(First Day of May)
Arthur's Seat, a hill of over 800 feet, behind the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is one of the traditional sites on which our pre-Christian forebears were accustomed to light their Beltane fires at sunrise on the first day of May, to hail the coming of summer and to encourage by mimetic magic the renewal of the food supply.
"For the growth of vegetation, not only sunshine, but moisture is necessary: hence not only fire, but water had its place in the Beltane ritual. To the Druids, the most sacred of all water forms was dew, and to the dew of Beltane morning they attributed special virtue, gathering it before dawn in stone hollowed out for that purpose. May dew, in a word, was the 'holy water' of the Druids. Those on whom it was sprinkled were assured of health and happiness and, tradition has it, where young women were concerned, of beauty as well, throughout the ensuing year."
To this day, all over Scotland numbers of young girls rise before dawn on the first of May and go out to the meadow or hillside to bathe their faces in the dew. Arthur's Seat is a favourite meeting place, and nearby is St. Anthony's Well, to which many used to resort to "wish-a-wish" on this auspicious day. This picturesque survival of the old pagan rites, together with the Christian service on the summit of the hill, draws hundreds of people to the site. As dawn approaches, numbers of young girls dally on the slopes of Arthur's Seat, laughing and chattering as they perform the immemorial rite, and are regarded with amused tolerance by the majority of the arrivals as they climb to the summit to join in the Sunrise Service.'
From 'The Silver Bough Volume Four' by F. Marian McNeill (1968) 78-79.
Posted by Martin
3rd June 2002ce
Edited 22nd May 2007ce