Beltane Revisited

It’s a mere 18 months or so since I reblogged my post about Beltane, but I’m doing so again because it fits so well with my last post celebrating Thornborough Henges.

Beltane at ‘The Stonehenge of the North’

May 1st 2016

Not much further than a mile from us as the crow flies lies Thornborough Henge. It’s a prehistoric monument consisting of three giant circular earthworks. Constructed 5000 years ago by the first Neolithic (New Stone Age) farmers, it was probably an enclosure for their ritual gatherings. The Henges became an important centre in Britain for pilgrimage and trade, although its exact purpose still remains a mystery.

It sends shivers down my spine to think that this ancient piece of our history lies just a short walk from our home.

An ariel view of Thornborough Henges (photo courtesy of Historic England)

We can visit it any time we choose, simply to tramp round and try to imagine it in its heyday, and we’ll have the place to ourselves.  Not on May Day though.  Today is the Gaelic feast of Beltane, half way between the spring and summer solstices.  It’s a day to mark the beginning of summer. Sadly, today is very cold, rather windy and a bit wet.

Back in pre-historic times, rituals were held on this day to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Bonfires, deemed to have protective powers, were lit.  For many centuries these practices died out.  But nowadays, at sites like Thornborough, pagans, Wiccans, New-Agers and lovers of history and tradition gather once more to celebrate the renewal of life and growth.

Today I was there too.  For an hour at least, for the opening ceremony. Brrr!  It was cold.

The Green Man and his horn.

I was strangely moved.  The Green Man, representing rebirth and the cycle of growth was our Master of Ceremonies.  He invited us all to join hands, whether friends or strangers, in fellowship, and shout out three times the invocation to new life. We hailed Brigantia, Celtic goddess of Northern England.  Then at his bidding and as he sounded his horn, we turned to the east and welcomed the summer rains.  We turned south to welcome the sun (who was coyly absent today), to the west to welcome summer winds, and to the north where the wolves apparently are.

Welcoming the West Wind.

Then a man, naked from the waist upwards save for his covering of woad-coloured paint, leapt among us bearing the flaming torches which would offer us all protection over the coming months.

Protective flames.

And that was the ceremony over.  Dancers entertained us.  They seemed to me to owe much to flamenco and to middle-eastern belly dancing traditions, but we all cheered them on with enthusiasm.

I shan’t be there this year for the closing ceremony.  I’m still thawing out.  But weather permitting, I’ll certainly go along next year.  Will you come along too?

We haven’t been along since: cold May Days, Covid – all the usual tired excuses. But we definitely should make the effort this year.

For Fandango’s Flashback Friday

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

42 thoughts on “Beltane Revisited”

    1. That’s great. I was aware that wassailing is not just a Christmas thing but a festival to urge the crops to grow. I’ve never seen such a ceremony so I’ll add it to the list of Things to Witness In the Near Future!

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  1. Yes, you definitely should! It’s important to keep these traditions going, isn’t it? I can hardly believe that this is right on your doorstep, Margaret. Here’s hoping for a warmer Spring day this year.

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  2. I was hoping you would repost this! Lovely! And to have it on your doorstep, so that when conditions ARE right you can go along easily. Is there a similar festival for Samhain?
    (Happy birthday to M, hope the GDO isn’t too badly impacted by the weather.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There may well be one for Samhain, but these events are not publicised in the wider community – not hidden either – but hard to find out about. So I’ll have to see. Yes, a good day was had by all yesterday though we remained well wrapped up – thank you.

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  3. Oh, happy birthday to Malcolm. He shares it with my 16 year old granddaughter. And we are off for lunch to celebrate the 7th anniversary of ‘The Receipt of the Keys’. Cornwall has its fair share of unusual festivities, but we are not fans of crowds so tend to stay away.


  4. First of all Happy Birthday to Malcolm! And good health too….
    I‘m fascinated by those three giant circles, and so close to your home. Never even heard of them. How utterly magnificent. AND then that ceremony. A half naked man dancing with the flames, wishing for good times to come. Plus the dancing…. Whatever next! What a great experience.

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  5. This sounds fascinating. I think it’s the teenage would-be hippy in me that is intrigued by rituals that feel close to, and celebrate, the earth. I would love to go to this, thanks so much for sharing it!

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  6. How interesting and very thought provoking. Humans have always tried to figure things out to answer the essential why? It’s really the beginning of science of the desire to know. Funny thing about science is that when we look at what we knew in the past, it has changed, replaced by new discoveries and knew knowledge. Our quest to know is what drives us. Take care and thank you. Peace.

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