Beltane/Galan Mai

Synopsis:

Astrocelt muse on Galan Mai, with festival comparisons from the classical world, combined with links to public festivals at this time of year.



The festival which celebrates the coming of summer has been attributed to agricultural festivals, religious events, and to astronomical phenomena. The festival itself has undertones of fertility in nature and of human beings, joined to those of immortality on the spinning seasonal wheel. These may be thought to have been lost within the commercialism of the 21st century. Indeed in the last 60 years such festival celebrations suggest they are undertaking a new light of expression.

Beltane/Galan Mai has been promoted as a Celtic and a Druid Festival, or even a Sabbat, depending on how one wish to look at this through time. One can detect the changing influences from an agricultural community event where transhumance is practiced. From such community participation these suggest they lead to a religious festival. Even to a classical worldview which explains attributes of creation in a mythological viewpoint and story form.

As an agricultural festival, it is challenging to piece together what the ancestors undertook apart from a glimpse through classical literature commentators, although there reliability might be questioned. On one level Beltane might be traced or even associated with the fire of Bel acquainted to Baal or Beli. Where associated to the solar fire which governed the solar principle of the universe and the enfoldment of nature. As in this case a principle deity of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Carthaginians, Chaldea, Egyptians and Sidonians. Likewise Galan Mai could have its roots in the Greece goddess of spring and fertility Maia, which bears the name of this month. Even Maia became projected into the heaven within cosmology among the stars forming part of the Pleiades cluster in the Northern Hemisphere. In turn Maia is a Roman goddess associated to fertility, rebirth, youth and life. Alternatively associations to the mother of buddha’s mother Maya might also be relevant. On the other hand archaeology traces of such events are not easily found within the prehistoric record, apart from the generalisations associated with feasting. Even then, such events are challenging to pin down to specific timings.

Nonetheless, it might be fine to look at such similarities, whatever cultural named gods or goddesses which have been passed down through time. There was no doubt a name available and in use in antiquity which could well have escaped being recorded, or reaching. Overall it’s a time to imprints and nurtures an understanding of a particular worldview. What might become clear within the Northern Hemisphere is humanity perceived a union occurred on a cosmology level which brought forth a revival in the earth’s fertility, as new life is regenerated in a circular spinning or later linear pattern.

Traditions associated from Galan Mai within the written record vary from region to region with in a pastoral culture. Time for festival celebrations were also a time for change from the norm as members of agricultural communities come together for jollities, fun and games. That is prior to the livestock moving onto the higher pastures. Although various cultures have this time marked as one where increases labour was required, and is traditionally known as a period when they became hired. It too was a time when tenancy to properties either expired or where renewed.

Overall Galan Mai was the time when the community celebrate the changes observed in nature and the night sky. Specifically when communities concerned depended on each other skills for survival. Celebrations are indicated to have started on the evening of the 30th April but also continued through out the summer in some respects to other activities concerned. The lighting of fires was very prominent in the South where such fires were carefully prepared with by nine men who gathered nine different types of woods which fuelled the fire. Such fires were either singular or in a pair, apart from the recorded Irish custom of driving the cattle through the two. Galan Mai was also a time for undertaking divination, very similar to its opposite festival at Samhain. This took the form of the people present taking out quartered oat cakes from a bag. Within are mixed quarters of a brown cake, these when drawn from the bag had the option to either jump over the single fire or run between the two. Overall if these where picked out undertaking the task was said to ensure a good harvest for the individual concerned. Additionally the fire ashes were also collected afterwards for good luck omens, defence against illness and used for magical purposes.

Additional activities during this time included music played from a high point, often undertaken on a raised area called a twmpath from which they performed on. Today drivers in Wales often have to negotiate these twmpath in the roads, as a form of traffic calming exercise to reduce motor vehicles speed when entering into villages, towns and cities. Galan Mai was also the starting point for playing social games such as the sporting activities we have today. The May Pole also has become an integrated part of those celebrations as well.

Modern variations of this festival take many public forms; on the internet further information are available from: -

America

Blue Ridge Beltane Festival Virginia
Centre For SYmbolic Studies Beltaine In Tillson, NY
Circle Sanctuary Wisconsin
Green Song Grove 2008 Beltane Celebration Florida
May Moon Beltane Festival USA

England

Beltane at Thornborough Henge 2008 UK

Scotland

Charlton HIll Edingburgh
Peebles Betane Festival


Tags:
Beltane, Celtic, Druid, Festivals, Galan Mai, Northern Hemisphere,
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Samhain, Southern Hemisphere, Anzac Day

Today in NZ and Australia it is ANZAC Day - commemorating the Australia New Zealand Army Corps of previous wars.   It has always felt so appropriate that it is commemorated so close to Samhain here and I often find the day very full of a sense of the 'lifting of the veil' and experiencing the nearness of many who have gone before - not just human!  This morning, on a sunny, crisp Autumn morning I felt called to a small beach not far from my house.   While in communion there, this poem arose:

TODAY I MOURN
Anzac Day 2008

Today I mourn
For all the lives lost in needless hatred
For the men who died in battle against a faceless foe
Calling for their loved ones who they strove to protect.
No taking sides - I mourn them all, every hue, creed and tribe.
The daemons of war have no favourites,
The noble warrior is long gone, no choosing now to die for honour hand to hand.

Today I mourn
For all the women and children who never again warmed to the smile
Of husband, father, lover, son.
But lit the candle every night in memory of something past
And caressed the photographs until the image was no more.
A new day dawning they told themselves but lonely was the cry
Broken hearts have no place in the world of men
‘Get on with it’ they said.  ‘Go home’ they said, ‘you are not wanted here’.

Today I mourn
For every living thing, every sentient being sacrificed to the greed of war.
For rocks that shattered from mighty blasts, tearing the heart
To mine the ore for busy assembly lines forging the capsules of death
For every mighty tree that fed a fire of destruction or was felled for clearer view.
No honouring of sacred groves here, no respect for faery or for gnome
Or for the mighty hearts who spoke the magic for a thousand years.
For every flower mindlessly trodden under a booted heel
Replaced by a plastic poppy.

Not for me today  parades and drums, speeches that tell only half the story.
Glory is an easy word,  with pride its  companion and ‘God on our side’ its poison.

Creamy words that swell the hearts of the  young with.........what?

No, down to the beach for me, to sit upon a silver log, alone and dreaming.
Here I can feel the souls of past generations, not lifeless but shimmering in the morning sun, breathing in every rock, tree, animal and plant.
Chattering in the small waves that gossip with the sand.
A battalion of seaweed floats just under the surface of the sea
Pokes little soldier heads up and sways to the music of the day.
They are singing ‘Hallelujah’.