Beltane – the Gaelic May Day festival is celebrated on the first of May, which falls halfway between the spring equinox (Ostara) and the approaching summer solstice, Litha.
Beltane is a Celtic word meaning ‘the fires of bel’, and this festival marks the beginning of summer. Although strongly connected with fertility, it was time for cattle to be driven to the summer pastures.
Festivals would be held to celebrate with lots of eating, drinking and dancing around the Maypole – but more importantly bonfires would be lit as part of the rituals performed to promote the protection of the cattle and crops as well as to promote fertility. The people would walk with their cattle around the flames and sometimes they would leap over the fires – hopefully without any incident.
As the flames danced upward into the sky it was said that these were the wishes of those present flowing up to the ancestors and into the dark obsidian skies and the universe. The flames, smoke and ashes were considered to have protective powers.
Today, to remind us that summer is here, the wicker man seen below from Butser Ancient farm, near Petersfield in Hampshire, South England in the United Kingdom, stands proud, representing (this year 2022) an Iron Age warrior. The many merry revellers, come to the festival wearing flowers in their hair, enjoying the music, food and drinks, whilst waiting for the main evening event – to set the wicker man alight.
As the first licks of flame weave their way up the structure of the wicker man, it is hoped that there will be a good summer with protection of the land the animals and the people. The people come from afar to enjoy their evening, remember their old customs and to honour their ancestors, just as they would have done in the past.
Happy Beltane and let’s hope for an amazing summer.
Photos K Lewis Adair
The wicker man 2022 from Butser Ancient Farm and the Beltane Festival
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