In my studies on All Things Halloween, I discovered that the people whom celebrated the festival of Samhain, (Halloween and Hallow’s Day together), also celebrated a number of other holidays. You might be asking yourself, and me, why this matters to a site about Halloween. The answer is because they have many, many similarities.
Beltane, like Samhain, is a mid-season celebration. Bhealtaine, which is the Irish spelling and the word for May, takes place mid-way between the Vernal Equinox, known as Ostara to them, and the Summer Solstice, known as Litha. The Wheel of the Year shows a quick breakdown. Apparently, these people didn’t want to go too long without some sort of party. I guess, it’s understandable, when you that think you could die at any moment.
One of the main focal points of Beltane, again, like Samhain, is the use of the sacred fire. During both celebrations, all hearth fires were extinguished, and a great bonfire was made. Farmers would lead their livestock around the fire as a way of cleansing or purifying the animals, and, perhaps, as a way of getting the animals blessed by their gods. When the fire would die down, people would take their turns and would leap over the fire, both for blessings and to ask for wishes. Before the fire died out completely, all hearth fires in the village would be rekindled using a stick from the sacred bonfire. This, they believed, would protect them and bring them good fortune until the next fire cleansing celebration.
This celebration and ritual was conducted, mainly, to protect the people and livestock for the next 6 months from supernatural type creatures called the Sidhe, sometimes also spelled Sith…. I’ll give you a moment for your head to stop spinning. Of course, both words simply mean Fairy. Take from that what you will. If any of you remember the old PS1 Final Fantasy 7 game, Cait Sith means Fairy Cat. That particular character, however, is the interpretation of the makers of the game. Legend has it that the Cait Sith is a black ghost cat, with a white spot on its belly, that haunts people.
Beltane was considered the celebration for the start of the second half of the year, the light half, but the people still sang and danced all night and until after dawn, when the hearths would be re-lit, also like Samhain.
Both “holidays”, (from the older term Holy Days, which is still applicable here), are opposite sides to the same coin, if one side of the coin was light and the other darkness. They are compliments to each other, but this fact doesn’t make either one any the lesser. The goal for both holidays was simply to protect them from forces beyond their control, and to party their faces off.