Beltane musings

Writing this post has a bitter sweet aspect to it to me.  This is based on the last writing I did before my mum died on a book that was never completed.  I tried to get back to it last year but failed so over the last six months I have used the material for posts here instead.

As many readers will know Beltane is often given the date of 1 May but its origin, like Imbolc, Lughnasadh and Samhain, is agricultural. This means that in the distant past it was triggered by seasonal changes in the local environment. Samhain has developed into the season of the ancestors and become fixed in our hearts and minds with the time of Halloween. Imbolc has a very strong focus on Brighid and has also become a fixed date festival more than one of the first signs of spring. For many, if not most, people Beltane has also made this transition from seasonal to calendar but personally I just don’t feel the energies of Beltane until I begin to see blossom on the hawthorn tree.

When I first wrote these words I had already taken part in a ritual for Beltane with the Tuatha de Bridget group I am a member of long before I had seen any hawthorn blossom. I think this was the first time the group ritual had taken place before I had seen a single hawthorn blossom and it just didn’t feel quite right to me. Spring was late that year, we had a long winter. I wrote this a week later than the ritual I attended and the last couple of days before I wrote had been warm and sunny, summer was finally on the way but still no hawthorn blossom. I’d heard from a friend in Ipswich that he had hawthorn blossom in his garden. I knew that soon the hawthorn would blossom around Glasgow but it wasn’t quite ready. This year as I walk round my local park I can see plenty of hawthorn leaves but the buds for the blossom are still very small.  IT will be a while yet before the hawthorn blossoms round here even with the recent lovely weather we have been having.  My fixation on the hawthorn blossom being the signal for Beltane is not one that has any foundation in any of the fragments of lore I have read. It’s not uncommon for Pagans in the UK to link hawthorn blossoms with Beltane but neither it is as fixed for many as it is for me.

What is known from the remaining fragments of lore gathered from across the UK is the Beltane marked the seasonal change into the summer months. We know that many places lit large communal fires, particularly in Scotland and Ireland but also in Wales, Devon and Cornwall. Often these fires were lit using methods that could have been recognised in neolithic times. In some cases in Scotland offerings of food were cast into the fires such as those referenced in F. M. McNeil’s Silver Bough volume two, in other cases the fires would be jumped by one as a symbolic sacrifice or by many for good fortune. In Ireland there are records of cattle being driven between two fires at this time. We also know that the making of crosses and other charms from Rowan wood was a widespread practice for this time of year, these were used to ward off evil influences.

In areas where livestock farming was widespread it was at this time of year that cattle and sheep would be taken to summer pastures. This is still a practice in some areas of Wales and Scotland although using less manpower and more vehicles to achieve. In past centuries some of the community would have to go with the flocks and herds to watch them over the summer living in purpose built shelters for that time. In Scotland these were called Sheilings, I know there were similar structures in part of Wales.

Another common feature found in records from a wide range of areas was to go “A’ Maying”. Ron Hutton’s Stations of the Sun gives several examples from a range of areas where officials paid for sections of the community to go out and gather flowers and greenery from the surrounding area. Hutton writes of a number of songs and poems that imply that young men and women regularly got up to sexual activities while out gathering flora but he goes on to write:

“It took until the late twentieth century, and the patient labours of demographic historians, to reveal that there was in fact no increase in the number of pregnancies at this season, in or out of marriage. The boom in conceptions came later in the summer.”
(Hutton, 1996 p229)

It seems the beginning of May was and still is a bit damp and chilly for certain types of outdoor activities after all.

At some stage Maypoles were introduced and my understanding is that the first records of them are from the mid fourteenth century but they may have been around before that. According to Hutton these were generally confined to “areas of English influence and language”. Like the fires more common in other areas the maypoles were a focal point for community festivities. By the end of the eighteenth century the use of maypoles began to fade but this symbol was rescued to some extent by the growing folk lore movement of Victorian times.

In fact many of the older traditions virtually disappeared from British communities during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the mid to late twentieth centuries several areas began new versions of these older traditions and now there are vibrant Beltane and Mayday celebrations that take place across the UK.

Note that the hawthorn does not appear as an important part of any of the recorded Beltane traditions but still I cling to hawthorn blossom as the key marker of the season.

