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[Jan. 13th, 2007|05:12 pm]
Celtic Links

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[elderwood]
So... it's been quite a while since I've made a post! Due to school, time for the internet is limited, but I'm going to try my best to continue these posts as much as possible, and hopefully it will be a weekly habit.

This week's mp3 is by a favorite fiddler of many named Kevin Burke, and is titled "Lord Gordon's Reel". To download the mp3, click here.

This week's links have to do with the Beltane celebration. Beltane (sometimes "Bealtaine") is an ancient Gaelic holiday celebrated around May 1. Historically, this festival was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. There were similar festivals held at the same time in the other Celtic countries of Wales, Brittany and Cornwall. The festival survives in folkloric practices in the Celtic Nations and the diaspora, and has experienced a degree of revival in recent decades.

For the Celts, Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands. In modern Irish, Mí na Bealtaine ('month of Bealtaine') is the name for the month of May. The name of the month is often abbreviated to Bealtaine, with the festival day itself being known as Lá Bealtaine. The lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine ('the eve of Bealtaine') on mountains and hills of ritual and political significance was one of the main activities of the festival.

In Irish mythology, the beginning of the summer season for the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians started at Bealtaine. Great bonfires would mark a time of purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year, and were accompanied with ritual acts to protect the people from any harm by Otherworldly spirits, such as the Sídhe. Like the festival of Samhain, opposite Beltane on Nov. 1, Beltane was a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand. Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the druids of the community would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and drive the village's cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck (Eadar dà theine Bhealltainn in Scottish Gaelic, 'Between two fires of Beltane'). In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on the fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke. People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves. This was echoed throughout history after Christianization, with lay people instead of Druid priests creating the need-fire. The festival persisted widely up until the 1950s, and in some places the celebration of Beltane continues today. A revived Beltane Fire Festival has been held every year since 1988 during the night of 30 April on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland and attended by up to 15,000 people (except in 2003 when local council restrictions forced the organisers to hold a private event elsewhere).

Beltane is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun's progress between the vernal equinox and summer solstice. Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is possible that the holiday was celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. The astronomical date for this midpoint is closer to May 5 or May 7, but this can vary from year to year.

To read more about Beltane, click here and here.
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