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Beltaine

Druid at the Wicker Man ceremony, Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire
Druid at the Wicker Man ceremony, Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire
Beltaine (also known as Beltane and May Day) falls on 1st May with the evening of 30th April being known as Beltaine Eve or May Eve. It is an ancient fertility festival.

Beltaine is associated with the Celtic God, Bel (also known as Belenus and Balor). Bel is a God of light, fire and the Sun. Fires are an important custom at Beltaine and people would leap over them to ensure their fertility. Cattle were also driven through the ashes or between two fires to ensure a good milk yield.

The Beltaine fire was kindled with Birch twigs and much of the festival was spent with couples frolicking in the woods. A Maypole, representing the phallus and made from Birch wood was erected or was sometimes a living Birch tree and fertility dances were performed around it to ensure good health and abundant crops.

As at Samhain, the veil between our world and the Underworld is considered to be thin at this time and the spirits of our Ancestors can be contacted.
 

The burning of the wicker man

Human sacrifice was practised by ancient people at Beltaine to ensure fertility for the coming year and one of their customs was to build a giant man of wood, straw, etc. This huge wicker structure was then filled with offerings to the Gods including living people, often criminals and animals. The wicker man was set ablaze burning those inside him.

A wicker man ceremony still takes place at Beltaine (although without any sacrifices!) at Butser Ancient Farm nr. Petersfield, Hampshire. The photographs featured on this page were taken at one of their wicker man ceremonies. For more details please go to: www.butser.org.uk

Handfasting

Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset
Beltaine is a traditional time for Handfastings, a form of marriage ceremony which pre-dates modern marriage customs. The couple would say vows or promises to each other and their hands would be ritually tied together (i.e.. fastened in partnership). At the end of the ceremony they jumped over a broom or the Bel-fire.
 

Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset

The Cerne Abbas giant is a huge figure, measuring 180 ft long, carved into the side of a hill near to Cerne Abbas, Dorset. It is thought to date from the time of the Celtic tribes.

The May Day Sun rises directly in alignment with the figure, so it is clearly linked to Beltaine. Cerne Abbas giant is obviously a fertility figure as he proudly shows his eight foot penis! This shows how important Beltaine was to the ancient people as a fertility festival.

Even today, couples having difficulty conceiving a child are known to make love upon the giant - he must still have some of his ancient fertility powers because there have been successes!
 

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Page last updated: 22 September, 2011

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