The Sun is symbolic in this festival and it is thought that the many fire rituals were to mimic the Sun and its ability to burn and thereby transform with intention.
Lugh is the God of the Sun and he and Bile, God of the Underworld – who it is said was granted the right to come back each year at Bealtaine to visit with the Goddess Danu – are two Gods associated with this season.
One such ritual involves marking the time when cattle are let out to summer pasture after being inside for the previous months. Two fires would be lit and the cattle would be herded in between these two fires. This was thought to ward of evil spirits and to keep the cattle healthy for the coming year.
Rituals were also performed to promote the growth of crops and to ensure a healthy season for the people whose lives depended on such food. A fire would be lit on the eve of Bealtaine and the ashes would be spread over the crops the following day, May Day.
Fertility festivals were also a huge part of this time and bonfires were lit for this purpose across the country. Young maidens would seek out relevant partners in a modern type matchmaking festival. The story of Avalon has many references to this particular ritual and the importance that was given to it.
The yellow flowers associated with Bealtaine including the primrose, gorse, hawthorn, hazel and marigold were often scattered on people’s doorsteps on May Day and along the streets to welcome in this new season and to add the colour of the Sun to everyday life.
The thorn trees associated with the fairy kingdom were decorated on this day with flowers, ribbons and painted shells. There would often be competitions to see whose tree was the best decorated! This tradition is still in play today although not just at Bealtaine, fairy trees are popular in many parts of Ireland including the well known fairy tree at the Hill of Tara (see picture).
May Day was also considered a good day to visit Holy wells where people would leave offerings like coins and pray for good health. They would walk around the wells from east to west symbolic of the Sun’s journey each day.
The morning dew on May Day was also considered to be particularly potent. Young maidens would collect the dew in jars or roll in it as it was said to be good for keeping oneself young and attractive!
Happy May Day and Bealtaine greetings to you today wherever in the world you are and may your hopes and dreams grow and may you attain all you desire and more.