Posts Tagged ‘Fairy Mounds’
Poised between spring and summer, Beltane is the Celtic quarter-marker festival of budding fertility. As the sun waxes brighter in the northern hemisphere, it is a festival marked by flames and bonfires in earthly reflection of the heightening solar powers. The fires are and were also intended to purify the world for the upcoming bounty of spring fruits and autumnal harvests.
Standing as it does on the cusp of warmer weather and as the herald of the vivid growth and coloring of late spring and summer, Beltane was a festival of the in-between. In the ancient mythology of the Celtic Isles, particularly Ireland, it represented a changing of regimes and hunting grounds among the Tuatha de Dannan, the Fianna, and the more human aspects of the ancient population. Famously, the Sons of MÍl (the mythical Milesians) first landed on the southwest coast of Ireland on Beltane in an attempt to upset the balance of power and claim the islands for themselves. As they first stepped foot on the beaches and upon feeling the power emanating from the earth on the sacred isles, connecting them to the sacred day, the sun, and the cycle of life and death; their poet Armhairghin composed a song-chant in honor of the occasion. He sang:
“I am an estuary into the sea.
I am a wave of the ocean.
I am the sound of the sea.
I am a powerful ox.
I am a hawk on a cliff.
I am a dewdrop on the sun.
I am a plant of beauty.
I am a boar of valour.
I am a salmon in a pool.
I am a lake in a plain.
I am the strength of art…”
The sacred place on the sacred day of Beltane inspired an ancient invocation of one-ness between man and the universe: a positive invocation that inspires boundless definitions beyond the borders of human conception and perception. For, like its parallel fall festival of Samhain, it is a time when the boundaries between the worlds is dim. And like Samhain, it was a time when fierce protections were set in place to ensure that the roaming faeries and ancient gods of Dark Age and early Medieval Ireland did not interfere with mortal affairs or kidnap mortals into the Otherworlds beyond the mortal veil. Of particular concern were the Aos SÍ (the people of the Mounds), better known as the Tuatha Dé Danann or the Sidhe: the common name in Irish Gaeilge for the Mounds themselves. These faerie mounds which still dot the landscape of the Celtic isles are in reality Neolithic burial sites. But prior to the archaeological excavations conducted over the past several centuries (and really, still), these mounds were superstitious spots on the map. They were sites associated with the unknown depths of antiquity that had come before and when the early religions of the pagan past were translated into Christian terms as fairy tales and mythic saints, the ancient mounds retained their mysterious symbolism.
Legends held that the mounds variously housed the denizens of faerie or acted as party portals between the mortal realm and the Otherworlds ~ which in Celtic mythology are a complex and intriquing web of inter-dimensional theories modern physics are currently exploring. On certain special days, (Beltane among them) the locks between the layers of reality were undone, and the Aos SÍ were able to travel into the mortal realm via the Faerie Mounds and other portals within the landscape despite their contract with the Milesians that they must remain in the Otherworlds. Often their travels involved wild rides through the countryside or midnight dances near the mounds or in the surrounding forest. Hapless mortals lured into their revelry would often disappear, never to be seen again or returning suddenly years later, thinking only a few days had passed. Such was the case of the literarily infamous Tam Lin from last year’s Sacred Mists Beltane Blog who disappeared with the Sidhe and returned centuries later.
In order to avoid being caught up by the Aos SÍ, various rituals were enacted for protection and to simultaneously draw the good blessings of the faerie folk upon their households. The bonfires, ripe with fertile and purifying symbolism, also serve as faux-faerie fires. In this sense, the bonfires act as a sort of apotropaic magick whereby the humans mimic the revelry of the fey thereby keeping other bands of Tuatha Dé Danann from wandering their way by convincing them that there were already faeries in residence. Less flammable offerings of foods were also often left outside of the house or certain plants or flowers hung over the doorways and windows to keep the sidhe out, while still currying their good favor as they passed by on Beltane, Samhain and other days of the in-between. Milk, honey, cakes, and bouquets of fresh and dried herbs were, in particular, favorite offerings to the faerie folk.
Though Beltane is an ancient festival of hope and confidence, it is still widely celebrated in the modern world as one of the highlights of the Wiccan and Druidic calendar. And the belief in faeries and in other magickal denizens of the house and countryside remains strong the world over. So be sure to celebrate this festival of light, growth, and impending summer. It is a marker of good things to come!
Check out Sacred Mist’s Free Beltane Spells and Recipes : especially the Fried Honeycakes ~ just be sure you make enough for you and the Aos SÍ!
[Pictured at the top is Edward Hugh's Midsummer's Eve].