The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Friday, May 1, 2009

Beltane and Robin Gibb

They really have nothing to do with one another except that today is May 1st - Beltane and I saw Robin Gibb (a real live Bee Gee!) at Luisenpark this afternoon.

I have a real love-hate relationship with my memory of the Bee Gees. I love their early stuff..."Massachusetts", "I've Gotta Get a Message To You", "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?" and, of course, "Words". But they are also the poster children for that ugliest of times in American music history...the Disco era. When people think of the music of the '70s they think of Disco. Truth be told, there was great music in the '70s but in 1977 a little movie called Saturday Night Fever and it's soundtrack (sung by the Bee Gees) gave new life to what had been, up to that point, a sidestream of American music - and a dying sidestream at that - Disco. The Disco era took off and the Bee Gees led the charge. Gag me with platform shoes and polyester! Good music was drowned out in the presence of the dance beat. Like I said, I have a real love-hate relationship with my memory of the Bee Gees. So when I saw Robin Gibb at the park today (he's playing a concert here in Mannheim on Sunday night) I didn't know whether to stalk him and ask for an autograph or cuss him out for his part in running good music off the radio when I was 20 years old. In the end I just left him and his companoin to their park exploration and continued on with my own.

Luisenpark was alive with people today. May 1st is a public holiday. I'm not sure what the German name for today is but in the States we just call it May Day, a day to recognize the changing of the seasons. Many cultures have some sort of deeply rooted historical celebration of Spring and the coming year. For the ancient Celts it was Beltane, a time when they celebrated the fertility of the coming year and believed that the "door" between the earthly world and the spirit world opened.

In Irish mythology, the beginning of the summer season for the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians started at Bealtaine. Great bonfires would mark a time of purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year, and were accompanied with ritual acts to protect the people from any harm by Otherworldly spirits, such as the Aos Sí. Like the festival of Samhain, opposite Beltane on October 31 Beltane was also a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand.

Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the druids of the community would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and drive the village's cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck (Eadar dà theine Bhealltainn in Scottish Gaelic, 'Between two fires of Beltane'). This term is also found in Irish and is used as a turn of phrase to describe a situation which is difficult to escape from. In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on the fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke. People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves. This was echoed throughout history after Christianization, with lay people instead of Druid priests creating the need-fire. The festival persisted widely up until the 1950s, and in some places the celebration of Beltane continues today.

The largest Beltane celebration takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland. One more thing to add to my calender next year!

1 comment:

Nikki said...

Really? There's a Beltane festival in Edinburgh? Let's go!

Here in Dland, the night before May 1st (Labor Day, by the way) is "Walpurgisnacht," where the witches are supposed to dance on mountain tops. Hence "Tanz in den Mai" = Dance in the May.

Hmmm, remnants of Celtic folklore, anyone??