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A Celtic calendar feast for the beginning of Summer. Bonfires were lit on the Eve and there were associated ritual games - burning effigies, dancing around the fires, jumping through the fire, driving livestock between fires, burning winter bedding. All acts of physical purification.

Beltane cakes were baked and broken into pieces. One piece was secretly blackened with charcoal, the recipient being singled out for execution (possible mock, possibly not).

Animal sacrifices were common but every five years, a human would be sacrificed. Animal or human would be ritually roasted on the bonfire. Late accounts suggest that the other revellers would prevent the actual execution but that the person would be considered dead for the rest of the evening.

May eve is one of the traditional times when the veil between the human and supernatural worlds is at its thinnest.

There are parallels to draw between the Beltane feast and Morris tradition (encompassing Sword Dance, Mumming etc):

  • The timing
  • The associated animal roasts (e.g. Kirtlington)
  • The ritual execution

Although this is pure conjecture, knowing how traditions adopt and adapt it is possible that the very beginnings are rooted in Beltane celebrations.