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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

The Magical Trees and Flowers of Beltane

Tying colored ribbons on hawthorn trees and making a wish on Beltane is an old Irish folk tradition.
Tying colored ribbons on hawthorn trees and making a wish on Beltane is an old Irish folk tradition.

Are you ready for summer? According to the Gregorian calendar used by most of us in the Western world, summer (in the northern hemisphere) is still nearly two months away. Its 2024 date is June 20th to be exact. But on the Celtic calendar, summer starts this coming Wednesday. May 1st is the Celtic fire festival of Beltane (Bealtaine in Ireland). It’s a glorious feast marking the start of summer and celebrating light, fertility, creativity, vitality, and growth, among other things.

The importance of this feast day in Celtic culture is obvious. In Irish (Gaeilge), the entire month of May is called Bealtaine. There is an abundance of folk traditions and folklore associated with Beltane—from wishing trees and holy wells to walking cattle between bonfires and protecting your dairy from fairy mischief—and I have written about these in previous posts. This Beltane, I want to focus on my favorite part of most Celtic folklore: trees, plants, and magic. But first, in case you missed the earlier posts, here is a brief overview of this major Celtic feast day.

An Bhealtaine (or Bealltann in Scots Gaelic)


Beltane is one of the four Celtic fire festivals. Each fire festival marks the start of a season. The other three are Imbolc (February 1st), Lughnasa (August 1st), and Samhain (November 1st). Beltaine is the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice (the first day of summer on the Gregorian calendar). In celebration of the feast day, large bonfires were lit (this practice has decreased in the 21st century). Other folk traditions included—and still include—visiting holy wells and hanging ribbons or strips of cloth on wishing trees. Another focus of this feast day is the protection of livestock, especially cattle, and dairy.


Stand with Ukraine.
Stand with Ukraine.

Because the veil between this world and the Otherworld thins during this time, as it does at Samhain, a major concern on Beltane is all the faeries that crossover into our world on this day. Faerie mischief is a BIG concern. But not to worry! There are ways to protect your home, your livestock, your dairy, and yourself. And trees and flowers are a big part of the solution!

Yellow Flowers Are Your Friends


If you ever are concerned about faeries, here’s a tip: yellow repulses them. It’s kryptonite to the Fair Folk. Celtic folklore recommends several ways to use yellow flowers to protect you and yours on Beltane. Before continuing, though, I must mention that Celtic days go from sunset to sunset. So, Beltane begins at sundown on April 30th and ends at sundown on May 1st.

That’s worth remembering because you don’t want to be out walking on a lonely country road at night on April 30th unless you have your trusty yellow flower with you! Unless that is, you want to be carried off to the Otherworld. Be warned though. There are other, worse things the Good Folk might do. And can never count on faeries doing what you expect them to! So, if you must be out and about on Beltane, tuck a yellow flower—a primrose, marigold, buttercup, or daffodil—in your pocket to protect yourself from faeries.


Of course, there’s no guarantee staying at home with the windows and doors tightly shut will keep you safe from the Good Folk’s mischief. Irish folklore suggests you protect yourself and your home by scattering yellow flowers around the outside of your house. Alternatively, you can place yellow blossoms across the thresholds. While you’re at it, hang small bundles of yellow flowers in front of your barn door to protect your animals. And be sure to tie the blossoms to the tails of your cows before turning them out to pasture.


Be sure to tie yellow flowers or ribbons to your cows' tails on Beltane to protect them from faerie mischief.
Be sure to tie yellow flowers or ribbons to your cows' tails on Beltane to protect them from faerie mischief.

Remember that the veil is thin on Beltane, so faeries aren’t the Otherworldly beings out and about on Beltane. It’s time to look to trees for some help. Folklore suggests burning rowan wood in your fireplace on the morning of May 1st to protect yourself from the sinister plans of witches. Also, place rowan flowers on your windowsills and doorsteps to prevent evil spirits from entering the house. Whew! Feel safe yet?


If you’d like to arm yourself against injury and illness, go out on Beltane morning to pick medicinal herbs. According to Celtic folklore, herbs picked on Beltane are more effective and potent than herbs picked at any other time of the year. Just be sure to take your trusty yellow flower friend with you when you go out. A rowan leaf is said to provide the same protection. So, you could be doubly cautious and take both!

