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Beltaine Fires

By Mara Freeman

When the gates of Beltaine swing open on May 1, sunlight and blossom welcome the procession of the year into the green halls of summer. At Imbolc we rejoiced at the return of light; now we celebrate life, growth, love and sexuality: “the force that drives the green fuse through the flower,” in the words of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

While the second part of Irish Beltaine and Scottish Bealtuinn clearly means “fire,” from the old Celtic word tene, linguists are uncertain as to whether Bel refers to Belenos, the Gaulish Apollo, or is simply derived from bel, meaning “brilliant.” It might even derive from bil tene, or “lucky fire,” because to jump between two Beltaine fires was sure to bring good fortune, health to your livestock, and prosperity.

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