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BeltanePhoto: Miguel Saavedra

Beltane is, actually, a ceremony surrounded by considerable controversy – not least in relation to its origins.  Some claim Teutonic beginnings for this festival, whilst others place it firmly in the Celtic camp.  One thing of which we can be certain is that across Europe, fire ceremonies were widely celebrated at this time of year.  Some of these were seen as purification processes, and others as fertility rites.  What stands out, among other things, is that there is no Christian equivalent for Beltane – this is unusual in terms of the more ancient and traditional pagan ceremonies.  Could this be a reaction against the very rumbustious energies represented here, I wonder?

For us, Beltane stands out amid the Celebrations of the Year Wheel because it is the only one in which we follow the Celtic tradition.  This is mostly as a result of one of our number lobbying most determinedly for this most pagan of ceremonies.  After much insistence we all finally agreed that a slight detour would be welcome and enjoyable.

We operate under full Celtic watchtowers, and the ceremony is chiefly dedicated to Cernunnos, the Horned God.   It is said of him that he is born at Midwinter, weds the Goddess at Beltane, and is sacrificed at the Summer Solstice.   On the Eve of his wedding Cernunnos is said to run through the forest with stags, to test his fitness and potency.

When he is called forth, the invocation is accompanied by a tattoo beaten with a ribbon-bedecked staff reserved entirely for this purpose.   Woven amid the ribbons are bells, so the tattoo is a sort of knocking, chiming affair.  The altar – red of course – is adorned with hawthorn boughs – and it is considered a particularly bad omen if the hawthorn is not in full blossom.     [More...]

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