Tuesday 5 May 2015

Beltany Stone Circle

Happy Beltane the 6th of May!

I know what you will say.

"You are 5 days late, mate. Beltane is celebrated on the 1st of May, and today is the 6th of May."

And you are right. Beltane is today celebrated and was in the historical times celebrated on the 1st of May and sometimes even on the 30th of April. But I believe that this is a relatively recent development. I believe that Beltane was originally celebrated on the 6th of May.

If we read what Wikipedia has to say about Beltane we read that: "Beltane or Beltain is the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice." And the day which is half way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice is the 6th of May. Do I have any proof that Beltane was originally celebrated on the 6th of May? Actually I believe I do.

In both Serbian and Celtic calendar the year was divided into two parts, the dark, black part (winter and spring) and white part (summer and autumn). Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day) and Samhain (Mitrovdan, St Martin's day) marked the borders between these two parts of the year. Beltane is the day of Bel, Beli, Belenos, Belbog, the white god, the bringer of light and warmth. Beltane is the beginning of the white, bright, hot part of the year. Samhain is the day of Bran, Vran, Chernunos, Černbog, Crnbog, the Black god, the bringer of darkness and cold. Samhain is the beginning of the black, dark, cold part of the year.

In Slavic languages "bel", "beli", "beo" means white, "čern", "črn", "crn", "v(b)ran" means black,  "bog" means god.

Belbog = bel + bog = white + god, the god of the white part of the year.
Belenos = belen + os = white, light, the god of the white part of the year.
Beli = white, light

Slavic sun god Svetovid = Svet + vid = Light + sight was also called Beli Vid = White + sight. His name literally means bringer of light and sight. In Slavic languages the word "svet" can mean both the world, the visible world and light which makes the world visible...

In the comments in the translation of the annals of the four masters by Owen Connellan we reed that in Ireland the sun was worshiped under the names of Bel, Beal, and Baal. .According to 17th century historian Geoffrey Keating, there was a great gathering at the hill of Uisneach each Beltane in medieval Ireland, where a sacrifice was made to a god named Beil.

Černbog = čern + bog = black + god, the god of the black part of the year.
Chernunos = černun + os = black, dark, the god of the black part of the year.
Bran = black, darkness

Belbog - Črnbog, Bel - Bran, Vran, Belenos - Chernunos are two faces of Janus, two halves of the solar year, the white and dark part of the year from the Celtic and Serbian calendar.

Beltane is the first day of the white part of the year, the part of the year which belongs to Belbog, Belenos, Beli, Summer Sun. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man....The name for Beltane in Irish it is Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Boaltinn or Boaldyn.

In Irish the word "tine" means fire. In Serbian word "tinja" is a verb meaning "to smolder, start, kindle fire". The word "bel" means white. Beltine means white fire but also smoldering kindling, starting of the sun's fire, the beginning of summer, of the white, bright, hot part of the year. This is why bonfires are lit for Beltine, to help the sun to rekindle. To start the white, bright, hot part of the year...

Keating wrote that two bonfires would be lit in every district of Ireland, and cattle would be driven between them to protect them from disease. This is the so called "need fire" ceremony which was also practiced among the Germanic and Slavic people. Medieval Dindsenchas includes a tale of a hero lighting a holy fire on Uisneach that blazed for seven years. Excavations at Uisneach in the 20th century found evidence of large fires and charred bones, showing it to have been ritually significant.Interestingly,

As I said already, in Irish literature Beltaine has been primarily associated with Hill of Uisneach, the mythological centre or naval of Ireland, where there is known to be a prehistoric ceremonial enclosure. Medieval Dindsenchas includes a tale of a hero lighting a holy fire on Uisneach that blazed for seven years (or six years in another version). The thing is that neither version of Dindsenchas actually says that the fires were lit on the hill of Uisneach.

The version found on the UCC site says:

Mide it was, the ardent son of Brath
the host-leading son of Deaith;
for he kindled a mystic fire
above the race of Nemed, seizer of hostages.
Seven years good ablaze
was the fire, it was a sure truce:
so that he shed the fierceness of the fire for a time
over the four quarters of Erin.
So that it is in return for this fire in truth
(it is not a rash saying, it is not a falsehood)
that he (Mide and his descendants) has a right by a perpetual bargain
over every chief hearth of Erin.

