Of all the sacred festivals, Beltane most horrified the Christian missionaries. The celebrations were unashamedly sexual in nature, which the monks found profoundly disturbing. Despite the fear of hellfire people continued to revel in traditional ways on their beloved May Day. At last, the back bending work of planting was over. The long nights and worrisome days of assisting the sheep and cattle in birthing their next generation were through. Everywhere flowers glowed in profusion; the high pastures were clothed in the greenery of spring and the hungry, cold, dark time was past.
On Beltane Eve, it was time to show the Mother of All Living and the All-Father exactly what was expected of them if the crops and cattle were to flourish. Our ancestors freely and enthusiastically undertook this sacred task and continued in their well condemned ‘sinful follies.' So harshly and unrelentingly did the Christians attack May Day customs that even the most innocent practices of the sacred day were eventually demonized. Maying, the tradition of going into the forests to pick Hawthorn flowers, is one of the customs that is today surrounded by superstitions and darkened with the curse of so-called bad luck. Beltane practices were linked to witchcraft and the common people began to be afraid to maintain their ancient and well-loved traditions. By the early decades of the 1800’s, May Day, which had been associated with the faerys time out of mind, had become in the popular imagination a day of great danger.
Beltane is exactly opposite Samhain in the Celtic year. At Samhain, the cattle are brought in from the fields and culled. At Beltane, they are driven out to their summer pastures with their new calves at their sides. However, before they were free to luxuriate in their freedom, an indispensable rite had to be performed. On Beltane Eve, all of the fires throughout Celtica were extinguished. Each housewife then swept her hearth and laid the kindling for a new fire. All of the household went out into the fragrant spring night and gathered with their clans’ folk and neighbors on a nearby hill. There, just before dawn, the Druid lit the Beltane Fire. Thousands of fires were strewn across the lands, glittering like fallen stars, as far as the eye could see. As the sun rose, each housewife took some coals from the great fire. These coals were borne with great rejoicing into each home, and with them, the new hearth fires were soon set ablaze, each a daughter of the Beltane Fire. Later in the day, the cattle and sheep were herded across the last coals of the great fire and only then after they had been ritually cleansed and blessed, were they driven up into the summer pastures.