Fires Folklore And Sacrifice At Beltane

Fire was central to the Beltane festivals of May 1, when darkness was shed and revellers embraced the light of the new season.

The Beltane fire was considered a great source of purification and healing with feasts and dancing unfolding in its glow. 

Human sacrifice and offerings were made, and the ritual would be followed by rejoicing and festivities of all kinds per Author Anne Ross, in Folklore of the Scottish Highlands.

The Beltane cake was another key ritual of the celebration and some accounts detail how it was presented at the end of the feast by the master of the gathering.

The cake was divided into a number of pieces, and distributed in great form to the company. 

Some accounts detail how the pieces were put in a bonnet with the blindfolded then picking out their piece.

One of the pieces was daubed with charcoal – the cailleach beal-tine- and the unlucky holder was doomed to be sacrificed to Beliunus.

Early Beltane Eve nights were intense affairs, filled with sky-licking flames, purification rites, magic, and offerings to powerful beings.

This was believed to be a time when the barrier between the mortal and the magical lifted.

In her book, The Life and Death of a Druid Prince, the late archaeologist Anne Ross investigated the Lindow Man, a body miraculously preserved in a peat bog in Cheshire, England. 

Ross speculated that the Lindow Man was an unfortunate burnt bannock recipient who was sacrificed in the name of a good harvest.

In The Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar mentions seeing an alleged human-shaped wooden scaffold that burned human sacrifices trapped inside.

The chilling scene inspired both the classic 1973 horror film The Wicker Man.

We are halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

According to 17th-century historian Geoffrey Keating, there was a great gathering at the hill of Uisneach each Beltane in medieval Ireland, where a sacrifice was made to a god named Beil. Keating wrote that two bonfires would be lit in every district of Ireland, and cattle would be driven between them to protect them from disease.

Samhain is the Celtic New Year and is generally considered the more important though May Day (Beltane) runs a close second. Indeed, in some areas it is considered the great holiday. It heralded the coming of summer, fertility and blended the usual Celtic preoccupations of celebration and appeasement.

Beltane, like Samhain, is a time when the veil between the worlds is thought to be thin, a time when magic is possible. Whereas Samhain revelers must look out for wandering souls of the dead, Beltane merrymakers must watch for Fairies. Beltane is the night when the queen of the fairies will ride out on her white steed to entice humans away to Faeryland.

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