And they said (no small grief it was),
the druids of Erin all together,
"It is an ill smoke was brought to us eastward:
it has brought an ill mood to our mind."
Then Mide the untiring assembled
the druids of Erin into one house,
and cut their tongues (a harsh presage)
out of the heads of the strong and noble druids.
And he buried them under the earth
of Uisnech in mighty Mide,
and sat him down over their tongues,
he, the chief seer and his chief shanachie.

The version found on UCD site says:

Mide son of Brath, son of Deoth, was the first to light a fire
in Erin for the clans of Nemed, and it was six years a-blaze,
and from that fire was kindled every chief fire in Erin. Wherefore
Mide’s successor is entitled to a sack (of corn) with a
pig from every house-top in Ireland. And the wizards of Ireland
said: ‘’Tis an evil smoke (mí-dé) for us, this fire that
hath been lit in the land’. So the wizards of Ireland were collected
into one house, and, by Mide’s advice, their tongues
were cut out of their heads, and he buried them in the ground
of Uisnech, and Mide, chief wizard and chief historian of Ireland,
sat above them.

Neither of the two stories actually states that the fires were lit on the hill of Uisnech. But the excavations at Uisneach in the 20th century found evidence of large fires and charred bones, showing it to have been ritually significant and the fires were regularly lit on this hill. So there is a possibility that Uisnech is the place where Beltane could have been celebrated in the past, but the evidence is circumstantial.

But there is another Irish ceremonial site which is also associated with Beltaine. And for this place there is no doubt that it was a ritual place directly linked with the celebration of Beltane. This is  is the great stone circle at Beltany, Co. Donegal. The name Beltany is an anglicised version of the Irish Beltaine, Beltane. The stone circle dates from around 1400-800 BC. Some reports are even saying that the actual building date is 2000 BC. The complex comprises a stone circle of 64 stones around a low earth platform or tumulus, situated at the summit of Beltany Hill.

In "Instances of Orientation in Prehistoric Monuments of the British Isles" published in 1923 we can find this detailed information concerning the Beltany circle and particularly its astronomical alignments:

This is the plan of the great Circle crowning Beltany Hill, 1½ miles due south from the small but ancient town of Raphoe, county Donegal, in Ireland.

The somewhat rounded summit of the hill is made up (artificially) into a flat circular space, 145 ft. in diameter. The platform thus constructed is edged and defined by a circle of megaliths, of which sixty-four remain out of, possibly, an original number of eighty. The greater number are about 4 ft. high, as measured down their outer sides to the natural ground-level; while on the inner side, the tops of the stones are about level with the platform surface in the south-western part of the Circle, but stand up 1 ft. or 2 ft. clear of the platform elsewhere. There are, however, at certain points of the Circle, marked exceptions to this general height of the stones. The most noticeable of these is to the WSW., where there is a great slab, 2 ft. to 3 ft. in thickness, standing 9 ft. high, and about 8 ft. in width, in conjunction with a second considerable megalith, 6 ft. high.

Standing with one’s back to the greater of these two (which is by far the greatest stone in the Circle), and looking across the diameter on which it stands, to the ENE., one sees a large and prominent stone of the Circle, triangular in shape, with its sharp apex 4 ft. 6 in. above the Circle platform. Besides its conspicuous shape, this stone is individualized by having its whole inner surface (that facing the observer) covered with cup-markings. 

Continuing the line of the diameter on which it stands, there is seen beyond it against the sky, at a distance of about four hundred yards, a small but conspicuous hill-summit. This is now the site of an old windmill tower; but probably had in ancient times some sufficient indication of its purpose as a point of sight—a cairn, perhaps, or a pillar stone. The azimuth of this line, in any case, is precisely that of sunrise on Bealltaine (6th May); and it is important to note that the present name, ‘Beltany Hill’, gives the almost exact pronunciation of the Gaelic name of this ‘May Day’ celebration. This seems a very convincing proof of the connexion of the Circle with the date found by orientation.

