. When fires were smothered for the night, for example, the peat blocks were divided into three equal sections and prayed for in the name of the God of Life, the God of Peace and the God of Grace. Then the whole fire was covered in ashes in the name of the Three of Light, with the following prayer: "The sacred Three to save, to shield, to surround, the hearth, the house, the household, this eve, this night, O this eve, this night, and every night, each single night. Amen."
Beltane is a holiday of fires, flowers, fertility, and frivolity—celebrating the reawakening of the earth and the return of life to the world. Handfastings—binding couples together for a year and a day, were traditionally performed on this day. It was customary for young lovers to spend the night in the woods. The best known tradition associated with the day is to dance around a tree while weaving greenery around it.

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