Beltane Festival

Symbol of sun, fertility, protection.

Around May 1st, the Beltane event takes place. Beltane signaled the beginning of summer by cows being driven to their summer pastures. Rather than farmers, this event was centered on herders. The Beltane celebration was held to honor the sun deity Belenus and to satisfy the fairies and spirits. Lamb sacrifices were made to Belenus, and bonfires were burned throughout the event. Every district had two bonfires lit. To keep the cattle safe from sickness, they were driven around the bonfires. The ashes from the bonfires would subsequently be sprinkled on people’s fields to encourage growth and healthy crops.

Beltane was celebrated in Scotland in the 19th century with force-fires. A force-fire was a friction-created fire that was thought to keep contagious diseases and plague away from livestock. The fires and bonfires represented the sun, which was attempting to burn away any negative forces. At Beltane, instead of sacrificing a lamb, the lamb was cooked and consumed. For the spirits’ protection, oatmeal cakes were baked and presented to them. Yellow flowers were used to decorate doors and calves because they were considered to evoke fire. A tiny tree branch was used to make a May Bush. Flowers, painted shells, and ribbons were used to decorate the bush. The shrub was occasionally paraded through town and occasionally planted. The May Bush was burned in a bonfire at the end of the celebration while people danced. The Beltane celebration is still celebrated in current times, with plays and songs representing the Green Man and the May Queen.

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