Monday, April 30, 2007
There's only so much research you can do into the origin of words before the stories start going in circles. That's when the thinness of knowledge mixes with the kind of understanding you can only call knowing. It is the best of times, the most frustrating of times.
In our culture of calendars and watches, appointment books and blackberrys, tomorrow will be May 1st; therefore tonight is the eve of May 1st: May Day, Beltaine. It is a time of thinness, just as there are geographical places of thinness.
In the Celtic tradition, but specifically the Gaelic, Bealtaine marks the cross-quarter mid-point between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice... significant sun days for the world that revolved around agriculture. The herds would be sent to their summer pastures, and blessings would be invoked for fruitfulness of the land. This holiday would not have always fallen so conveniently on this date... it may have been celebrated at the full moon falling closest to the sun's day.
The word Beltane may come from the Old Irish Beltene which means bright fire, or from bale fire which also means white or shining. In any event, fire and bonfires were/are a major part of the celebration. From that one fire other fires would be rekindled. The rituals for blessing and purification were done in threes, a sacred number in practically every religion. Why is that? What is it about the number three that holds so much power and significance? You can do your own research. There are plenty of theories. I gravitate to the belief that it's a combination of the number one and the number two... the mystery that embraces both unity and duality... a concept we've been struggling with since Eden.
But back to the bonfires. Think of our own Easter vigil ritual... the light of the world is rekindled and from it all the candles in the church are lit. What we call resurrection was evident in the pagan world in spring's miraculous rebirth from winter. Just as Jesus told his parables in words using the Earth's terminology, so we echo the intuitive understanding of our forebears.
Just because I can google the morning away discovering how all these things fit together, does not make me any the wiser. I have never jumped three times over the fire like my Irish ancestors. Maybe I should just drag out the hibachi and give it a go.