For readers who are NOT neo-pagans, Beltane is a Pagan holiday. Beltane has Celtic roots. It is unabashedly a fertility festival.
Most folks (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) celebrate it May 1st, even going so far as to call it MayDay or MayEve, if the celebrate the night before. Therein lies what I see as a problem.
This problem was pointed out to me, years ago, on the Pagan Path Yahoo group by my buddy Red Deer. He posted about how he uses local flora and fauna to determine the day of the 'cross quarter festivals' - Samhain, Imbolg, Beltane, and Lughnasadh) rather than using the Julian calendar or by using the midpoints in the astronomically determined holidays (the solstices and the equinoxes [equini????]). After all, our paleopagan ancestors did NOT use the Julian calendar, nor the Gregorian calendar. They used nature to determing High Days.
Neopagans like to think that we are all so much more tied into nature than the rest of humanity. Nice illusion, I guess. In practice, most of us look to the printed calendar to see when the dark, new and full moons are rather than watching the sky, and set our holidays by the dates on the page.
It's not even like we don't know how the paleopagans set the dates for their 'cross quarter' high days. Most of them are older ones, based on nomadic herding in Europe rather than agriculture and settled villages. Samhain was the finally harvest - that is, when folks culled the herds down to the ones they were willing to feed over the winter. Thus, it was held after all the animals and people had gotten to where they overwintered. They were out of the mountains, they might have moved somewhat south as well.
When did they leave the mountains? I'm not sure what their cue was. I'm going to make a SWAG and say that they moved following the killing frost. I don't know how long it took for them to get to where they overwintered, either. In Ireland it wouldn't have been a really long period.
There would be side effects of using nature to determine the dates of the high days. First - they were different each year. They would NOT handily fit on a calendar. Second - they would be different practically tribe-by-tribe, as different locations would have the killing frost on different days. Might Samhain practically be at Yule in some locations some years? Sure, not that it mattered - it's not like Yule is a Celtic holiday. Yes, the Beaker People (protoPicts) noted the winter solstice, but nomadic tribes like the early Celts didn't - you need, oh, stone circles and such to note astrological events. Those things came later.
So, for me, I celebrate Samhain 3 days after the killing frost in my area. The 3 days is ONLY to give me time to make food/offerings/etc, maybe fast, and do some special visualizations and such for the ritual. I'm SWAGing that the ancient ones would have had to prep, too, after they got to winter quarters. I use the 3 day rule for all the cross quarter holidays, BTW.
Imbolg is all about ewes birthing lambs. I base this on friends who raise sheep in my area who tell me when their sheep start birthing.
Beltane was traditionally held when the leaves of the hawthorn trees were the size of squirrel's ears. So you'd have to know what your local hawthorn trees looked like, and the size of your local squirrels' ears!
Lughnasadh ... well. First harvest, when the barley was ripe. It was celebrated by horse races, horse trading, games of skill. So, I either use county/state fairs in my area to note the date of this, OR if I'm feeling more Wiccan than Celtic Reconstructionist, then it's all about when my garden starts to produce zucchini and tomatoes. In Illinois the county and state fairs were a GREAT match for my garden. Here in Maryland the fairs are later in the year, so it doesn't work as well. I DO wish I knew some local barley farmers, that would rock for making my own beer as well as helping me tune into the same cues the ancient ones did.
And all of this begs the question that aniraangel and I have been discussing on Twitter - how do European customs transfer to neopagans living south of the equator? Or, even, in equitorial areas - no frost to determine Samhain if I lived in Miami!
Neopaganism is new enough (I'm leaving out the Romantic Era Mesopaganism of the 19th century for now) that I don't know if many folks have examined that. I'm wondering if Christianity is different in Oz and Brazil and Sri Lanka where the liturgical cycle is either at odds with the local conditions or if there isn't really much of a cycle at all. Has anyone examined THAT? Seems to me that the field is ripe to see if evolution of religion in those circumstances is different than it is in areas where liturgical cycle and seasonal cycle match.
As always, more questions here than answers. Y'all have any hints for me?
Catch you later!