Out of the darkness, the Queen of May comes out to meet the green man, they walk together, in front of the procession of revelers. They ascend the hill to light the fire, marking the end of winter and the return of life to the fields, with the morning of May 1.
It is the ritual of Biltan, meaning the word “fire pal,” in the ancient Celtic languages. Pal is the god of the sun, and its celebration was an annual ritual in the ancient religions that spread throughout the European continent for thousands of years.
It is noted that the name of Bal, the Celtic sun god, is similar to the name of Baal, the sun god also in the civilizations that spread across the ancient east.
Historians cannot decide whether the two are extensions of one deity, especially with the great geographical distance between the civilizations that worshiped them, but there is no doubt that they bear something of each other’s characteristics, just as the goddesses of motherhood and fertility are similar among all peoples.
Beltan Festival falls in the beginning of May every year, as it is the station that separates the year into two halves, winter, cold, death and darkness, and the part of summer, warmth, life and light.
Beltan is one of the faces of the many early spring feasts, or early May festivals, of ancient civilizations that celebrated the alternation of seasons. Just as the winter solstice, Christmas, Halloween and others have similar pagan roots between the Greek, Roman, Celtic, Eastern and other civilizations, so are the celebrations of the beginning of May.
Like many ancient pagan cults, the influences of Biltan are still present in contemporary societies, and it is celebrated on the evening of April 30, and throughout the day of May 1, in Ireland, Scotland, England, and in a large number of European countries.
During the past few decades, the rise of new pagan cults, including neo-Druids and Wiccan, has injected new life into some of the extinct pagan rituals.
Since 1988, a group of volunteers known as the “Beltan Fiery Community” has revived the tradition, with an annual festival held on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland, with the support of the University of Edinburgh.
The group includes actors, musicians, dancers, witches and acrobatic performers, and it attracts followers of a number of neo-pagan religions, with the aim of reviving the Celtic traditions, and educating those who carry that heritage about the importance of contacting and protecting the elements of nature.
The same group is also hosting the Samhain Festival in November, which is the oldest version of Halloween. By doing so, it restores some of the oldest pagan cults, but with a contemporary template.
Over the past three decades, the Beltan Festival in the spring has turned into a destination for those interested, and includes dancing processions, rhythmic music, bonfires, and performances, as well as circling around the May mast, a long wooden trunk decorated with long fabrics and flowers, and is believed to be a very ancient symbol of fertility .
During the past year, and due to the conditions of the Corona epidemic and the closure that affected all worship, the organizers celebrated the festival via a live broadcast on YouTube. This year, too, they are launching similar broadcasts of their magical shows, waiting for life to return to normal.
Historians believe, Beltan was more like a fertility festival, in which farmers light a fire to protect from disease, witchcraft and the wrath of the gods, and inject health into poultry, livestock and crops, as the planting season begins.
Besides celebrating nature and its generosity, the ancient Celtic farmers, and their druids priests, lit a fire and offered her sacrifices, to calm the fairies and magical forest creatures, seek their affection, and temper their destructive powers.
Biltan night was a rite of acquaintance between young men and women who had reached the age of marriage, as they picked flowers from the fields, and carried them with them to the celebration, and sometimes they would choose some of them on the spot, and they were married on the same night.
It is believed that it was this celebration that inspired the Catholic devotions dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the month of May. Just as Christianity was inspired by some of its rituals from ancient pagan cults, so the month of celebration of Mary was inspired by the ancient celebration of the gods of spring.
It is true that the Biltan Festival in Edinburgh is the largest among the festivals of the restored Sun God, but it is not the only one, and there are similar celebrations in several European cities.
The neo-pagans believe that the god Pal, who the mother goddess gives birth to in winter, reaches its peak in the month of May and becomes her partner, injecting fertility and life into the land, crops and nature.
The new Druids believe that this regeneration in nature is symbolic on the personal level, because it calls on people to renew their creative energies and give in their work and family life.
The fire lit by celebrants with the sun god symbolizes purification, bringing good luck, and bringing life to the bodies, souls and minds, to receive the gifts of nature.