Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

by Unknown
Belenus, The god of Light

Beltaine or May Day 1 May

This holiday was called Beltaine, probably because of the name 
Belenus, the god of light. At this time, all household fires were 
extinguished and great bonfires were kindled on hilltops. From 
these sacred fires all household fires were relit, thus gaining 
the blessings of the gods. People and cattle jumped across the 
bonfires in a symbolic ritual of purification and protection 
from evil; getting the cattle to jump over the fires must have 
been a difficult matter, even though cows are capable of clearing 
five- or six-foot fences. Might this ancient practice have been 
the origin of the nursery rhyme about the cow jumping over the 
moon? It is ironic but true that many so-called "children’s" 
nursery rhymes were based on some very "Grimm" realities. The 
following is a poem translated out of the Gaelic by the Dal 
Riadh Celtic Trust and said to be written by Finn himself:

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, corncakes, 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!

Amonst the folk lore of this holiday is that which survives to 
this day, young women will wash their face in the dew of Beltaine 
morning to preserve their youth. May dew was indeed considered 
to be holy water. This day was one which saw visits to the holy 
well. A visitor would walk three times around the well, then 
they would throw in a silver coin, after which while thinking 
of their wish they would drink from the well using their hands. 
When those things were done, they would then tie a bit of colored 
cloth or a piece of clothing to a branch of a nearby tree. The 
above had to be done in complete silence as well as when the sun 
wasn’t in sight. The final part of the procedure had the visiting 
person well out of sight of the well before sunrise. In many 
places, a May Queen was elected. She was crowned by an elder 
lady of notoriety, after the new queen and her court had arrived 
at a predetermined place. Some believe that in the older times, 
it was the May Queen who lead the hymns to the rising sun, as 
all the people congregated on the appropriate hill at Beltaine. 
She is also believe to have led some of the “marches” in the 
older times.