We are at another cross-quarter, or halfway date between the quarter-days of the year, in this case, between the March equinox and the June solstice. So you can call this the middle of spring or the beginning of summer, according to taste, as discussed at the previous cross-quarter day, the beginning of February.

As with the other cross-quarters, there is some room for choice as to which is the actual Cross-Quarter Day. It may be April 30, May Eve; or it may be May 1, May Day.

May 1 may have the greater weight of tradition behind it, since it was Beltane, a major Celtic festival. Household fires were re-lit from the Beltane bonfire, and cattle were driven out to their summer pasture.  The name is actually Bealtaine in Irish, Bealltainn in Scots Gaelic, and Boaldyn in Manx.

(One of the intricacies of the Celtic languages of the northwestern or Gaelic group is that most of the consonants have two forms, “slender,” with the front of the tongue raised toward the hard palate, and “broad,” with the back of the tongue raised toward the soft palate; and in this word the b and n are slender, the l and t broad. To hear a difference like this, listen to yourself saying the l in lick and in milk. In English this difference is not phonemic – it does not make a difference between words – but in Gaelic, and Russian, it is.)

When I first heard of the festival of Beltane, I was surprised, because the only use of that word I had known of was in a book on my parents’ shelves: Beltane the Smith. It was one of the forty romantic novels written between 1907 and 1952 by Jeffery Farnol. Beltane is a fine young fellow who lives in the greenwood, repairs plowshares and axeblades for a living, and knows no one much except a wise old hermit until he ventures forth and meets women, friars, an archer, a hangman, a villainous duke, and discovers that he is the rightful duke himself.

Beltane the Smith has nothing to do with Beltane the festival of May Day. Nor, as I’m sure you know, has “Mayday!” the shout for help, being a simulation of the French “M’aidez!


4 thoughts on “Beltane”

  1. Season to taste is said in many a recipe book.
    What does a cow drink? You guessed milk? think again, most cows drink water.
    Fire good said Frankenstein’s monster, hence bonfire. Bet he wasn’t thinking that when his windmill was being burnt down.
    However you call it, it seems mid spring here in the northeast in the US of A. Too bad the moon’s gonna be so bright to blot out some of the Eta Aquarids meteors, and OH, BTW, I actually saw Jupiter in daylight two days ago.
    Happy Spring to you all.

  2. And then there’s May Day as International Workers Day, celebrated most everywhere around the world except the United States.

    The Sun will actually be halfway from Spring Equinox to Summer Solstice, i.e. at 15 degrees Taurus in the tropical zodiac, or 45 degrees ecliptic longitude, on May 5 this year. These more persnickety cross-quarter days all come a few days after the traditional cross-quarter holidays of Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain.

    I like to think of each of the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarters as a period of a week or two (as in Yuletide, etc.), rather than as a strictly defined moment. I love the Beltane time of the year here in Northern California. The days are long and tend to be warm, mild, and clear (although this year we’re getting Summer early, with an unseasonable heat wave). The hills are still green, flowers are blooming and bees are buzzing. Young people seem to have a particular freshness about them. Even an old coot like me can feel young again.

    1. Quan li jor sont lonc en mai
      –another snatch of verse quoted in Helen Waddell’s “The Wandering Scholars”; Provencal, by an unnamed medieval poet; “When the days are long in May…”

      The beginning of May happens to be cold and wet where I am now. In South Carolina it was a sweet time, which I associated especially with the disappearance of a stream under foliage, in one of the little woodland valleys I passed on my rides home.

Write a comment