Saturday, 12 May 2018

Ha-Pee Old Beltane

Happy 'Aald Beltin' dear readers! According to our beloved Ernest Walker Marwick, the Old Beltane or May Day used to fall, by our calendar, on the 12th of May.

It has been a very wet, cold winter here in Orkney and, although we have had a wee share of sunshine, there is still an annoying nip in the air. April and May are always thus. To quote Mr Marwick:

"We have no sooner had a couple of halcyon days, blue as sapphire, than there comes a bleak wind which cuts us to the bone..."

Consequently, the farmers have been a bit later than usual sowing their fields but, according to Marwick, neither peats were cut nor bere seeds sown until 'Orkney Beltane (Old Style)' with this tradition still being observed in some parts of Orkney and Shetland in the 1970s.

Bel for sun and tein for fire, Beltane was a farewell to dark winter and a welcome to Summer months. F. Marian McNeill, author of The Silver Bough tells how "fairies, witches and all the uncanny creatures of the Otherworld" were abound on May Day eve and sprigs of rowan were carried, worn and festooned around the home to ward them off. Rowan was also perched in the midden (the bin, basically) because that is where the 'black sisterhood', i.e. witches, used to hang out. Keep it classy sisters.

As is usual with Orcadian traditions, the Beltane celebrations would not be complete without a liberal sprinkling of urine for lucky domestic animals . For it's healing powers obviously... Honestly, this example is the tip of a urine-soaked iceberg. People used it ALL the time. They sprinkled it on their animals, women about to give birth, left it lying about in buckets, put it in their eyes, drank it... All. The. Time.

References: D31/BBC/7
The Silver Bough Volumes I and II.


  1. Um, Dusty? Farmers don't "sew" their fields. They sow them. I mean, sometimes the Medieval landscape looked quilted because of all the rig and furrow lines in the fields, but even then, the seeds were sown, not sewn. ^_^ Sorry, I couldn't let that one slip, though I did let another one go by. Any good farmer's daughter would have to speak up. :P


    1. Well spotted Sue. This was written by Archiver who is a townie through and through, or should that be tewnie? I will correct the blog and waggle my farmer's daughter finger at her the next time she comes in.

    2. Well excuuuse me for not being a country bumpkin...


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