Happy Beltane/ Eostre everyone. So this year I am trying something new – I’m trying to follow the old Anglo Saxon calendar rather than the traditional wheel of the year. An interesting coincidence this year is that the celebration of Eostre (which falls on the full moon of EostreMonth) is actually on April 30th this year – the same date as Beltane eve.
The Anglo Saxons split the year into two seasons – Summer and Winter, rather than four, and their summer started with the celebration of Eostre (just as their winter started with the celebration of the the Winter Full Moon.
Throughout April I have been going for a daily walk, and noticing how things have been changing in nature. It is as though this month nature officially woke up. At the start of the month there were very few flowers around or leaves on trees, but now everything is bursting into life – blossoms are around, the bees are busy searching for nectar, almost every tree has leaves on it, the woods are full of flowers like bluebells, lesser celadine, wood anemones and ramsons (as well as many edible foods). It has become warm enough at some points to go out without a coat. I’ve been able to start planting things out on my allotment.
So let’s look at some of the Lore surrounding Eostre and Beltane. Beltane, meaning “bright fire” is one of the four great fire festivals of the ancient Celtic cultures. In ancient Irish culture it was the time when both the Tuatha De Danaan and the Milesians came to Ireland and was originally celebrated when the Hawthorns began to blossom. Half way between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, it marks the start of the light half of the year and heralds the beginning of summer. According to historian Ronald Hutton, “the ritual of Beltane was found in all Celtic areas of the British Isles, but also in pastoral regions of Germanic and Scandinavian Europe.” The historical evidence for the celebration of this festival is much better than for others. The earliest references to it are from 900AD which state “lucky fire i.e two fires Druids used to make with great incantations, and they used to bring the cattle against the diseases of the year to those fires” and “they used to drive cattle between them.” Another reference says “a fire was kindled in his [Bel] name at the beginning of summer always, and cattle were driven between two fires.” Like the other three Celtic festivals, Beltane is mentioned in the Irish tale of Tochmarc Emire and the ritual of lighting bonfires at this time survived right up until the 19th century. Like Samhain, it was seen as a liminal time “when fairies and witches were especially active, and magical devices [were] required to guard against them.” To the welsh, it was one of the “spirit nights.” Hutton says that “rituals were conducted to protect…against the powers of evil, natural and supernatural, not merely in the season to come but because those malign powers were supposed to be active at this turning point of the year.” Other celebrations in English areas at this time include “bringing in the May” and dancing around a Maypole. Bringing in the May dates back to at least the 13th century and refers to gathering flowers and foliage to bring home and celebrate the beginning of summer. Hutton says that there is no evidence for when the Maypole came to Britain but it was first recorded in a welsh poem in the mid 14th century and is also recorded in Scandinavia so probably originated from the continent. The May Pole was not a phallic or world tree symbol but was most likely simply a “focal point for celebrations” or something to hang garlands on.
Beltane marks the beginning of the pastoral season, the time when farmers traditionally moved their herds to summer pastures (driving them between two fires for blessing and protection first) and people could go outside because of the milder weather. The crops were being put into the ground now and it was traditionally the beginning of calving season. There was lots of milking to do and making dairy products like butter (in fact the Anglo Saxons called the month of May “Trimilchi” – three milkings.) It was the busiest time to visit water sources to collect water for healing and good luck. It was also a time for the renewal of rents.
Learning from historical practices, Gaelic reconstructionists celebrate this time by extinguishing a flame (ideally a bonfire) and relighting it. If there is no bonfire or hearth fire, it is a good time to buy a new hearth candle for your altar and ritually extinguish the old one while lighting the new one. They eat a feast, usually including bannocks and oatmeal porridge or soup with soft cheese and shoots of new herbs and salad greens such as wood sorrel. They also decorate their houses with greenery and yellow flowers like buttercups and collect dew or water in the morning (considered potent for healing and maintaining a youthful appearance). They also make offerings to the gods, carry out protection rites to sain their house and land while warding the boundaries, and make charms of rowan. Some groups also see this as a time to renew their bond with the land goddess (the nearest river) by giving her offerings at her river bank. In Welsh myth this is the time when Taliesin was found in a river after being reborn from the goddess Ceridwen, and some pagans may choose to read his story on May eve.
Eostre is a time for fertility, fun and flowers. The birds have returned from their migrations, animals are giving birth to their young and all around us the world is turning green once again. It is a time when nature has officially woken up – the buds on trees are bursting, seeds are beginning to sprout up out of the ground, flowers are blossoming and there is a palpable sense of renewed life all around us. It is a feast of awakening and Summer has arrived. Bede said that the name Easter came from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre and the month was named after her. Hutton says that one could argue that “Eostre was a Germanic dawn-deity who was venerated, appropriately at this season of opening and new beginnings. It is equally valid, however, to suggest that the Anglo-Saxon ‘Estor-Monath’ simply meant ‘the month of opening’ or ‘the month of beginnings.’” He goes on to say that the practice of decorating eggs at this time does go back to at least the 1200’s but the chocolate version of the egg is a twentieth century invention. Eggs are a very apt symbol for this season as they represent new life. For agricultural societies, this is also the time when the extra light led to a big increase in egg production and was a welcome source of food.
For Anglo Saxon and Norse Heathens like Asatru and Fyrn Sidu, this festival is called Blostmfreols or Walpurgisnacht. It is a night when witches gather and magic happens. For some, it is a time to honour Freya, the goddess of magic and love. For others it is time to honour Eastre or Baldaeg (Grimm associates this festival in May with Balder in Germanic countries). It is also a time to honour the Landwights. Like the Gaelic Reconstructionists, it is seen as a time of supernatural danger, and is celebrated with feasting, bonfires and protective rites. Some modern northern polytheists see the 9 days between Earth Day and May day as the nine nights when Woden hung on the world tree to sacrifice himself in order to learn the mysteries of the runes. It is therefore a good time to focus on runic divinations and making runic charms. Along with this, some celebrate April 23rd as Sigurds Day (the norse equivalent of St George who slew a dragon) and some may choose to celebrate the ancient Norse celebration Sigrblot (victory sacrifice) which marked the beginning of summer and asked Odin for victory in war and good luck on journeys.
There are many ways we can celebrate Eostre/ Beltane
- Dye eggs as an offering to Eostre.
- Eat chocolate eggs.
- Go for a picnic or walk in nature
- Decorate our home, altar or hair with flowers
- Do a ritual to honour Eostre or the Landwights
- Plant the main crop potatoes.
- Have a bonfire – or run between two bonfires/ candles for purification.
- Create a maypole and dance around it
- Eat seasonable foods – or even make a salad of wild edible foods such as dandelions, ramsons, jack by the hedge, nettles, goosegrass, hawthorn leaves e.t.c
- Make a meal of new potatoes with asparagus.
- Make lemonade.
- Focus on the romantic side of life.