For me Beltane marks the final transition from the winter months to the summer months. Some myths, particularly the tale of the “Coming of Angus and Bride” in the Scottish Wonder Tales by Donald A. Macnkenzie, have the Cailleach being defeated at the spring equinox. To me the handover of power is not between Bride and the Cailleach but between Rigantona and the Cailleach at Beltane just as to me it is at Samhain the Cailleach takes up her sovereignty over winter once more. I also don’t see this as a battle but more like a dance. At this time I see the return of Rigantona (or Rhiannon to give Her the more modern name) from the Underworld to the land around my home. It is at this time, marked by the hawthorn blossom, I see Rigantona taking up Her cup of sovereignty for the summer just as at winter She passes it to Her Mother/Sister, the one I know as the Cailleach. So at Beltane on one level I celebrate the transition from winter to summer. On another level I mark the change in which of the goddesses I honour now holds the cup of sovereignty.

For many others this festival is one of fertility and sexuality, marking a marriage between masculine and feminine energies often represented by a maiden goddess and a youthful god. Handfastings, or marriages are popular at this time. Ceremonies often include some form of symbolic joining of sexual energies such as dancing with ribbons round a maypole or choosing a May King and Queen to crown. These are very heterosexual symbols and mythologies and such rites can make those who are gender fluid or non-hetrosexual feel excluded. My own personal symbolism for this time of year is not about sexuality but about sovereignty but the group I am part of is more eclectic in nature and the symbolism is usually more sexual in nature for that group. For the last couple of years though the group has attempted to balance these ideas with the addition of a spirit of change or mischief represented by a hare. This was inspired by a Beltane Faerie Story written by a dear friend of mine, Ferdiad and posted on his blog a few years ago. I encourage anyone writing a group ritual for this time of year to think carefully about the symbolism of what they are doing and think about making the ritual inclusive for a range of sexual and gender identities.

This year though across the world people are looking at different ways of celebrating Beltane due to social distancing or lockdown measures and the COVID-19 virus. There will probably be more online rituals shared and many people will be considering how to mark the season by themselves or with their households. I will be watching for the first signs of hawthorn blossoms locally as I do each year and then I will mark the dance of the seasons once more.



Hutton, R. (1996) The Stations of the Sun Oxford University Press

F. Marian McNeill (1959) The Silver Bough Vol Two: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals Candlemas to Harvest Home Stuart Titles Ltd

An unanticipated cycle of devotion

I wrote a bit not so long ago about my devotions.  Today I’ve realised I have a cycle of devotional and religious practice that I didn’t plan but has just fallen into place.

The flame keeping I am now doing with Clann Bhride means I am now spending a period of time devoted to Brigantia every 20 days but the cill tends as a group on the fire festivals so I began flame tending at sunset on 30th May.  After 24 hours which included a fair amount of contemplation as well as other more mundane and devotional activities I completed that shift at sunset on May 1st.  This evening, May 2nd, I have lit three tea lights and made my lunar cycle devotional offerings to Brigantia.  Tomorrow I will be joining Tuatha de Bridget for the Beltane Ritual during the afternoon and in the evening I will light a candle and make my lunar devotions to Epona Rigantona. As it’s a Sunday I will also be making my weekly devotions to Maponos.

The full moon is at 03.42 GMT 4th May so at some stage on Monday 4th Neil and I will be doing the Druid Network international full moon peace intention ritual.  And that evening I will be making my lunar cycle devotions to the one I know as Cailleach.

My usual flame keeping shift happens to fall on Tuesday 5th May so I will be finishing this cycle of devotional and religious activity as I began it with a flame tending shift.

So in the space of a few days I will be engaging in devotions with all the deities I have developed relationships with as well as engaging in a Beltane ritual and a peace intention ritual.

This is an unusually intense period of devotions for me and it will be interesting to see what else comes of all this activity.

Is it Beltane?

Has summer come?

The sky today is blue yet the air is chill.

Is Beltane here?

Thousands celebrate yet I see no sign of the hawthorn blossom.

Have God and Goddess come together in love?

Which God? Which Goddess? Is love only about sex at this time or is it still more? And why not God joined to God or Goddess to Goddess or triads or groups?

Last month I bared my skin on the hills under a warm spring sun, felt the gentle breeze caress me. I felt connected to the loch before me, the land under me, the sky above me. I felt the energy of life thrumming through it all. I felt joined and totally free.

