Fire was believed to have purifying qualities – it cleansed and rejuvenated both the land and the people.
The ritual welcoming of the sun and the lighting of the fires was also believed to ensure the fertility of the land and the people.
Animals were transferred from winter pens to summer pastures and were driven between the Beltane fires to cleanse them of evil spirits and to bring fertility and a good milk yield. The Celts leaped over Beltane fires – for fertility and purification.
Young men would circle the Beltaine fires holding Rowan branches to bring protection against evil – its bright berries suggested fire – malign powers were considered particularly active at the year’s turning point.
It was considered unlucky to allow anyone to take fire from one’s house on May Eve or May Day, as they would gain power over the inhabitants.
A Beltane fire festival is held annually in Edinburgh, at Calton Hill on 30th April – a May Queen and Green Man, representing Beltane fertility and renewal lead the celebrations on the hillside.