Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Beltane - Bringing In The May

Today is Beltane, the first day of the Celtic summer and the celebration of the longer,warmer days and the fertility of the earth which is visible all around us. Beltane/May Day has been celebrated in English villages for centuries by the 'Bringing in of the May' which meant not only the month of May but also the beautiful white hawthorn or May blossom. This was gathered on May Eve and used to decorate the doors of all the houses in the village. The lovely blossoms were also made into garlands - this is the origin of the old nursery rhyme 'Here we go gathering Nuts in May'. The 'nuts' were knots of hawthorn blossom. There were boisterous games, feasts, bonfires and Maypole dancing and a great many other rather more private celebrations in the local woods which frequently resulted in an increase in the village population nine months later! All this frivolity came to a grinding halt in 1644 when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan government - never ones for allowing people to have a good time if they could prevent it - banned maypoles and all the other May Day celebrations. Some of us in England may be thinking that there wouldn't be much May blossom to gather this morning but that is because in 1754 we lost 11 days when the Gregorian calendar was introduced and September 2nd was immediately followed by September 12th. May Day would originally have fallen on what is now May 12th when the May blossom would be in full bloom.

Beltane is one of the major fire festivals of the year and the ancient Celtic people released their cattle from winter confinement on this day and drove them between two great fires to purify them and they were then taken to their summer pastures.

As at Samhain the veil between the worlds is thin but rather than the spirits of the dead it is the fairy people who conduct their revels on May Eve. If you sit beneath a hawthorn tree on this night, you may hear the sound of bells as the Queen of the Faeries rides by on her snow white horse searching for mortals to lure away. Take care to hide your face for if she sees you then it may be you that she steals away and carries back to Tir Nan Og....

This is a beautiful and very ancient Gaelic poem dating back to at least the 10th century. The poet's name is lost in the mists of time but legend has it that it was the great Gaelic warrior king Finn McCuill who wrote it.

May, clad in cloth of gold,
Cometh this way;
The fluting of the blackbirds
Heralds the day.

The dust coloured cuckoo
Cries welcome O Queen!
For winter has vanished,
The thickets are green.

Soon the trampling of cattle
where river runs low!
The long hair of the heather,
The canna like snow.

Wild waters are sleeping,
Foam of blossom is here;
Peace, save the panic
In the heart of the deer.

The wild bee is busy,
The ant honey spills,
The wandering kine
Are abroad on the hills.

The harp of the forest
Sounds low, sounds sweet;
Soft bloom on the heights;
On the loch, haze of heat.

The waterfall dreams;
Snipe, corncrakes, drum
By the pool where the talk
Of the rushes is come.

The swallow is swooping;
Song swings from each brae;
Rich harvest of mast falls;
The swamp shimmers gay.

Happy the heart of man,
Eager each maid;
Lovely the forest,
The wild plane, the green glade.

Truly winter is gone,
Come the time of delight,
The summer truce joyous,
May, blossom-white.

In the heart of the meadows
The lapwings are quiet;
A winding stream
Makes drowsy riot.

Race horses, sail, run,
Rejoice and be bold!
See, the shaft of the sun
Makes the water-flag gold.

Loud, clear, the blackcap;
The lark trills his voice
Hail May of delicate colours
tis May-Day - rejoice!

I originally posted this in 2009 so decided to give it another outing today as I don't have time to research a new post for Beltane. It's pouring with rain so not exactly the perfect May Day morning but hopefully things will be better on May 12th - Old May Day:)


Mac n' Janet said...

May is usually a beautiful time to be in England, I'd love to see a May Day celebration.

Hearthwife said...

Beltane blessings to you, Rowan :)

Louise said...

Lovely post, worth re-publishing :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing. Happy Beltaine !!
It's our son's birthday, so he's a real Beltaine child ; )
Have a great day.

Lynda (Granny K) said...


Jenny Woolf said...

What beautiful photos you've found to illustrate this post.
thank you for your comment on my post about Greece. I think that the wild flowers are partly a result of their not using chemicals. It's not like that in more developed parts of Greece. Sobering.

Diane said...

I remember this post from before - I'm glad you revisited it. On our Wharncliffe Crags walk, we used the very handy (but well hidden!!) car park on Finkle Street Wortley. It is hidden up a track behind the stables. From there you are straight onto the TPT xxxx

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

What a wonderful post - love the photos and all the information, especially about gathering "nuts" in May. I love to learn that sort of thing.

Bovey Belle said...

The May blossom was out early here in some of the more sunny areas. Lovely post and what a wonderful ancient poem.

George said...

A lovely, very informative post, Rowan. I've had several conversations in recent days about the sad disappearance of May Day celebrations. Now I see that old Oliver Cromwell had a hand in this. As a descendant of a Gaelic Irish family, I guess I now have another charge to add to my indictment of Cromwell.

Rosie said...

Fascinating post and well worth publishing again - when we drove home from Yorkshire yesteday it was very misty and damp but there was promise in the air:)