Beltane, or May Day, is a time to re-light the hearth fires. It is a celebration of fertility, the Earth's renewed bounty, and the fires of inspiration. The first written records of Beltane date from 900 CE (1), though it is probable that the festival was celebrated long before that in some fashion as seasonal rites are present in a vast majority of ancient cultures. It is a time when people still gather to jump over bonfires, cleansing away the things that do not aid their desired goals, removing obstacles and bringing fertility to endeavors. Beltane is also one of two times during the year when the veil between the physical world and the Otherworld is thinnest, the other being Samhain, or Halloween. Just as Samhain is a time to remember and honor those who have died, harolding the new year, Beltane is a time of honoring new life and the bounty of potential.
In the lore, Beltane is the time when the Goddess of Spring (the May Queen), and the young Oak King (the Green Man), fall in love and consummate their union, ushering in the first day of summer (4), the land's womb full of possibility and promise. "Traditionally all fires in the community were put out and a special fire was kindled for Beltane. This was the Tein-eigen, the need fire. [...] At the end of the evening, the villagers would take some of the Teineigen to start their fires anew" (2). Individuals and couples would jump the bonfires, while the local livestock would be herded through the smoke, so that they might be protected in the coming year.
It is a time traditionally demarcated by the first blooms of the May tree, the whitethorn, or the Hawthorn, as it is usually known. The Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna Jacq.), is especially significant because it is seen as a tree of fertility and sexuality, its flowers often used as decorations during the festivities (2).
While the all parts of the tree have medicinal properties, the flowers, berries, bark, and leaves often have particular specialties. The blossoms particularly were/are used to treat Hawthorn berries have long been used to treat cardiac conditions, insomnia, and are sometimes used as a mild sedative. While hawthorn and its cousin species have been used as cardiovascular-support herbs since the Middle Ages, there are accounts going back to the first century CE of the Greek herbalist, Dioscorides, working with the tree.
In magical practices, this tree is sacred to the Fair Ones, and a hawthorn wand is a powerful tool for blessing, the tree lending it's abilities of abundance to the wielder when the wand has been harvested properly and used well. Additionly, the original Maypoles were made of Hawthorn.
1. Mankey, Jason, (2015). "Beltane Past: Fire and Folklore," http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2015/04/what-do-we-really-know-about-beltane/
2. The Goddess & The Green Man, "Beltane: April 30 to May 1," http://www.goddessandgreenman.co.uk/beltane
4. Mountain Rose Herbs, "Hawthorn Leaf and Flower," https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/hawthorn-leaf-slash-flower/profile
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