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The Sabbats

Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)

Written and compiled by George Knowles

 

Beltane

The Beltane festival is one of the greater Sabbats of the Witches annual calendar and today is normally celebrated on the 30th of April (May Eve).  Beltane also marks the midpoint of the Sun’s progress between the vernal equinox and the Summer Solstice.  As the Celtic year was based on lunar and solar cycles, many people choose to celebrate on the full moon nearest this midpoint, the date of which is closer to the 5th or 7th of May, but this can vary from year to year.

Beltane is also known as “Roodmas” or “Walpurgis Night”, and symbolizes the start of Spring, one of the most important festivals of the Wiccan year.  It’s origins lie in among the Celtic peoples of Western Europe and of old was celebrated all across the British Isles, including England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man.  In Ireland it is known as “Bealtaine”, in Scotland “Bealtunn”, in Wales as “Galan Mae” and in the Isle of Man as “Shenn do Boaldyn”.

This is the time of year when crops begin to grow, when animals bear their young, and when people came out of houses after being cooped up during the long dark months of winter.  Without the trapping of the technical age “lighting and central heating”, things that we all take for granted today, in older times the coming of fair weather and longer daylight hours would have been most welcome and cause for celebration.

Along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lammas, Beltane is one of the four great “fire festivals” that quarter the turning points of the Celtic year.  In preparation of Beltane, the Celts would build two large bonfires called “Bel-fires”, which would be dedicated to the Celtic sun god Bel in thanks for shining his blessings and protection down on the clan, their lands and livestock.  Traditionally the fires would be built using nine of the sacred woods of the Druids:  Oak, Ash, Rowan, Birch, Alder, Willow, Hazel, Holly and Hawthorn.  The Hawthorn in particular, as according to the Celtic calendar of the Druids, Hawthorn is the sacred tree most associated with the month of May (13th-9th June). 

On the Eve of Beltane the two fires be would be lit by the Druids, leaving enough room between the two fires so that cattle and other livestock could be ritually led between them, an act that purified and protected them from disease during the coming year.  While the cattle and other livestock were led away to their summer grazing lands, torches of dried sedge, gorse and heather would also be lit and carried around their barns and stables, another act of purification.  The Bel-fires were considered sacred for their healing and purifying powers, and were lit to celebrate the return of life and fruitfulness to the earth while burning away the cold of winter.  All across the country household fires would be extinguished and re-lit afresh from the Bel-Fires.  Later the left over ashes from the fires would be scattered in the fields.

Once the fires had been lit on Beltane Eve, and children had been put to bed, in the hours before sunrise adult activities would begin.  These would include traditional activities associated with fertility.  Newly wed couples would dance around the fires to enhance their fertility.  Single men and women would also join in and later wonder off into the nearby fields or forest to let nature take its course.  Such unions were seen as good and proper, even when not sanctified by marriage (a Christian notion), and were referred to as “Greenwood marriages”.  These were the origin of the “Year and a Day” handfasting customs observed by modern witches and pagans today.  If the new marriages did not produce children within the year, the couples had the option to split and re-marry others without the messy and complicated procedures of divorce (another Christian notion).

The Beltane Lady

With bed of leaves and cloak of sky,

The Lady draws Her Lover nigh,

Ensconced within Their woodland bower

they relish every passing hour.

A throaty moan, a gentle sigh,

a touch upon a willing thigh.

A soft caress, a tender kiss,

a night of never ending bliss.

The Goddess, overcome with need,

receives Her young Lord’s virile seed.

The Mother now, no longer, Maid,

Conceives new life, so long delayed.

Oh, Western Wind, Oh, gentle Rain,

Bring new life to the fertile plain

Oh, nubile Goddess, Lord of Light,

Before You join as One this night,

We give You thanks for being here

At this our Beltane wheel of the year.

 

Author unknown (please let me know if you recognise it)?

Water also has a strong association with Beltane, and more specifically Morning Dew, which was seen as sacred and magical (particularly dew from Oak and Rowan trees).  Of old, women would bathe in dew gathered before dawn on Beltane morning in the belief that her beauty would flourish throughout the year, and if she chanted an appropriate charm while doing so, she might even meet her future husband.  Another custom was to drink from a well before sunrise on Beltane morning to insure good health and good fortune.  This led to the tradition of “Well Dressing”, particularly in Ireland where many wells are considered Holy places.

Another popular custom associated with Beltane is “bringing in the May”, when people from the villages go out into the fields and forests to gather seasonal flowers, these they would use to decorate their homes and later to dress themselves in readiness for the festivities.  On returning laden with flowers they would stop at each house along the way to sing songs of spring and leave gifts of flowers, they would customarily be greeted with the best food and drink that the house had to offer.

One of the principal characters associated with the Beltane festivities is the “Queen of May”.  The May Queen is usually a young maiden selected from the previous years “Maidens in Waiting” and crowned with a ring of fresh flowers.  Many old accounts mention both a May Queen and King being chosen, and that they reign from sundown on the Eve of Beltane to sunset on Beltane day.  Among their duties were to lead the Beltane procession around the village, and start the day’s festivities and games, later awarding prizes to the victors.

Perhaps the most recognised symbol associated with the Beltane festivities is the Maypole.  To the Celts who started the custom, the Maypole was a phallic symbol representing fertility.  The Celts were a tribal clan who depended upon the land and their animals for survival.  If their cattle and crops proved to be fertile, they were able to eat, but if there was famine or drought, they went hungry.  Likewise the fertility of their women was essential to the survival and longevity of the clan.  The Maypole as a phallic symbol was therefore a very powerful symbol of the significance of fertility.

