The Origins of Beltane
The story of Beltane is an ancient one. Before Christianity ever entered Europe, there existed a cult that worshiped the Earth. They worshiped in ways that are lost after the development of industry, think of it a cult towards nature. These were the ancient Celts, who shared a common cosmic view of the world and spoke related languages. They understood time as a cycle with two phases: The dark, cold phase of winter with the the luminous, warm phase of summer. That is how they saw the seasons.
The Purpose of Beltane
And they would celebrate the upcoming winter somewhere between October and November. To please the forces of nature and the spirit of winter with bonfires dances and reenactments of gods and goddesses, through different rituals. This was called Samhain, literally “the summer’s end”. But at another point of the year, by the first of May following the Gregorian Calendar, they would celebrate the return of summer, that was Beltane, or “blazing fire”.
The Fires of Beltane
The dark and cold winter was a synonym for death, and sleep and hibernation. The bright and hot summer was a synonym for life, awakening and growth. Fires would be lit during Beltane and sacred trees would be honored with gifts, color laces, wool fabrics, ornaments and precious metals.
Sex Parties? What?
People have ritual orgies to celebrate the rebirth of the sun from the ashes of winter. The children conceived during these festivals would be deemed as extra lucky and favored by the gods. There would be food, mead and even mushrooms for peasants and nobles alike. As if the gods were dancing among them, the festivities carried a heavy spirituality to their rituals. They celebrated life and rebirth, not just throughout the land but within themselves and within their society as a whole.
The Shift of the Perception of Beltane
The germanic peoples used to celebrate very similar rituals during those times. It was not until the Christians arrived that their festivities began to be deemed as devil worship. Some tried to adequate those festivities into a Christian scheme. That’s why what we know as the Night of Walpurga, in Central Europe, essentially Christian, has heavy pagan connotations to its performance.
A Tradition Transformed
Like bonfires to remember the cleansing of towns and the burning of witches, in truth those were the same bonfires that were lit to honor the sun. Or the patronage of the Walpurga Saint, that’s just the God Belus, the son of light. In truth, all these were pagan festivals, akin to Beltane and Samhain, whose true origins have been blurred by centuries of Christendom.
Modern Day Beltane Revival
Nowadays there has been a revival by the so called “neopagans”. Currently in Ireland and Scotland the festivities of Beltane are held in the old fashion ways. Also, electronic music festivals and world culture spectacles have been introduced as well.
A Modern Beltane Movement
The rise of the wiccans and the neo celtic hippie culture has led a curious rebirth to this ancient customs. The agnostic Swedish and Norwegians have been reviving the lore of their ancestors. They have found new ways to express their love for nature and the spiritual world. Like the musical band Wardruna with their ritual ambient music, or the drawings of Theodore Kittelsen.
Many of this new neo pagan societies have been deemed to be racist by the progressive standards of Europe. And with some truth for some groups for they use the symbology of the runes to signify a sort of supremacy of race perpetuated by an alleged tradition inherited by their forefathers. However, this has led to the imminent prohibition of rune writing. A law was about to be enforced to ban any depiction of the Nordic runes for its association with neonazis and hate speech.
It is curious how identity can be deformed within the fringes of a state. Especially when it comes to bring a sense of identity through the state, that is, nationality. To be a pagan, in truth, is to be outside the state, for “pagan” means “dweller of the countryside”. That was the reference made by medieval priests to depict those who were outside the reach of the church, and continued to perform their ancient ways and their knowledge.
Other Seasonal Celebrations
Most cultures around the world celebrated the shift of the seasons pretty much like the Celts did. The Romans celebrated the new year at the spring equinox by paying homage to the Sun Invictus or “Invincible Sun”. The Persians did it too with the “Nowruz”. The Christians adopted these festivities from the Egyptians. Romans did to commemorate the alleged Rising of Christ to heaven, and his victory over death.
A Universal Concept
The concept of light dying in winter, only to be reborn in spring and achieve its mastery through summer, is the most common motif among ancient mythologies. And this need to understand the year and its cycles came from farming and agriculture: the need to predict seasons and rain.
An Ancient Calendar System…
Many people, such as the Celts or the ancient Turks from Central Asia, were known to use a lunar rather than a solar calendar. This is more reliable than the solar systems created by the Chaldeans of Mesopotamia, which serve as the basis for the current system of time we live now. One could argue that system has errors. For example days are always missing, and the years have to be “fixed” at a determined time each time.
A better system?
The lunar system is more organic, more flexible. It is based on the phases of the moon. If you’ve ever wondered, this is why months are the length that they are. In the same way the tide is determined by the gravity of the moon, life is conditioned by the gravity of the moon.
How to Dive into Paganism
One way to become pagan is to pay attention to the cycles of the moon and its direct rule upon ourselves. We change continuously and drastically. Modern society has an immature sense of fluidity and change. It wants everything within an apparent fixed structure. And thus it is artificial, it’s fictious.
Return to the earth and listen to its body, its relationship with the sun, the skies and the wind. Pay attention to the cycles of the moon for its cycles are your own. We are still far away from interplanetary travel.
To feel the earth, to ground yourself, is to acknowledge that death is just a returning point, the return to ashes, the necessary void for regeneration. This is how you will achieve peace. Here peace is liberation and relief from the modern mind, the sickness of living in fiction. Even if it is mostly artificial worlds created by artificial mindsets.
I was lucky to be born during Beltane, the very first day of May. I find it proper because long it has been since I have been antagonistic towards Christianity and more empathetic towards life and its inherent violence, for life, in its growth is violence, it is strength, it is power.
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