Beltane

Fire rituals have remained as part of the peatland culture up to and including modern times. On the first of May Beltane was/is celebrated. Cattle and people passing through fire from winter croft to summer pasture on the way to the moorland shielings was an ancient Beltane ritual. Other practices to do with the cleansing properties of fire are associated with this time of year. Passing fire round an infant thrice is a tradition that is supposed to prevent the baby being swapped by the fairy folk for a changeling. In her classic work on Scottish folklore and folk belief  ‘The Silver Bough’ F.Marian McNeill writes:-

“The Quarter Days being holy days, occult influences were believed to be more potent and magical rites more effective than at other times. Hence the ritual kindling of the need-fire, the supreme protective against disease, disaster, and the powers of evil; the saining [blessing] of cattle and crops, boats and buildings; the visits of the sick, the maimed and the barren to the holy wells; the divination of rites; and the baking and dedication of the sacrificial cakes. They were also lucky days for setting out on a journey, for a new undertaking, and for drawing lovers together.”
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McNeill also goes on to describe how the magic surrounding these special days could be used for ill as well as good. Of particular interest is this passage;-
“…it was dangerous to give fire (in the form of a kindling) out of the house, even to a neighbour whose fire had gone out, for this gave her the means of taking the toradh, the substance or benefit, from the cows; or, if one did give it, one took the precaution of throwing a piece of burning peat into a tub of water as soon as the neighbour had left to counteract any evil intention.”
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