“BELTAINE” © Hamish Burgess 2011.
Signed and numbered Limited Edition Giclée print of 300 on water-colour paper. Approx 12 x 12 inches, plus a white unprinted border.
Original Celtic and folk art by Hamish Burgess, a piece for the cover of The Celtic Connection newspaper in Vancouver BC and Seattle, the May issue. The third of a series of four seasonal works.
The old Celtic name for May Day is Beltane, ‘bright fire’, and the coming of Summer. The great wheel of the year turns again on the evening of April 30th, with ancient Celtic festival of Beltane, Beltaine, or Bealtaine in Irish, dedicated to the Sun God Bel, ‘the bright and shining one’. This seasonal feast marks the end of the dark half of the year, and is about honouring life. The Sun God is released from the captivity of Winter, and returns to visit the Earth Goddess, with a time of joyous celebrating.
The center of the piece shows a sacred tree of ancient Ireland, the Bile Tree, one of 5 said to have grown from a tree branch with apples, nuts, acorns and berries all growing on it – brought by a giant man arriving at King Conaing’s hall at Tara. The Bile Tree was at the heart of the clan, the Irish Tree of Life, connecting the three worlds shown inside the leafy triscele of the Mother Goddess (also hiding a Green Man). Top is the Skyworld of the heavens, showing the Sun God Bel.
Right is the Middleworld of us humans – the Bile has gone, but the tradition survives as the Maypole, with it’s fertility dance of young men and maidens circling the pole with coloured ribbons, weaving around each other, making a pattern on the pole. Boys traditionally held red ribbons for the Sun God, and girls held white ribbons for the Goddess. In Padstow, Cornwall, the May Day character the Obby Oss does a fertility dance with white clad Mayers, around the town to music, sometimes capturing a maiden under his costume for good luck with marriage and children.
Left is the Otherworld of the spirits and the sidhe, or faery-folk, showing here the old Beltaine traditions of long ago. People did everything in their power to ensure the return of the Sun God, with huge Bel fires being lit on a knoll, started with 9 different types of sacred wood collected by the Druids. People and animals passed between the two need-fires to bring luck and protection, and purify the cattle before going to summer grazing pastures.
Beltane is a fertility festival, with young folks full of the joys of Summer. An old custom of ‘greenwood marriages’ saw couples disappearing to the woods for the night, staying out to see the new May sunrise, and collecting boughs and flowers for May Day festivities. Many of the girls ended up with a child 9 months later at Imbolc, protected by the Goddess Brigit. Shown either side of Bel, to honour the handfasting of the Goddess and Sun God, the Flower Maiden is ready to meet her consort, Cernunnos, the forest god, or the Green Man.
In Welsh mythology of ‘The Mabinogion’, a maiden Blodeuedd was made from flowers as a bride for Lleu. She fell in love with another, and plotted to kill Lleu, who escaped as a wounded eagle, later to return for revenge and transform Blodeuedd into an owl (top left), flying only by night and spurned by other birds.
Top right shows a ship – according to the ancient ‘Lebor Gabala’, the ‘Book of Invasions’, several invasions of Ireland took place at Beltane. The Partholons, the Tuatha de Danaan, arriving ‘through the air in a mist’, and finally the Milesians, ancestors of the Gaels, arrived this night.
Bottom right shows the May Morning Dew – another old May Day custom was to wash your face in the dew before dawn for luck, or to ensure maidens beauty – here a sidhe maiden looks into the dew drop.
Bottom left shows a hearth and window – household fires would be extinguished only at Beltane, so they could be re-lit from brands of the sacred fires, as a symbolic blessing. A traditional bannock sits on the hearth, a cake that would be broken and pieces thrown into the Bel fires with invocations, or left for on doorsteps as an offering to the wee folk.
In olden days, rowan branches would be hung at doors and windows for protection against mischievous spirits, because at Beltane the veil between our world and the Otherworld is at it’s thinnest, as at Samhain, the counterpart at the dark start of the year.
The two small figures below the Tree are the Faery Queen and Thomas the Rhymer. Legend has it that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane night, you may hear the Faery Queen, or the sound of her white horse’s bells, as she rides through the night looking for folks to take to her realm. If you hide your face, she will pass by, but if you look at her, she may take you with her, as in the Scottish ballad of ‘Thomas the Rhymer’, who left with the Queen and has never been seen since.
The knotwork flower garland is based on a tree of life in the ‘Book of Kells’, and shows flowers linked to Beltane, hawthorn and marigolds.
Also shown are of course the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
All prints signed and numbered by the artist in pencil at the bottom.
The print you receive will not have the artist’s name across it, as in the photo. That is for internet viewing only.
Aloha and mahalo for looking.