Home to many different types of ancient housing, Butser farm hosts a multitude of traditional events over the year, including the Celtic festivals of Beltain, Lammas and Samhain. In 2019, I visited their biggest festival of Beltain to welcome the arrival of Summer, with the spectacular finale of a giant Wicker Man being burnt.
Butser Ancient Farm, on the Hampshire/Sussex border, was set up by experimental archaeologists to test their theories of life and construction in ancient Britain. With an assortment of Iron Age, Stone Age, Roman and Saxon houses, the farm hosts many events connected with the past. Each year they celebrate the Celtic festivals of Lammas, Imbolc and Samhain, but by far the biggest is its Beltain Festival, held at the start of May each year and which acts as a fundraiser for this non-profit educational farm.
THE ANCIENT FESTIVAL OF BELTAIN
Beltain festival is the Celtic May Day festival, usually held around the 1st of the month. The earliest written records show it practised in Ireland in 908AD, with several references over subsequent years up until the 19th century.
The Gaelic year was divided into two significant parts, summer (from around the 1st May) and winter (1st November), with the Eve before each being a crossover time when the boundaries between human and supernatural were removed, witches and faeries roamed freely and rituals were required to remove their enchantments as well as augur growth for the coming season.
At Beltain, cattle were often driven between two fires as they were led out, to protect them from disease, with the fires built by druids and deemed to have protective properties. People would rekindle their home fires with embers from the Beltain bonfires and a huge feast would be held.