In the ancient Celtic world there were four fire festivals: Samhain (the Celtic new year on October 31-November 1 that gave birth to Halloween) , Imbolc (the beginning of Celtic spring on January 31-February 2 that has an interesting correlation to Groundhog Day), Beltane (the beginning of the Celtic summer on April 30- May 1, or May Day) and Lughnasadh (July 31- August 1).? May Day has no other real significance other than the beginning of the warmer or “bright” season.? In preparation for turning cattle to pasture rather than feeding them, they were “purified” by driving them between two bonfires (it is a fire festival, after all).? Daring young men would leap over the burning bonfires to prove their daring.? Considering this was also a celebration of fertility, when the earth would start delivering its bounty, it is ironic that a bad leap might end some rash lad’s chance do aid some lass’ fertility forever.
So, where does the name Beltane originate?? From the name of some god named Bel or a Gaelic word for “bright” or shining?”? Different sources have different theories, so there is not definitive answer.? We do know it is Gaelic, but its etymology has been lost in the mist of time.? Or should I say smoke of time.? Other cultures, such as the Romans and the Germanic peoples, had similar celebrations, but Beltane was definitely Celtic.
For that reason, I have a problem with Wiccans claiming it as theirs.? Wicca, a modern invention by Gerald Gardner, is a sycretistic amalgamation of various pagan religions with a whole bunch of New-Agish additions.? It is not, and I repeat, not Celtic.? The very name “Wicca” is a modern term meant to be Anglo-Saxon.? This is not an expose of Wicca, so I will leave it there.? But I say again, Wicca is not Celtic.
In this case, May Day is obviously tied to Beltane, but none of the celebrations have continued.? No bonfires with cows passing between them, no fertility festivals.? Nowadays, not even any Maypoles or Queen of the May.? It is a forgotten Celtic party-hearty night.