Today I feel confused, disconnected and thrown back into winter. There is snow in the hills, the land is cold and damp, the breeze cool, the sun bright but not yet feeling warm. I look for the marker of the hawthorn blossom and there is none to be found.

Many are the Beltane greetings I have seen today. But Beltane still eludes me.


Beltane for me is marked by the first blossoms of hawthorn opening around Glasgow.  It’s a time when Rigantona has returned to the Land and taken back the cup of sovereignty from the Cailleach.  A time when the Cailleach rests and restores Herself.  To me it is also a time to remember our descendants just as Samhain is a time to remember our ancestors.

It’s also a time when the Land begins to look lush and green, when the last trees begin to come into leaf and shades of green cover the land once more.  Sometimes it’s also a time of warmth but at least if not warmth there is more daylight here in Scotland.

On the evening of Saturday 5th May I shared in a triple toast for Rigantona, Her return to the Land and the tribe that honours Her.  On Sunday 6th May I celebrated Beltane in Pollok Park with others from Glasgow and the surrounding area.

This was a special ritual for me for several reasons.  One is that it was written and led by one of the regular members of the group and it was the first time she had taken this responsibility on.  She’s come a long way since she first started with us and she did a great job.  Secondly it was the first Beltane ritual in Glasgow for Neil and I together and marks a half cycle since Neil moved to Glasgow and first joined with the group in Pollok Park.  Thirdly Neil and I were asked to be the Greenman and May Queen and it was an honour to be asked to to this and a first for both of us.

It was a lovely day, perhaps a little on the cool side but not much.  The skies did cloud over and drop a few spots on us but nothing significant until the ritual was over and we were all walking back through the woods to either head home or to the cafe at the Burrell Collection for a warm drink and a chat.  The ritual went well and had a lovely energy to it.

I had made ivy circlets for both Neil and myself.  The ivy came from a plant my mum has growing at her flat.  In mine I wove in three sprigs of flowering hawthorn and two heads of lilac flowers.  The lilac and hawthorn came from a part of the river Kelvin that I have walked beside for many years.  The hawthorn in particular came from a tree that has been a special friend of mine for many years and one I have performed solo Beltane rituals beside in the past.  And I twisted both circlets together at Neil’s flat.  I wore other things that had come from the house I live in (which I hope will soon be fully mine) so in what I was wearing I had woven together strands from around Glasgow.

After the ritual the circlets were left in the woods as an offering.  I had not used anything other than the plants themselves to make them and it felt appropriate to leave them behind when we left.

I am hoping that this Beltane will bring some more positive changes into my life.

May Queen and Greenman, Beltane at Pollok Park, Glasgow 2012

An old friend

Yesterday evening I decided that today I would go for a walk at lunchtime by the River Kelvin and see if there was any hawthorn blossom out on the trees along the river that have been seasonal markers for me for many years.  This morning I spotted some on the way into work so thought it was likely that I’d see more today and I have.  There are still not many blossoms out but there are a few on an old friend of mine by the river.
Beltane has reached Glasgow’s West End at last, it won’t be long before it reaches the area where I live now but it’s not there yet.

Beltane Blessings

Over the last week I have been watching the hawthorns, looking for the first blossoms. I spotted the first ones a little earlier in the week but now there are more beginning to come out. Yesterday evening the sky cleared as dusk fell and I felt that the dance of the seasons had changed it’s rhythm once more. It was time for me to bid the Cailleach a peaceful summer’s rest and to greet the strengthening lord of the summer, Belenos.

So out I went into the garden late last night and offered my libations to the gods of my tribe, to the changing seasons and to my descendants both tangible and intangible. The links of this season to fertility and growth are well known but the results of fertility in our species are our descendants. At Samahin we honour our ancestors and our past, to me Beltane is becoming the time to honour our descendants and to consider the future.

I am blessed with two lovely children, a son and a daughter. My son is growing tall and strong and showing signs of becoming a caring and loving young man with a keen mind. I am very proud of him. My little daughter in this last week has taken a leap in her language skills and each day now brings new words. She is a little sweetheart and it’s not just me that says so. The word for this morning from my little sweetheart is “go”…

May this time of change bring you blessings of warmth, joy, family and friends.