Another orientation discoverable in this Circle is as follows. In the northwestern part of its perimeter there is another stone conspicuously greater and higher than its neighbours, though not so great as the Bealltaine-observing stone just described. It is 5 ft. 10 in. high, and about 8 ft. in width. Looking across the diameter on which it stands, the eye passes over a stone at the other {213} {Fig. 11} end (close, to which there is growing an ancient thorn-tree) to an outlying slab, or pillar stone, 6 ft. 3 in. high, which is ‘planted’ in the ground with its longer {214} sides parallel to the line of sight, at a distance of 67 ft. outside the boundary of the Circle. Beyond this pillar-stone, on the same line, there is a hill-summit seen against the sky, at some little distance. The azimuth of this line is (exactly) that of sunrise on the day of the Winter Solstice.

There is also an orientation across the centre of Beltany Circle to a conspicuous hill-summit named Croaghan, 3½ miles distant, crowned with an ancient earthwork, clearly seen against the sky. This line is that of sunrise at Samhuin (’All Hallows’), marking the November ‘half-quarter-day’; at six months’ distance in time, therefore, from that of Bealltaine, in May. It is unfortunate that the stones at both ends of the diameter of the Circle on this line have disappeared. The orientation should not, however, for that reason be rejected. It is not only inherently probable, but is exact in azimuth.

Yet another orientation is found in this interesting, and no doubt important, Circle by looking across a diameter from the westward over a great slab 7 ft. 3 in. high, flanked on either side by tall pillars, each about 6 ft. high, standing on the eastern edge—the three stones standing out conspicuously among their lesser neighbours. This line directs to the sharp summit of Argery Hill, two miles distant, and marks sunrise on the day of the Equinoxes (21st March and 21st September).

As we can see the Beltany stone circle is aligned to the sunrise of the beginning of the white part of the year and the sunset of the end of the white part of the year. I believe that this is deliberate. The daylight, the white part of the day starts with sunrise and ends with sunset. I believe that the builders of the Beltany stone circle deliberately mapped the beginning of the white part of the year to the sunrise at Beltane and the end of the white part of the year to the sunset at Samhain. 

But interestingly the builders of the Beltany stone circle didn't take 1st of May as the beginning of the white part of the year. Instead they took the 6th of May, the day which lies exactly at the mid point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, which is the real Beltane day. The author of the "Instances of Orientation in Prehistoric Monuments of the British Isles", Rear-Admiral Boyle Somerville, a man who certainly new his azimut calculation and orientaton by the sun, clearly states that the alignment with the sunrise on the 6th of May which he calls the day of Beltane. This real Beltane day is still celebrated in Serbia as Djurdjevdan, the day of St George, the day of Jarilo, Jurjevo, the day when the young, sun becomes a young man, the fertile sun, the sun burning with life giving fire and warmth, the sun beaming with life force, the day which marks the beginning of the white part of the year.

The builders of the Beltany stone circle also marked the sunrise at Winter solstice, which means that they were able to use Lunisolar calendar as I already explained in my post about Calendars. The winter solstice is the day one of the solar cycle. If we know how to determine the winter solstice day, we know how to re calibrate the lunar year to coincide with the solar year and so avoid the calendar slipping. The Builders of the Beltany stone circle also marked the sunrise of the day of the spring and autumn equinox. This is the same point, right between the points marking the points of the summer and winter solstice, the true East, the direction of the house of Sun god. This point can only be marked if you have already marked the points of both summer and winter solstice. All of this is pointing to Beltany circle as being a sophisticated solar observatory.

However, all this said, I heard recent reports that this triangular pokemarked stone is aligned with the sunrise on the 1st of May. This is a bit confusing considering that the solar orientation of stone monuments does not change in time. Also people who were able to construct such a complex solar observatory, who were able to determine and mark the exact points of the winter and summer solstice and the equinoxes were certainly able to precisely determine and mark the exact day of Beltane. But maybe the day of Beltane was at that time already moved from the 6th of May to the 1st of may. The stone circle is aligned with the Samhain day, which is according to the Wikipedia "It is celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, or about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. " The real Samhain is the 5th of November. The author of the "Instances of Orientation in Prehistoric Monuments of the British Isles" says that the Samhain point marks the "November ‘half-quarter-day’; at six months’ distance in time, therefore, from that of Bealltaine, in May." This then has to be the the 5th of November if the Beltane point is the point marking the 6th of May. But if the Samhain point is marking the 1st of November then the exact 6 month distant point is indeed the point marking the 1st of May. So I would really appreciate if anyone can confirm the following:

1. Which one of the above two reports about the Beltane point orientation is correct? Is Beltany circle aligned with the sunrise on the 1st or 6th of May?
2. Is the Beltany circle aligned with the sunset on the 31 of October or 5th of November?
3. Is the Beltany circle aligned with the sunrise on the 1st or 2nd of August, the Crom Dubh day? 