In the old days just before Beltane, clan members would go into the woods and cut down a tall tree.  Stripped of all its branches, the resulting tall pole would be erected in the village square and decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths.  During the festivities an even number of young men and maidens would be selected to dance the May pole, each alternately holding the end of a ribbon.  The circle of dancers would start as far out from the pole as the length of ribbon allowed, men facing clockwise and maidens facing counterclockwise.  Once the dance began, each would move in the direction they faced, those on the inside ducking under the ribbon of those on the outside, while those passing on the outside raise their ribbons to slide over those on the inside.  As the dance progressed the ribbons weave into a pattern down the pole.  The success of the pattern is said to indicate the success of the years harvest.

As with any festival of old, food plays an important part in the celebrations.  On Beltane it was customary to bake small scones like cakes called “Bannocks”.  These were made from oat or barley flour worked into dough with just a little water and no leavening, then filled with sweetmeat and spices.  Traditionally one of the cakes would be burned or marked with ashes.  The recipient of the burnt cake would be considered bad luck, and required to jumped over a small fire three times to purify and cleanse him or herself of any ill fortune.  Offerings of bannocks and drink were traditionally left on doorsteps and roadways for the Fairies as an offering.

Beltane marks the end of Winter and the beginning of Summer.  It should be a day full of laughter and gaiety, fun and frolicking, games and feasting, while bearing in mind it is still a precarious time year, when crops are still very young and tender, and susceptible to frost and blight.  As was the way of ancient beliefs, the Wheel of the Year wouldn’t turn without human persuasion, and the people did all they could to encourage the Sun’s growth, for the Earth will not produce and prosper without its warmth.  Fires, ritual and celebration were an important part of the old ways to insure the Sun’s light would continue to promote the fecundity of the earth.

End.

Sources:

Microsoft® Encarta® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Cunningham's Encyclopedia Of Magical Herbs - By Scott Cunningham

A Witches Bible  -  by Stewart and Janet Farrar

http://twopagans.com/holiday/Beltane.html

http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/beltanemayday/Beltane_May_Day.htm

Plus others to many too mention

 

Written and compiled on the 04th August 2007  ©  George Knowles

Best wishes and Blessed Be

 

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Other things of interest:

 

Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology)Esbats & Full MoonsLinks to Personal Friends & ResourcesWicca/Witchcraft ResourcesWhat's a spell?Circle Casting and Sacred Space /  Pentagram - PentacleMarks of a WitchThe Witches PowerThe Witches HatAn esoteric guide to visiting LondonSatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  /  Part 2 Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /  The History of ThanksgivingI have a Dream, the 1963 speach by civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King /  Auras by Graham Furnell - Part 1 and Part 2 /

 

Sabbats and Rituals:

 

Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)

 

Rituals contributed by Crone:  Samhain / YuleImbolcOstara /  BeltaneLithaLammasMabon

 

Tools:

 

Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron MagickMirror Gazing

 

Animals:

 

Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrowFoxFrog and ToadsGoat / HoneybeeKangarooLionOwlPhoenixRabbits and HaresRavenRobin RedbreastSheep SpiderSquirrelSwansWild Boar /  Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat

 

Trees:

 

In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow /  Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  ElderAlso see:  The Willow Tree (Folk Music)

 

Sacred Sites:

 

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Rocks and Stones:

 

Stones - History, Myths and Lore

 

 Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:   / Apophyllite  / Amber AmethystAquamarineAragoniteAventurineBlack TourmalineBloodstoneCalciteCarnelianCelestiteCitrineChrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / FluoriteGarnet /  Hematite Herkimer DiamondLabradoriteLapis LazuliMalachiteMoonstoneObsidianOpalPyriteQuartz (Rock Crystal)Rose QuartzRubySeleniteSeraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodaliteSunstoneThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble

 

Wisdom:

 

Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakeningThe Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods

 

Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murder by WitchcraftThe Fairy Witch of ClonmelA Battleship, U-boat, and a WitchThe Troll-Tear (A story for Children)Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-LanternThe Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

Old Masters of Academia:

 

Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras

 

Biographies

 

Witches, Pagans and other associated People

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Remembered at Samhain

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Abramelin the MageAgrippaAidan A. KellyAlbertus Magnus “Albert the Great”Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” Alison HarlowAmber KAnna Franklin /  Anodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey  / Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite Austin Osman SpareBiddy EarlyBridget ClearyCarl Llewellyn WeschckeCecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey LelandCharles Walton /  Christina Oakley Harrington /  Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) /   Dion FortuneDolores Aschroft-NowickiDorothy MorrisonDoreen ValienteEdward FitchEleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” /  Dr. John Dee and Edward KellyDr. Leo Louis Martello /  Eliphas LeviErnest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry /  Fiona Horne /  Friedrich von SpeeFrancis Barrett /  Gerald B. GardnerGavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gwydion PendderwenHans Holzer /  Helen DuncanHerman Slater "Horrible Herman" /  Israel RegardieJames "Cunning" MurrellJanet Farrar & Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne John George Hohman /  John GerardJohn Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJohannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von EckartshausenLaurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis Spence /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General”Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata /  Monique Wilson the “Queen of the WitchesMontague SummersNicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellersMrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-RavenheartOld Dorothy ClutterbuckOld George Pickingill /   Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsusPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip Emmons Isaac Bonewits Philip HeseltonRaymond BucklandReginald ScotRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /  Rudolf Steiner /  Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & DruidsSabrina - The Ink WitchScott CunninghamSelena FoxSilver Ravenwolf /  Sir Francis DashwoodSir James George FrazerS.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  StarhawkStewart FarrarSybil LeekTed AndrewsThe Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather /  Thomas AdyVera Chapman /  Victor Henry AndersonVivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest

 

 

Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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