Trees of Beltane and Beyond

There is no way to overstate the importance of trees in ancient Celtic culture. Evidence of their importance includes these facts. 1) The Ogham, a writing system used extensively in ancient Ireland and in parts of Wales, had twenty primary letters. At least eight of the twenty letters were named for trees. Some scholars believe all of the letters have tree names but there is uncertainty, due to interpreting the Old Irish words, which trees the letters represent. 2) Celtic astrology (as it is called despite having nothing to do with stars) is based entirely on trees. 3) The druids created a classification system for trees, dividing them into groups such as Commoners of the Woods to Royal and Sacred Trees. 4) In Ireland and Scotland, people could be fined and even executed for cutting down certain trees.


Four trees that have a connection with Beltane. Here’s a look at those trees and the folklore about them in association with Beltane and beyond.


Don't mix up your thorn trees! On Beltane, wish on Hawthorn trees, not blackthorn trees or the moon faeries will get you!
Don't mix up your thorn trees! On Beltane, wish on Hawthorn trees, not blackthorn trees or the moon faeries will get you!

Hawthorns: The wishing trees decorated each year at Beltane are invariably hawthorns. Classified as sacred by the druids, hawthorns are said to be protected by faeries and even to be an entrance to the Otherworld. According to Celtic folklore, you mess with these trees at your peril! It warns that, if you wish to use this tree’s berries either for medicinal purposes or just to make tasty jelly, you should never pick them off the tree. Simply gather up the berries that have fallen to the ground. Follow the same advice if you want to use the wood or flowers.


Hawthorn branches and flowers are often hung over doorways at Beltane to prevent evil from entering the house. Hawthorn berries, the folklore says, protect against malicious ghosts and lightning. But before taking any part of the tree—even though it’s fallen to the ground—you’d be wise to ask permission from the tree’s guardian first.


An Irish Beltane tradition that continues to this day is for people to tie ribbons or strips of colored cloth to a hawthorn tree’s branches and make a wish. If you take part in this practice, be sure to treat the tree with the greatest respect. The faeries don’t take kindly to people who mess with their tree!


If you’d like to see faeries, folklore says you have a chance of doing so if you find a hawthorn, oak, and ash tree growing next to each other. Before you indulge this dangerous curiosity, however, I highly recommend you read my post Irish Faeries: They’re No Disney Princesses.”

Oak: A royal tree, oaks represent strength, stability and nobility. According to Celtic folklore, twice every year, the Oak King and the Willow King engage in a battle for supremacy. Each year, at Beltane, the Oak defeats the Willow and brings about the light half of the year (the Willow rules the dark half, starting at Samhain). The druids considered oaks to be particularly sacred, and mistletoe found on an oak tree was highly revered.

Willow trees are good at keeping secrets but they can get a little strange at night.
Willow trees are good at keeping secrets but they can get a little strange at night.

Willow: Although the Willow King has been defeated, the willow tree exerts an influence at Beltane. Celtic astrology divides the year into thirteen time periods. During each time period, a particular tree exerts its influence (similar to the way a sun sign is said to rule during its yearly period in Western astrology).  April 15th to May 12th is the time of the Willow. Beltane always occurs during the Willow’s dominance.


I love the folklore about willow trees. Here are three of my favorites:


1) The sound of the wind rustling through willow leaves is actually the sound of faeries giving inspiration to poets.

    2) If you have a secret, you are just dying to divulge, tell it to a willow. The tree will take it in and lock it up so it never gets out.

    3) Willows can walk at night. They follow strangers and mutter after them.


Rowans: Associated with foresight and intuition, rowans symbolize protection, connection, balance, and mystery. I’ve already mentioned how rowan wood and rowan blossoms are used on Beltane for protection. There also is a folk practice of planting rowans in graveyards to protect the dead from evil—and to keep the dead from rising from the grave.


Blackthorns: Don’t go near a blackthorn on Beltane! The moon faeries who guard blackthorns are fierce and wrathful at any time of the year. But they are said to be especially ferocious on the feasts of Samhain and Beltane.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please LIKE and SHARE. To SUBSCRIBE for FREE, just click on the “Sign Up” button in the upper right of the page.

Slán go fóill

     All artwork for this post (except for the Ukrainian flag and the GIF) by Christine Dorman via Bing Image Creator.

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