by Ruel Thompson


Beltane in Europe and Britain today

The Druids in the British Isles and the worship of Bel or Baal the Consort of Astarte.

The name 'Easter' as found by Layard on the Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar. The worship of Bel and Astarte (Ishtar) his consort, was introduced into Britain very early along with the Druids, 'the priests of the groves'.
Some have imagined that the Druidical worship was first introduced by the Phoenicians, who, centuries before the Christian era, traded to the tin-mines of Cornwall, England. But the unequivocal traces of that worship are found in regions of the British islands where the Phoenicians never penetrated, and it has everywhere left indelible marks of the strong hold which it must have had on the early British mind. Bel, or the 1st. of May, is still called Beltane in the Almanac (Edinburgh Almanac, 1860) and we have customs lingering on among us even to this day, (i.e. a waning custom, dancing round the 'may-pole' on the 1st. May, and decorating homes and schoolrooms, even bicycles and toys, during the 1950's and before) being observed especially in the northern parts of the British Isles by the Druids. Bel's 'consort' or wife being Astarte, promoted the dual worship and intermingled customs many of which are included in the Beltane festivals are held throughout the British Isles, mainly Scotland, and Europe around Easter. Mostly these observances include fire and dancing etc. Since 1988, a Beltane Fire Festival has been held every year during the night of 30 April on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Called the Edinburgh Beltane Fire Festival, and in the picture on the left, the 'Red Beastie Drummers' are depicted from this occasion in 2012) Now, although involvement with fire and dancing etc. does still go on, as a form of worship by Neopagans and other cults, this particular festival, being inspired by traditional Beltane, is a modern arts and cultural event which incorporates myth and drama from a variety of world cultures and diverse literary sources.


Neopagans usually celebrate Beltane on 30 April – 1 May in the Northern Hemisphere and 31 October – 1 November in the Southern Hemisphere, beginning and ending at sunset. Some Neopagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the spring equinox and summer solstice (or the full moon nearest this point).
In the Northern Hemisphere, this midpoint is when the ecliptic longitude of the Sun reaches 45 degrees. In 2014, this was on 5 May.
"Lady Baird, of Fern Tower, of Perthshire" says a writer in 'notes and queries' thoroughly versed in British antiquities (Lord John Scott) told me that "every year, at Beltane (1st. May)" a number of men and women assemble at an ancient Druidical circle of stones on her property near Crieff. They light a fire in the centre, each person puts a bit of oat-cake in a shepherd's bonnet. They all sit down, and draw, with blindfolds on, a piece from the bonnet. One piece has been previously blackened, and whoever gets that piece has to jump through the fire in the centre of the circle and pay a forfeit.
This is, in fact, a part of the ancient worship of Baal, and the person on whom the lot fell was previously burnt as a sacrifice.
Now, the passing through the fire, a custom of Beltane, still practised today in at least the northern areas of Britain, represents that same custom, and the payment of the forfeit redeems the victim. Fire is still the most important element of most Beltane celebrations and there are many traditions associated with it. It is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse and revitalise. People leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) and happiness through the coming year.
Although Beltane is the most overtly sexual festival, Pagans rarely use sex in their rituals although rituals often imply sex and fertility. The tradition of dancing round the maypole contains sexual imagary and is still very popular with modern Pagans. The largest Beltane celebrations in the UK are held in Edinburgh. Fires are lit at night and festivities carry on until dawn. All around the UK fires are lit and private celebrations are held amongst covens and groves (groups of Pagans) to mark the start of the summer.