This would greatly enhance our understanding of the development of the Beltane, Samhain calendar. 

As I said the Beltany stone circle was a complex solar observatory. But as I already talked about in my post "Bogovo gumno - god's threshing floor" the solar observatories were also solar temples. This is why I believe that the Beltany circle was also not just an observatory but a temple dedicated to the Sun. The sun is also known in Serbia as Višnji bog (the high god), Vid, Bel bod (the white god). In Serbian tradition, Sun, the "Višnji Bog", the High God, is perceived as a living being, which is born every year in the winter on New Year's day, winter solstice. He then grows into a young man Jarilo on the 6th of May the day of the strongest vegetative, reproductive power of the sun. This day marks the beginning of the heating of the world, the beginning of summer. Then he becomes the powerful ruler Vid at the summer solstice, 21st of June the longest day of the year. He then becomes the terrible warrior Perun on the 2nd of August the hottest day of the year. This day marks the beginning of autumn, the beginning of the cooling of the world but also the beginning of the harvest which ends with Samhain, the day of gathering, the fair.

Summer solstice, the day of Svetovid, Vishnji bog is exactly in the middle of the summer period marked by the day of Jarilo and the day of Perun. Jarilo (heat, fire), Svetovid (light, sun) and Perun (lightning, electricity, energy) are together forming Triglav, Dabog, Hromi Daba, Perun the main god of the Serbs which is in Ireland known as Triglav, Dagda, Crom Dubh, Lugh. This is the Thundering Burning Sun Ilios, Grom Div, the Three in one, Trinity, Trimurti, Agni. He is the sun at its most powerful and terrifying, the sun that contains the cumulative power of the whole summer. As the day of Vid is right in the middle of the summer, the Crom Dubh day is right in the middle of the white part of the year of the vegetative part of the year. But it all starts with Jarilo, young sun, whose day, Beltane is today.

And so, again, Happy Beltane, the day of Bel, Beli, Belenos, Belbog, the god of the white part of the year. Happy first day of the summer. Happy Djurdjevdan. Happy Jurjevo, the day of Jarilo.


  1. Extremely interesting, good research. How can we get in contact over mail?

  2. Hi, very interesting post. The archaeologist Brian Lacey has suggested that this part of Donegal was the home of a powerful clan which provided some of the early High Kings of Ireland, but which were subsequently written out of history. I was brought up near the stone circle and still visit. I could get some help perhaps in finding out the answers to those questions :-) My email is martinmcginley65@gmail.com The parallels with Serbian mythology are striking. Martin

    1. Thanks Martin. It would be great if we could determine precise alignment of the monument. But knowing the Irish weather, that might take few lifetimes to achieve. I always wandered if the climate in Ireland was different at the time when these monuments were built, less rainy and more conducive to solar observation :)

  3. Very interesting, thank you.

  4. svakako - Sretna nova godina, ili polovina ... pa onda preko Lugnasadha - žetve, do sledećeg Samhaina
    P.S.- Happy New Year, or (bright) half of it ...

  5. Excellent!
    Just to add. In Macedonia, those two days, Jarilo's day was the day after many things could finally start. Such as: going abroad to work, sheep flocks could go grazing in the mountains, the revolutionaries (komiti, ajduci) should go to the Forrest, masons can start their working season...actually many, many things of key importance, while all those should be ended by the start of "the dark" part of the year - Mitrovden (day of Mithra? Bull slayer? Another solar archetype) ...It goes back even sources describing ancient Macedonian culture (before Phillip II), we have records of purging animals between fires, war season start/end...as you describe.

    I wonder if you have researched links with this day and the myth about Persephone/Kora?

  6. Interesting parallels with some of the customs/folklore in Ireland

  7. I should add that I was there on the morning of May 1st a couple of years ago, and the sun surprisingly burst through the clouds at daybreak as I happened to be standing at the big stones. It shone over a pointed stone and cast my shadow onto the great carved stone behind me.