With Bealtaine, Beltany, Bael-Tinn, Bealtana, and good old mid Atlantic 'Beltane’, I confuse people every year as I do not go all out for reverence using any of these names on 1st May. To me, 1st May, or May 1st, has always been ‘May Day’ to me.
I was brought up with an astrology practicing, messing about on boats, and herbs loving family. They practised most of their crafts according to reference to the ancient founded sidereal time. Sidereal time was created from many years of observations by ancients, maybe over centuries. They held this all together with a calculation sequence that modern astronomers and mathematicians call ‘precession of equinoxes’.
As this is a May Day and Bealtaine article for ‘Precession of Equinoxes’ is best discovered through Google searches and YouTube videos.
It was the understanding of Sidereal Time that enabled navigation and sea explorations by ancient people, and that remained so until recent digital and laser technology.
‘Precession of Equinoxes also enabled the building of stone and wooden ‘star wheels’ for observation, that along with Moon observation, enabled planning and success of a settled farming year.
Most humans today seem to be brought up with a calendar doctrine that Pope Gregory XIII launched at Samhain 1582. Some restored and reconstructed megalithic sites have even been adjusted from their original probable sidereal time positioning to match the more modern Pope Gregory calendar.
Using sidereal time calculations the point of Bealtaine, to me, this year is Friday May 5th 7:19pm over Ireland and UK.
For several people, they will go for the first New Moon at this time, which is Thursday 20th April, maybe a good time to sow crop seeds with the waxing moon, but the first few days look very cold.
The traditional and pagan people, and maybe the Wicca people, like to celebrate Bealtaine reverence during the first morning after the sidereal cross quarter moment. This year that would be the dawn of the morning of Saturday 6th May.
The Festival Of Fires at the Hill Of Uisneach is during the evening of Saturday 6th of May as it’s easier to gather people on a Saturday than Friday. Also evening celebrations are probably easier to manage than a dawn morning one.
The biggest challenge to me is that if we celebrate Bealtaine on 1st May, the Hawthorn blossom flowers are not blooming yet.
They are often not blooming by the sidereal cross quarter date time either.
To me there is no full on Bealtaine celebration until the Hawthorn blossom flowers are out. Maybe that was once the most common marker of the start of Bealtaine rather than consult some bearded know it all ‘wise’ man.
Through Ireland, ALL of the Gregorian Calendar month of May is Bealtaine.
In the UK 1st May is Labour Day, and is dedicated to recognition of human working rights.
In Ireland, the first Sunday after May 1st is a 3 day holiday weekend, and this year that commences 1st May.
As the white Hawthorn flowers are usually not blooming by 1st May, May Day to me is Yellow Flowers.
I think that for a lot of people this is the most profound time of yellow, especially surrounded by blooming yellow flowers, and the longer daylight of golden sun.
I love this time of year best as yellow has always been my favourite colour and I feel that yellow flowers serve a lovely imagery of this warming transition from Spring to Summer.
Who, reading this, does not smile when they see yellow flowers. When I wear a sweater or pullover I wear a yellow one as much as possible, despite the risks of mud splashes, and spilling lunch sauce on it. When we wear yellow it seems more people smile at us. One thing on my list I have not achieved yet is having a yellow car.
On the 1st of May, and before and after, we have the blooming primroses, cowslips, furze, dandelions, and my favourite are the Marsh Marigolds.
In Gaelic Scotland, especially Argyll, Eara Ghael, May has been called, since late Mediaeval times, ‘Latha Buidhe Bealtinne’ that translates out as ‘The Yellow Day Of May’. I suspect similar is said at this time in Donegal and other Gaeltacht areas of Ireland.
Many people who follow the ancient traditions of Bealtaine may describe this as a time of fertility. But since this time was fixed by the church to 1st May the emphasis of observations now seems to be more towards prayer and protection. But this is still mixed in with fun celebrations and market gatherings to celebrate longer and warmer daylight days of summer arriving.
It was believed that what happens now largely determines the health of crops and reared animals through the summer growing until the autumn harvest. This also determines our survival through food, health, and shelter, next winter.
I feel that this more modern May Day until and through the later sidereal time guided Bealtaine Cross Quarter time, is a beautiful fun and reverential time that can passionately connect us back to the land, life, and season changes. I feel this is very important to sustain our modern life priorities of science, digitals, fashion, trendsetting and now Artificial Intelligence services.
With all of the modern competitive status grooming that we connect ourselves to, I feel it is essential to keep some of ourselves firmly rooted in our natural heritage.
These quarterly cross quarter celebrations of Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain seem to be wonderful reminders that we need to constantly apply at least part of ourselves to restoring and preserving landscapes. The traditions and folklore of these times seem to lead us towards considering how to adjust ourselves to a more sustainable future, but still enjoy the shared fun while doing so.
For me, this is my favourite and most special festive time of the year. Despite my favourite colour being yellow, my late mother’s middle name was ‘May’, despite her being born at the point of Lughnasadh in August, also another yellow golden time.
So how many of you do or will gather a Posie of yellow flowers, a May Day tradition that may only go back to early 19th century, with vague local versions going back to maybe the 16th century?
Often on 1st May, there is morning frost that soon melts to heavy dew at sunrise. I will refer back to that ‘May Frosty Morning’ soon.
When we enjoyed visitors at Carrowcrory Cottage and Labyrinth Gardens during early May, some visitors shared stories of their childhood, mothers, and grandmothers performing a ‘May Bush’ tradition, on 1st of May, but they were not clear about why they did this.
Setting up a ‘May Bush’ involves getting a potted tree or shrub plant that has not come into blossom, and may not have come our in leaves yet. Cover it with Yellow Flowers in some way, such as tying them, and leave this outside on 30th April, May Day Eve.
Then when the children check the ‘May Bush. On the morning of 1st May, discover that overnight the ‘fairies’ left sweets around the pot and even hanging on the bush.
One Irish couple, in Co. Wexford, have become incredibly enthusiastic about this tradition, interpreting it, and reviving it as much as they can. These are Michael and Aileen Fortune. Michael Fortune manages a wonderful website, folklore.ie, rich in folklore videos much more than I am able to do with my own Nature Folklore.
Michael and Aileen perform their own annual May Bush ritual from their Co. Wexford home. Their practice of that has now spread through Wexford, Wicklow, Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Tipperary, Cork, Kerry and Clare. It has also crept through Connaught into Donegal and Ulster too. I can imagine our local Leitrim Heritage culture revival magician, Edwina Guckian will be motivating us back into this tradition in Leitrim this year or next year.
But this folklore moving around Ireland is like any folklore that spread in the past. Despite us having the internet and social media encouraging a lot of duplication, the recent modern spread of the yellow flower May Bush had adopted local variants of interpretation and sharing.
In my next ‘Bealtaine Frolics’ chapter article, I will explain May Bush traditions in detail, including a version I was brought up with, and how current revived popularity is changing the traditions, but not for better or worse. Just different.
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Oh... I did not know that! Well, I have planted gorse all over my garden and it hasnt killed me yet... although when I picked a few blossoms for my gin on Saturday I got stabbed by a few thorns, those things are lethal! 🤣
A great post! I celebrate the festivals when it feels right and I sense the energies are aligned. My orchard has started blooming and I can hear buzzing all around so Beltane is very near. But the swallows are not here yet and the May is late so, yes, probably another week to go! I love gorse, that resilient yellow flower. Around here they often turn up around the Winter Solstice and bring joy to the gloomy February days. An Cailleach and Angus are still at it though as sunny days follow sharp cold ones. My beans are climbing indoors, their spot ready in the kitchen garden, they have to wait a while yet, I think.