May Day [Beltane] by Jami Shoemaker – Part 1

[This article will alternate days between CovenLife.co and WitchesOfTheCraft.com]

When I was a little girl, my sister and I would celebrate the first of May by making little paper baskets and filling them with candy. We would then sneak around the neighborhood to our friend’s houses, leave them on the doorsteps, ring the bells, and run away, screaming with laughter. The trick was never to reveal your identity to the recipient of the gift. Little did I know at the time that we were celebrating an old custom that harkened back to ancient times.

Origins

Like any celebration based on ancient agricultural practices, it is impossible to know the exact origin of out May Day. Celebrations of spring are found in cultures all over the world, with similar themes of renewal, planting and growth, the gathering of flowers, and playful celebrations.

However, much of the meaning behind modern Pagan custom can be traced to Celtic origins, or at least with attribute to the Celts. We know that they divided the year into two seasons: summer and winter, the dark and life halves of the year. Within this they honored four major turning points, Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh, with fire festivals.

These festivals coincided astrologically with the Sun at 15 degrees Scorpio, Aquarius, Taurus, and Leo, respectively. This made these pivotal points each a type of “moveable” feast originally, like the solstices and equinoxes, which vary by a day or two from year to year. But due to changes in calendars over time, eventually the first day of the months of November, February, May, and August were earmarked for these festivals, evolving into what Witches call the Great Sabbats, with the celebrations commencing at sunset the eve before.

The flexibility in the actual date is followed by some Pagans today, and May Day, or Beltane, celebrations calculated this way are called “Old Beltane.” This explains the custom in ancient Ireland of celebrating the first day of summer on May 6. This day was given to Inghean Bhuidhe, the Yellow-Haired Girl, one of the three sister-goddesses who brought in the seasons: the First of Spring, the First of Summer, and the First Harvest.

The return of the light was called Cetsamhain (“opposite  Samhain”) or Beltaine in Ireland, Galan-Mai in Wales, and in Scotland, Beaultiunn, on the Isle of Man, it was known as Day of Summer and in Germany, Walpurgisnatch. The medieval church renamed the holiday Roodmas, hoping to shift the emphasis from the phallic Maypole to the Holy Rood, or Cross, and celebrations once marked by Pagan frivolity were usurped by festivities held in churchyards.

Copyright Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2001 Pages21 to25

The Origins of Halloween by Silver Raven Wolf – Part 4

[This article will alternate days between CovenLife.co and WitchesOfTheCraft.com]

The Advent of Christianity

By the fourth and fifth centuries , Celtic Christianity had oozed into Ireland. St. Patrick has his hands full, and here is where the kettle starts to boil. At, first, the Pagans openly welcomed Christianity, but as Christianity filtered into the Celtic system, church officials had a few problems—mainly the Celtics didn’t want up their holidays or folk practices. The people were not willing to throw out traditions that were ingrained into their social structure. If you can’t get someone to completely change, what do you do? Compromise. And that’s exactly what happened. Samhain was changed to All Hollow’s Eve. To make the Pagan peoples adhere more closely to this new religion of Christianity, the clergy of the day taught the peasants that fairies were really demons and devils (remember, a concept totally unknown to Celtic belief or history) and their beloved dead were horrid ghosts and ghouls. The early Christian erroneously associated the Celtic land of the dead with the Christian concept of Hell.

To help the belief in Christianity along, Druids priestess were systematically murdered. Early Christians also taught the area peasants that their Lord of the Underworld was in fact Satan, which is ridiculous, as the two mythos don’t have anything in common. It appears that Christians misunderstood what the word Samhain meant: because the peasants use this celebration to honor the dead, Christians assumed that Samhain was the incorrect pronunciation of a Pagan deity in the Bible, recorded as Samuel, from the Semitic Sammael, meaning God of the under world.

Copyright Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 1999 Pages 24 to 29