This week we reach, once again, Beltane, one of the two great Celtic Fire
Festivals, on 1 May. On Beltane our Celtic ancestors welcomed with fire,
in honour of the sun, the start of summer. Since 1988 the Beltane Fire
Festival was revived on Calton Hill in the Scottish Capital, Edinburgh,
and over recent years attracted some 15,000 people, from all over the
world, to watch the colourful spectacle of fire-juggling acts, dance
performers and musicians which echoed our forebear's welcome to the sun
and new life. But last month the demands of the Edinburgh City Fathers led
to the cancellation of the 2003 Beltane Calton Hill celebrations, instead
the organisers are to celebrate Beltane in Edinburgh's Venue nightclub.
Not quite the same!
In her splendid four volume series 'The Silver Bough' F Marion McNeill in
volume four 'The Local Festivals of Scotland' published in 1968 described
the, then, Beltane Rites in Edinburgh :-
' Arthur's Seat, a hill of over 800 feet, behind the Palace of
Holyroodhouse, is one of the traditional sites on which our pre-Christian
forebears were accustomed to light their Beltane fires at sunrise on the
first day of May, to hail the coming of summer and to encourage by mimetic
magic the renewal of the food supply.
"For the growth of vegetation, not only sunshine, but moisture is
necessary; hence not only fire but water had its place in the Beltane
ritual. To the Druids, the most sacred of all water forms was dew, and to
the dew of Beltane morning they attributed special virtue, gathering it
before dawn in stones hollowed out for that purpose. May dew, in a word
was the 'holy water' of the Druids. Those on whom it was sprinkled were
assured of health and happiness and tradition has it, where young women
were concerned, of beauty as well, throughout the ensuing year."
To this day, all over Scotland numbers of young girls rise before dawn on
the first of May and go out to meadow or hillside to bathe their faces in
the dew. Arthur's Seat is a favourite meeting-place, and nearby is St
Anthony's Well to which many resort to "wish a wish" on this auspicious
day. This picturesque survival of the old pagan rites, together with the
Christian service on the summit of the hill, draws hundreds of people to
the site. As dawn approaches, numbers of young girls dally on the slopes
of Arthur's Seat, laughing and chattering as they perform the immemorial
rite, and are regarded with amused tolerance by the majority of
the arrivals as they climb to the summit to join in the Sunrise service.'
We cannot guarantee the outcome of washing your face in the May morning
dew but can guarantee the tastiness of this week's recipe, a great
Scottish dish to celebrate Beltane - Rumbledethumps. Traditionally this
potato and cabbage based dish is a main course in itself but it can also
be served as an accompaniment to roasts and stews.
Ingredients : 1 lb (500 g) potatoes, cooked and mashed; 1 lb (500 g)
cabbage, cooked; 2 oz (50 g) butter; 1 medium onion, finely chopped; 2
oz (50 g) grated cheese; some chopped chives
Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onion. Cook gently for five
minutes without browning. Add potatoes, chives and cabbage and mix
together. Season well and put into a pie dish. Cover with cheese and brown
under the grill or in the oven. Serve hot.