The Celebration of Beltane

Visit Historical Heartbeats to learn about the Celtic Feast of Beltane on May Day in the 15th century Scottish Highlands. Beltane played a prominent role in the life of the ancient Highlander. The day marked the beginning of summer and lengthened daylight after the long, dark days of the Highland winters.

Coming Soon

A Highland Emerald, the prequel to A Highland Pearl, begins the first of May at the celebration of Beltane or May Day. The book tells the love story of William Munro and Aine MacLean. Theirs is an arranged marriage, and Aine’s heart belongs to a brave warrior in her father’s slaugh (army). Will the passage of time soften her heart toward William so she can love and accept him as her husband? The novella may be ready for publication in the fall.

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bonfire

Beltane

Beltane is mentioned in some of the earliest Celtic literature and was associated with important events in Celtic mythology. The special day marked the beginning of summer when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth.

Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around the bonfire or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires were doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. These gatherings were accompanied by a feast, and some of the food and drink offered to the aos sí (spirits). Doors, windows, byres and the cattle themselves were decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire.

In parts of Ireland, people made a May Bush—a thorn bush decorated with flowers, ribbons, and bright shells. Holy wells were also visited, while Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Many of these customs became part of May Day or Midsummer festivals in other parts of Great Britain and Europe. Beltane celebrations had largely died out by the mid-20th century, although some of its customs continued and revived as a cultural event.

Hawthorn Tree

 

Excerpt:

I looked around the great hall for the last time. The festive decorations from the Feast of Beltane still graced the tables, mantles, and windows. The hawthorn branches and yellow flowers, now somewhat wilted but still pretty, glistened in the early sunlight of a new morn. This eve every hearth fire would be extinguished and a huge bonfire lit on Castle Hill outside the walls by striking two flints together. Folks would come from near and far to the blaze, bringing a bunch of straw to light from the flames and restart their hearth fire. They would sing the ancient songs, divide the fire in two parts or make two bonfires, then for purification, cause themselves with their animals to pass between the two fires.

Sion, dressed in leather trews, boots, and hauberk with a claidheamh, secured to his waist, dirk tucked into his belt, and targe strapped to his back, opened the door. Although I hated the warrior for his constant presence, his appearance gave me comfort. I felt well protected with Sion as my guard. William and the remainder of his luchd-taighe followed Breda and me out into the bailey where horses stomped and pranced, eager to be on their way after several days of stable life. Their blankets of Munro colors looked bright and cheery, and the sliver trappings on their harnesses and saddles glinted in the morn’s sunbeams.

Sir William’s steud, black and menacing, stomped and snorted when he approached. He quietly spoke Gaelic into the large ear, calming the stallion while he mounted. Lachie, already astride his large steud rode at the head of five fine horses. Three MacLean guards surrounded the prize horses. They must see my dowry safely to Ferindonald. Pack animals under the care of servants brought up the rear. One wagon, loaded to the hilt and driven by the cook lumbered among the pack horses.

Sion held his hands in stirrup fashion to assist me into the sidesaddle on my garron. I wished to wear trews and ride astride like a man, but Mam insisted I act like a lady and endure the sidesaddle. The journey promised to be long and tedious. On the morrow, I planned to don the trews I insisted Breda pack, and ride astride my horse. Breda, always a lady, could ride as she wished. Lachie didn’t care, because often when I rode with him, I rode astride with only a blanket on the horse’s back.

I turned to find my family who stood waving and calling their farewells. I blew Mam and Da a kiss. Tears flooded my eyes as I searched the bailey for Ellic. He stood in the castle’s shadow at the back of my family. Da had not sent him away as I feared. My father sent me away instead. I waved then blew a kiss to Ellic. The others would think the gesture for them, but my love knew of my intention. He nodded, not taking a chance on the Munro seeing him send me an intimate farewell.

We rode through the inner bailey with my people and friends waving and calling farewells. I tried to return their farewells, but tears streamed from my eyes until I couldn’t see. William who rode next to me, handed me a large hand kertch. I took the cloth and rubbed it across my eyes, then tucked it into my skirt pocket.

He came close as we rode through the outer bailey. “Lady Aine, I ken you are having a difficult time leaving your home and family. I pray you shall come to love Ferindonald and Fàrdach Castle as I do. ’Twill be a happy day when you arrive. We’ll celebrate with feasting and cèilidh. Do you enjoy games?”

I could only nod the affirmative.

He continued, “My people will love you like these.” He motioned toward those who waved and called to us. “And you will come to love them also. They are a fine lot, the people of Clan Munro.”

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About Brenda B. Taylor

I write sweet historical romances, connecting readers of today with events in history, and telling stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. I most enjoy writing stories set in post-Civil War Missouri, and medieval Scotland.
This entry was posted in A Highland Emerald, Brenda B. Taylor, Scottish historical romance, Sweet Romance and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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