A Love for All Seasons, the prequel to A Highland Pearl, begins the first of May at the celebration of Beltane or May Day. The book tells the love story of William Munro and Aine MacLean. Theirs is an arranged marriage, and Aine’s heart belongs to a brave warrior in her father’s slaugh (army). Will the passage of time soften her heart toward William so she can love and accept him as her husband? The novella may be ready for publication in the fall.
Beltane is mentioned in some of the earliest Celtic literature and was associated with important events in Celtic mythology. The special day marked the beginning of summer when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth.
Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around the bonfire or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires were doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. These gatherings were accompanied by a feast, and some of the food and drink offered to the aos sí (spirits). Doors, windows, byres and the cattle themselves were decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire.
In parts of Ireland, people made a May Bush—a thorn bush decorated with flowers, ribbons, and bright shells. Holy wells were also visited, while Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Many of these customs became part of May Day or Midsummer festivals in other parts of Great Britain and Europe. Beltane celebrations had largely died out by the mid-20th century, although some of its customs continued and revived as a cultural event.
Mam fetched my fur-lined arisaid, fastened it around my shoulders, and said with pinched lips, “Come my dearest. ‘Tis time for you departure.” Tears glistened her eyes.
I clung to her. “Please Mam, dinna make me leave you.”
She took both my arms, pushing me away from her. “We must be strong, you and I. Remember, my love is always with you.”
She placed my hand in hers and led me from my chamber. I looked around for the last time. My heart plummeted to the depths of being. Tears flowed freely down my cheeks, so I swiped them away with the back of my hand. Mam gripped my hand, only releasing me to descend the stairs into the great hall. The hall still shimmered with Beltane decor. Servants were making the tables ready to break the fast. My father, his luchd-taighe, and my brothers stood beside William and his men next to the great fireplace. When they saw me, William stepped forward to bend over my hand and brush the back with a gentle kiss. My stomach took flight and I felt dizzy, but determined not to swoon in his presence.
“M’Lady, you look bonnie this morn,” he said. “The day promises to be cool but sunny. ‘Twill be fine for travel. We’ll take the birlinns through Loch Linnhe and then overland to Ferindonald. The trails are well-marked since the way we take is a trading route from the east coast to the west.”
I shook my head, wondering why we did not follow the coast around Scotland. Possibly the spring storms made the water too rough for the animals, and I had a tendency to get seasick. The servants brought my trunks down, then took them to be secured on the birlinn. The journey promised to be long and hazardous. Although a trading route, steep trails wound over and around the bens, through large forests and marshy swamps beside the lochs, and across burns and rivers swollen from melting snow in the highlands. I knew my journey ended at Fàrdach Castle. I may never see this home again.
I looked around the great hall for the last time. The festive decorations from the Feast of Beltane still graced the tables, mantles, and windows. The hawthorn branches and yellow flowers now somewhat wilted, but still pretty glisten in the early sunlight of a new morn. This eve every hearth fire would be extinguished and a huge bonfire lit on Castle Hill outside the walls by striking two flints together. Folks would come from near and far to the fire, bringing a bunch of straw to be lit from the fire and restart their hearth fire. They would sing the ancient songs, divide the fire in two parts, then for purification, cause themselves with their animals to pass through the middle of the flames.